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Life after defence in industry: On Point with Troy Huckstepp

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Defence prides itself on building and shaping leaders. For Troy Huckstepp of Downer, his career experience with Defence made it easier to transfer the skills and provide the same type of services that they were delivering in uniform and deliver that back to defence industry.

Defence prides itself on building and shaping leaders. For Troy Huckstepp of Downer, his career experience with Defence made it easier to transfer the skills and provide the same type of services that they were delivering in uniform and deliver that back to defence industry.

In this edition of 'On Point', chief operating officer of Downer Defence Services, Troy Huckstepp, will unpack his transition into the corporate world, the challenges that he faced and share the best way to prepare yourself to run a business for those planning to transition out of the services.

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Huckstepp will also discuss Downer’s history in defence industry, the different brands that work under the Downer umbrella and the opportunities that its recent work with CASG will create for the organisation.

Phil Tarrant: We have someone in the studio from an emerging business within the defence industry. It's a large organisation, which is a really well represented Australia in many, many different industries.

In the studio, Troy Huckstepp; now he works with the professional services component of defence and national security at Downer. I was kind [hoping for a] bit of a chat today about what Downer is doing within the defence space, growth plans, options and opportunities for the organisation and also, well, some of the acquisitions they've made recently to help beef up their capabilities in the defence space. 

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So you've got an interesting story in that you created a business after a career in army that was acquired by Downer and part of a plan for Downer to beef up its capabilities to really get heavily involved in defence event services. I'm going to start off with that story, leaving army and creating up your own entity, which AGIS it was called, what was the rationale for that and did you always plan to sell it to someone?

Troy, how are you going? 

Troy Huckstepp: Good. I feel great. Thanks for having me. I started up in 2006 with another former colleague of mine from Defence Joel Deans. We both had careers within the Signals Corp of Army and towards the end of our career started to move into the capability development space.

And then once we decided that it was time for us to move on from Army, we thought we could establish the business and continue to provide the same sort of services we're providing in uniform and deliver that back to defence. And then continued to grow every year since its incorporation, and then towards the end of the decade, it started to really take on quite a sizeable presence and we had around 60 consultants working across service headquarters, CASG, CIOG and even in some of the other departments around Canberra.

That's when we could say there was a bit of a shift in the market towards engaging larger players and we thought it was time to branch out and be part of something much bigger and that's when Downer came along.

Phil Tarrant: So your role with Downer, now you're still leading the charge and pretty much helping to embed these capabilities that AGIS had into Downer and you're out there sort of securing work. What sort of stuff are you guys chasing at the moment? What sort of services contracts you're looking at for defence?

Troy Huckstepp: Yep, we're continuing the same sort of services that we had provided under the AGIS bannner, which was project management systems engineering, commercial services and integrated logistics support services, working behalf of the customer.

So during the early definition phases of the projects helping them define their concepts around their capital equipment programs and then also defining the needs and requirements and helping them take that out to tender and then working on behalf of the acquisition agencies to then acquire that materials so that are getting into a contract with the prime contractors and then to a system in overseeing the sustainment of it throughout the life of type. 

We've continued to do that. We've also continued to work within the ICT space, so there's work around the enterprise architecture and systems architecture programs within these departments and now that we have Invista on board, we've also bolstered a lot of those other ICT services including cyber security services as well and continue to provide them across defence, but also other national security focused apartments and also into the private sector.

Phil Tarrant: So you spoke about a couple of businesses in AGIS, Envista, though it was Spotless, which is a Downer business that all fits within, I guess the defence capabilities of Downer? 

And the objective for Downer to immerse itself across defence, what's the corporate rationale for that? Why defence for Downer?

Troy Huckstepp: Yeah the Downer name hasn't been quite prominent within defence recently. It does have a long history playing in defence in Australia and even back in World War Two, was the Evans Deakin Industries component of Downer, built patrol boats, frigates and corvettes. That service with the Royal Australian Navy. It since then we haven't really sort of been pushing the brand within defence, but now there's a range of businesses within Downer that are contributing and we have our work being done at the moment in the shoulder by training area.

So as part of that redevelopment, we have the professional services businesses of AGIS and Envista continuing to work, as I said, across the defence and other national security agencies are in Canberra and then Spotless, which obviously has a quite a large component of operating in defence around its facilities management and other services there.

The other part of Downer that's risen to prominence quite recently within the defence sector is its selection as a major service provider the CASG, where it's one of the four consortia that have been selected to work as a partner alongside CASG to help it deliver its programs. Since that commenced early last year, there's been quite a rapid rise in the amount of work coming out through that.

Phil Tarrant: So I imagine now securing the MSP with CASG was a big win for you guys. I know the rigour, having watched it many times, of what it takes to actually secure placement until these panels to deliver this work. But what's the next big thing for Downer Defence? Is there ... you've got to deliver on it now and I imagine a lot of what will come out of that, but two, three years, five years ahead, what's it looking like? 

Troy Huckstepp: Yeah. It's definitely a large package of work that was secured and we will need to continue to maintain that focus and ensure that delivery takes place as expected. We also have access to a lot of other major panels of work within these spaces, such as the CIOG ICT panel arrangement that's recently been awarded. We're all across all three service towers there.

So there's opportunities there for a lot of work doing everything from provision of professional services on an individual or small team basis, right up to large scale systems integration work there as well. There's a lot of opportunity within the space and right now it's all about continuing to grow our own capabilities and workforce and then apply that back to defence to the other agencies within the federal government and in some instances outside of federal government to harness those capabilities.

Phil Tarrant: So you spoke about back when you were within AGIS before it was acquired by Downer and that you had 60 consultants work within that business, weere most of those guys and girls ex-army, ex-services or they civilian or it was a mixture of?

Troy Huckstepp: Yeah, it's always been a bit of a mix. We have had traditionally a very strong ex-service person's background, but we've also had a lot of other people have been ex public servants, ex defence industry and also coming from other backgrounds altogether. That's really the focus for us now, is how do we continue to grow that workforce and tap into other areas of industry.

So bringing people from rail sector, mining sector, construction and infrastructure and not just rely on those that have had a previous career back in defence. There's a large component of professional development training that needs to go with that, to make sure people understand how to play in that space. 

You can listen to the full podcast with Troy Huckstepp, chief operating officer of Downer Defence Services, here.

Life after defence in industry: On Point with Troy Huckstepp
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