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Past Mechanical Engineering student from UQ

Past CEED students - where are they now? Rob Beckman


“I was looking for a way to be practical and get out of the classroom.” Not a fan of uni, not a fan of lectures, but a big fan of finishing his degree! As a university student, Rob Beckman felt he was ready to graduate from his Engineering degree before it was over. Rob even dropped out temporarily, but he never lost sight of his future path – on the contrary, Rob found work in an industry that he enjoyed. However, he knew he still needed that piece of paper.

Undertaking a CEED project was an ideal solution to this student’s dilemma. Rob liked that it was “almost like working”. In 2002, Rob took part in a CEED project at Superior Equipment, which involved the improvement of manufacturing operations.

Rob Beckman - past CEED student 
 Past CEED student, Rob Beckman - now co-founder
 and Managing Director of asset management
 specialist, The Red Button Group.

Rob’s project primarily involved operational management, relevant to past experience gained while on vacation work at Barfab. Superior Equipment was a fast growing family business with a manufacturing focus. Although other areas were strong, the rapid growth had caused a gap in the operations and planning management area – the focus of Rob’s project.

Rob enjoyed his project at Superior Equipment, and says it helped that the project he chose concerned an area in which he could see himself working in the future. Having done it this way himself, he also recommends future CEED students to do the same. If and when challenges arise during the project, he says the problem or challenge will really “get your attention” if you know you may need to be armed with such know-how or problem solving experience in the future.

Also useful during the project was the application of theory. The transition from theory to solving practical problems can uncover challenges, but Rob says it was “a very worthwhile exercise”.

After graduating, Rob was employed by Rio Tinto. Over the course of seven years, he adopted a number of roles. Initially, he worked in business improvement aiming to reduce the costs of a mine site in a climate of historically low coal prices. He says he was an “incredibly junior member” of a large team and felt out of his comfort zone. Having survived nonetheless, he describes the experience as fun.

Rob went on to many other roles including running a team as a Prep Plant Supervisor, working on a marketing project whilst living in China, and then in California worked on a mine in the Mojave Desert. Rio Tinto, Rob says, was very good to him, and in his time there he worked worldwide including locations such as the Hunter Valley, Sydney, Beijing, Shanghai, Colorado and Salt Lake City.

In 2009, with a colleague from Rio Tinto – his boss at the time, Mark Quinn – Rob then founded the company of which he is a Director: The Red Button Group. The Red Button Group specialises in asset management, with a focus on decision support. At only three and a half years old, the company comprises a team of 25 and has completed over 175 projects across the globe.

The Red Button Group assists clients in making key asset management decisions for physical assets. Rob’s role entails bringing all the stakeholders of a client’s business together, and assessing each option in the context of an important decision to be made. One recent project involved a coal handling terminal, which was decades old with many older assets and required a series of asset replacement decisions. Although much excellent engineering analysis had been done, it needed to be combined with the financial analysis to create a forward-looking strategy. When working for companies making multi-million-dollar decisions, Rob says his aim is “always to support them in making great business decisions”.

Not only did Rob participate in a CEED project himself, he has also been active in supervising students on projects at both Rio Tinto and The Red Button Group.  At Rio Tinto, CEED students helped to create life cycle cost models for mining equipment, a big part of which allowed textbook knowledge to be implemented onto mine sites.

To companies considering taking on a CEED student, Rob says students are a great resource. He says, “it’s a great way to get new people into the business to do some work that had been defined, but is needing to get done.” Some students successfully attained graduate-level employment with Rio Tinto. Rob concedes that there was even friendly rivalry between other segments of the company once they’d seen the successful outcomes made possible by CEED students. Low cost productivity gains for the business and excellent exposure and experience for the students made the projects a triumph.

The Red Button Group has also hosted several students under the guidance of other team members. Rob says overall they have been highly successful. A couple of projects needed changes along the way, but with lessons learned in hindsight, it was not time wasted, but rather time well spent. Projects have included database development, business development and designing an iPad application.

As for the future, Rob has ditched his anti-uni sentiment and has re-enrolled himself, looking to complete an executive postgraduate course in the near future. Work wise, he is thrilled to be part of The Red Button Group and sees himself remaining there for a long time, hopefully putting into action the many exciting plans he has. “I’ve got one of the best role descriptions in the world,” Rob says, “I get to run a business.”

Incidentally, The Red Button Group’s name wasn’t by accident. In fact, if you were wondering about the name, that’s the aim. Rob explains that from the outset, the company’s goal was to take on projects that are the highest priority for their clients. When an organisation hires The Red Button Group, they want their problem to be solved – with the push of a button. “We’re just engineers so we’re not very good at the whole branding thing,” Rob says humbly, “but I am really happy with the name. I suppose we made a lucky decision early on.”

Judging by The Red Button Group’s fast growth and success so far, and Rob’s enthusiasm for his company, it seems these ‘mere’ engineers have made many more lucky decisions since.


Written by Katherine McElrea (CEED Marketing Assistant - summer 2012/13)


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