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AECOM COO Kerry Van Donderen explains her path to leadership

AECOM COO Kerry Van Donderen explains her path to leadership

 December 06, 2022

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At AECOM, employees are encouraged and supported to pursue career paths that best fit their unique capabilities, interests, and aspirations.

AECOM spotlights the rewarding career journeys of employees who have stepped out of their comfort zone and taken on new challenges to chart their own successful careers and growth. 

AECOM Chief Operating Officer for Australia & New Zealand Kerry van Donderen explains how she progressed in the company into a leadership career path.    

"My current role is Chief Operating Officer for ANZ. I make sure all the things that help run our business are working well together so that everyone has the right environment to do their own job well," explains Kerry. 

Starting her career as a civil engineer

AECOM Kerry van Donderen

Kerry moved around to create the career path she wanted. "I started my career as a civil engineer working for a number of organizations in Australia. These early roles built my skills and experience and taught me where my strengths are. I then joined AECOM through the legacy company Maunsell and moved to Brisbane as a senior engineer in our transport business working on a range of projects around the region," says Kerry. 

"From Brisbane, I moved to South Australia to take a local area manager role. I found that I love creating teams, getting to know them and what motivates them, and driving success. From there, I went to Sydney where I was the group director for civil infrastructure. Moving to Sydney to take on that role was a turning point. Aside from the personal element of moving my family and my husband’s career to a much larger city, my role and professional responsibilities also grew."

Pursuing opportunities regardless of where they are

Kerry went from a workforce of 150 to over 400 people overnight, and needed to draw on what she'd learned and apply it on a much bigger scale.

"Resilience, being prepared, and drawing on the support of many great people who were around me was key. That experience gave the skills and confidence to take on the role of regional managing director for New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory (NSW/ACT) and am currently back in South Australia as chief operating officer," she says. "I think the importance of this summary is that I have been open to pursuing opportunities regardless of where they are."

All Kerry's roles have given her perspective on parts of the business, AECOM's clients and people, and unique differences all of which have culminated in bringing everything she's learned together for ANZ. "It is about taking a risk but knowing that the support AECOM provides and the networks that I must draw upon will support my success," she says. 

Working outside one's comfort zone

Kerry enjoys the diversity and challenge of her role.

"Being able to work across the ANZ business as well as in our global arena provides this," she shares. "There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that my team helps run a business of our size and makes a huge difference to people who are delivering for our clients. I also enjoy the diversity of the decisions I make. It’s not always easy but taking on different perspectives and using data to make the best possible decision is satisfying."

Offering advice to others charting their own career path, Kerry says: "Take risks, put yourself outside your comfort zone, and back yourself. There are so many opportunities available, and you can find what you are seeking somewhere within our organization."

And her career plan B? "My childhood dream was to be a marine biologist and work somewhere on the Great Barrier Reef!"


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