Meet Leigh Staines, the new Executive in Residence at UQ's Liveris Academy

16 Oct 2023

Original story posted on: UQ Stories


Linking experienced leaders with future leaders means learning from the best. And this is exactly what the Andrew N. Liveris Academy for Innovation and Leadership delivers for its ‘best and brightest’ scholars as part of a program designed to enhance their leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, cognitive ability and emotional intelligence.

But does it work?

Today, we meet the current Executive in Residence, Leigh Staines (Bachelor of Engineering (Environmental) with Honours, 2001), who reveals her passion for her new role and how she hopes to make a difference.

Q. What appeals to you about engineering as a profession?

A: The wonderful thing about engineering is the variety of career pathways it opens up. I’ve been able to experience a range of industry sectors, worked in countries around the globe, and in roles ranging from site-based process engineering through to commercial and strategic advisory work, and operational roles through to board positions – across resources, retail, manufacturing and even the health sectors. It’s never dull.

Q: And what are some of the positions you’ve had during your 20+ year career?

A: My first job was with Esso Australia in Victoria, where I worked in several process and project engineering roles. I then became a self-employed strategy management consultant in Victoria, Brisbane and Papua New Guinea, before moving over to Santos Ltd as Operations and Commercial Manager, then to Rio Tinto as General Manager – Strategy and Operations, and finally as Co-founding Partner at PwC Australia’s Energy Transition business. I am currently on-site at UQ supporting the Sustainable Minerals Institute with the commercialisation of its research and technology related to the improved critical mineral supply for the energy transition.

Q: So, quite varied?

A: Yes, I’ve had quite an eclectic career path. On reflection though, I can sum it up in a few phases. First of all, foundation setting, followed by diversification across different sectors. Then, as I moved into executive roles, it was about applying what I'd learnt across increasingly larger scopes. Now, I am in a new era of a personalisation, which I am really enjoying as I have the freedom to be more creative. And, along the way, learning, always learning.  At the moment, I’m relishing the opportunity to consolidate all my experiences towards enabling the sustainable sourcing of critical minerals for Australia’s energy transition.

Q: What does your role as Executive in Residence in the Liveris Academy involve?

A: The Academy aims to provide scholars with connections to and insights from industry leaders who are facing today’s challenges, with the hope of assisting them to mature into leaders of the future. Each Executive in Residence is encouraged to develop the role within their own personality and schedule. The key idea is to be based at the Academy for a specific period of time so that interaction with scholars can occur through both planned sessions and informal conversations. 

Q: How is it working so far?

A: I am really enjoying it. They are a group of enthusiastic and insightful scholars who show a passion for making an impact. My opening session with the scholars was on the energy transition and opportunities for Australia’s future economy.

Last week, we held a session together to find out what expertise the scholars wanted to develop, and the conclusion was that core people skills – the so-called ’soft’ skills – are what they really wanted to learn about, to complement the theory of their studies. Future planned sessions are being guided by requests from the students.

Q: Have these ‘soft’ skills of communication, project/crisis/time management and decision-making helped you?

A: Yes. Day-to-day, some of my roles have involved managing large teams of people around a project or a specific industrial site with a very public-facing profile. Other times, I’ve worked behind the scenes with Executive teams or company Boards, developing and implementing business-wide strategies. ‘Soft’ skills are actually core skills in any environment.

Q: What do you hope to achieve as Executive in Residence and what impact do you hope to have on the Liveris Scholars?

A: Beyond sharing knowledge and content, I hope my time with the scholars can leave them with a few insights into how to progress ambition into action, regardless of what discipline or industry they choose in their careers.  

Q: What is your view on energy transition and the opportunities for Australia’s future economy?

A: I firmly believe that Australia is well positioned to transform and thrive in a green economy. We have a workforce with transferable skills that can help build and grow new industry and manufacturing opportunities, as well as reimagining and modifying our cities and regional communities. However, our delay in setting clear policy direction with incentives to encourage investment is allowing other nations to progress while we languish.

The energy transition presents a society-wide change management challenge combined with a capital-intensity issue, so it’s not a puzzle that individual businesses or communities can solve in isolation. We need to take a system-level view to our overall planning for the transition. As community sentiment grows, and regulatory targets loom closer, there will be increasing pressure on large business and governments at all levels to find ways to do more and talk less. 

Q: What are you most proud of in your career to date?

A: I am particularly proud of the work I did at Rio Tinto when I helped transition Boyne Aluminium Smelters in Gladstone towards a sustainable future; and at Santos in South Australia, where I participated in a taskforce to reimagine economic opportunities for the Upper Spencer Gulf, which was facing heavy industry closures, and so we turned to future economy opportunities off the basis of renewable energy.

In addition, the most satisfaction I have had from my career is in supporting the development of others who have worked with me: seeing their career growth over the years is very enjoyable. There is an increasing circle of people I hope to work with again on future projects and opportunities. 

Q: And to sum up?

A: I am passionate about future-proofing the heavy and manufacturing industries in regional Australia by transitioning to renewable energy and green manufacturing. I hope I can pass this message on to our future engineering leaders: the Liveris Academy is the perfect forum to do so.

The home of tomorrow's leaders

The Liveris Academy recruits the best and brightest students from the Asia–Pacific region to enable them to develop the cultural fluency, multidisciplinary perspectives and depth of understanding they will need to help guide regional and global decision-making for a more prosperous future.

Learn more about the Liveris Academy