Jane Cutler, IChemE’s newly-elected Deputy President, talks to Adam Duckett
You could say Jane Cutler has returned to her roots, at least in a chemical engineering sense. The path to the IChemE presidency typically involves a longer-standing relationship with the Institution as a member, volunteer or trustee, yet Cutler joined IChemE just six years ago and was elected to become Deputy President in May.
By contrast, Cutler’s education and early career are conventional: a degree in chemical engineering from Auckland University was followed by a graduate role at Esso in Australia. She has since weaved a career path through a maze of sectors and job roles, stitching together experiences and knowledge that she says are well-suited to helping guide IChemE along its path of continued modernisation.
“I’m humbled to have stood for elections and been successful,” Cutler says. “But I’m particularly humbled that when I become President not only will I be the 80th President of the Institution and the third female president I will become the first President to be elected by a member vote. I am honoured that members voted for me to lead them towards IChemE’s centenary in 2022. I hope to bring a fresh perspective that will add value to IChemE and its members.”
“I’m particularly humbled that when I become President not only will I be the 80th President of the Institution and the third female president, I will become the first President to be elected by a member vote”
Cutler gained a Master’s in environmental science before working for BHP in Australia and Vietnam in roles covering environment, safety and project management. She later went on to become CEO of two superannuation (pension) providers; worked for Woodside as a vice president, leading a LNG import project in Los Angeles and subsequently an LNG development relocating to Perth in Western Australia; and CEO of Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).
“The ability to take experience and knowledge from one organisation and apply it in others will become even more important for chemical engineers facing today’s uncertain future.”
Although Cutler says she now falls into the category of retired, there seems to be no let-up in work. She has taken on several non-executive board positions including at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Southern Ports Authority, and ChemCentre, which manages the state government’s environmental science and forensic laboratories in Western Australia. She is also on the WA Division Council of the Australian Institute of Company Directors
“As a board member I bring the skills and knowledge of a regulator, and an executive in a regulated industry; technical and project management experience; commercial and business acumen; environmental, sustainability and safety perspectives, people management experience; and apply it from a governance perspective,” she says.
“It may sound pretty random but while the overall concept was planned the execution was driven by the basis of the opportunities available.”
The opportunity to help IChemE presented itself to Cutler during chance meetings with two former presidents while she worked at NOPSEMA.
“I had various conversations with Judith Hackitt and realised she was very active in IChemE, as was Andrew Jamieson who I knew from my Woodside days. They sparked the thought the profession has served me well and I really should start to give back.”
Six years on and Cutler has volunteered as Vice Chair of Congress, serving on its inaugural session, and was Vice Chair of IChemE’s Energy Centre, stepping down from both roles when she became Deputy President.
As Cutler stated in her election statement, she wants to help reform and modernise IChemE faster than the current timelines and increase support for members in priority areas including major accident prevention and limiting the speed and extent of human-caused climate change. Cutler noted: “Since starting the election process, Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the Institution, members and the communities we operate in. Whilst it will be some time before the full implications from the pandemic are revealed it is important our Institution is proactive and takes steps to ensure its financial sustainability, and I plan to help ensure that its governance arrangements are transparent, fit for purpose and clearly communicated to members given the challenges facing us.”
Pointing to IChemE projects including Programme SMART, which is helping to streamline qualifications processes, Cutler said: “There’s some really good stuff under way and we need to focus on finishing it and communicating the improvements to members.”
And on the community’s efforts to address wider issues including climate change and safety, she says it’s really important that the likes of the IChemE Safety Centre, the Energy Centre and special interest groups are functioning smoothly and their work is publicised and shared so that members and society both benefit from the work of IChemE and its members.
Turning to the impact that Covid-19 has had on IChemE and how it operates we discuss how there has been positive feedback from members on how seamlessly the organisation has shifted to virtual working.
“Joining the Board of Trustees where everyone in the room is in a little square on the computer screen feels more equitable and inclusive to me than having a whole host of people around a physical table and a few people on the end of a phone.”
Cutler says her experience is that when everyone is virtual you get a higher quality of participation. Also, because all community activities including SIG meetings are now wholly virtual their activity is inherently accessible across the world.
“It’s a lot more engaging. Even if you can’t make it…you’ve got the link to the recording. It’s fabulous.”
Asked if virtual is here to stay, Cutler points to the “embrace digitalisation” goal in IChemE’s Strategy 2024 that sets the ambition for IChemE to provide its services digitally so members can access information and services regardless of geography. She still recognises the importance of personal connections developed through face-to-face interaction though.
“IChemE is about being an inclusive community of chemical engineers who network, communicate, learn from and contribute to our community of professional chemical engineers”
“I do believe that it all works a lot better when you have an actual relationship with the individual concerned. If you’ve never met someone it is much tougher. If you’ve never met anyone in the whole meeting and you front up there as the newbie, it is harder to read body language and tone. But there are great advantages.
“So I think we’re going to have to work pretty hard to get the balance right and recognise that the pendulum may swing too far one way and we need to adjust.”
“IChemE is about being an inclusive community of chemical engineers who network, communicate, learn from and contribute to our community of professional chemical engineers. I hope that in the long term with the interchange of knowledge, experience and perspective that we achieve – and by being inclusive – we can perhaps all be better engineers.”
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.