Department of Engineering Science


Jeff Meyer

Bachelor of Engineering (BE) in Engineering Science (1986)

Photograph of Jeff Meyer

Head Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning, Information Technology
Etihad Airways (2012)
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

 

I was enticed into TAM (the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics) after meeting Cecil Segedin, and studied Engineering Science as part of a small group of nine students - unusually, nearly 50 percent of them women. I was forever trying to find my Fiat Bambina motorcar which the engineers delighted in picking up and leaving in unusual places.

My first job was with BCHF in their IT department. Now the Beca group, they are today one of the largest employers of EngSci students. While there, I started to see some of the challenges of implementing complex IT solutions, and I was fortunate enough to work on some very interesting software projects requiring heuristic optimization solvers, with some great engineers. Almost immediately I resumed part-time university studies in Computer Science to gain a more structured understanding of computing algorithms and hardware which has proved an extremely useful adjunct to Operations Research during my career.

I next joined Air New Zealand to develop software to create rosters for aircrew, using Operations Research. It was almost unheard of to have such a job opportunity in New Zealand - this was in the very early days of the now extremely successful relationship started by Professor David Ryan and a far-sighted executive, Paul Murray. I set up the Operations Research Group at Air NZ, and was promoted to be responsible for the administration of over 450 pilots, giving me invaluable experience in all aspects of crew management, from hiring, pay, qualifications, training, leave, promotion and so on. This was an extremely exciting and changeable time industrially, as the law had just changed to allow individual contracts and the airline was working with two pilot groups to introduce a complete change in pay, terms and conditions; a huge challenge!

At Air NZ, I collaborated closely with David Ryan to foster academic research on the many different issues needing to be solved for aircrew scheduling, with the result that many students carried out high-quality research on real business problems, making valuable contributions, and in many cases, being employed after finishing their studies. This included 4th year projects, Masters and PhD programs. This resulted in a suite of sophisticated optimization tools that provided high-quality rosters for staff, and improved productivity. In 2000, the work was recognized as world class when Air NZ crew scheduling systems were finalists in the prestigious Franz Edelman prize.

In 1998, a group of colleagues and I founded a company to provide advanced decision support systems for industry, with an initial focus on aircrew scheduling. Our focus changed in 2001 after the 9/11 twin towers event, as the global aviation economy collapsed. Fortunately, we won a major contract with Melbourne Metropolitan Ambulance Service, based on a prototype that one of the founders had developed. We commenced a journey which took us from being highly technical aviation optimisation specialists, to believing that we had identified a niche market in Emergency Services decision support in which we could become world-leaders. We took the company into the university business incubator, ‘The Icehouse’, and went through an angel capital investment round. At this time, I moved from being managing director to chief technology officer. This company is now ‘The Optima Corporation’, providing software in six countries, and responsible for improving emergency response times for over 15 million people.

As a core member of a highly entrepreneurial startup, I travelled constantly to develop the business, meet customers, attend or present at conferences, and to ensure that each project was a success; I typically flew up to 5 times around the world in a year, all in economy. Flexibility was always paramount. I remember having flown to the UK for a meeting in a London hotel with what turned out to be our first UK customer, to find the entire city was locked down because then the then US President George Bush was in town. Within ten minutes, I had arranged an alternative meeting room in NZ House through NZ Trade and Enterprise. The outcome of the meeting was successful. I would also often fly half way round the world at extremely short notice to deliver a key presentation so that we could make progress with another customer. My belief is that if you won’t visit a customer to sell, then how will they believe you will support them? So the bag was always packed.

More recently, I was offered a management opportunity in the IT department of Etihad Airways, which I accepted to gain experience in a much larger company. Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and has the goal of being the best airline in the world, with the spirit and funding to match. I am now approaching two years in the Middle East, and look forwards to a very exciting 12-18 months ahead as the airline continues to make progress towards being a world brand.

I am also proud to say that I have a daughter who has graduated from EngSci in 2010, who is now working with Derceto, another NZ company implementing optimisation-based solutions world-wide.