A University of Sunderland alumnus has been sharing the secrets of his incredible rise from humble beginnings on a Sunderland council estate to CEO of a multi-billion-dollar global company.
Chris Ashton gave his talk, ‘From a Council Estate to a Global CEO – Anything is Possible’, as part of the University’s Faculty of Business, Law & Tourism’s Guest Speaker Programme to students and staff on January 26.
Chris was unveiled as the new CEO of Worley in 2020, a global company headquartered in Australia he has worked at for 22 years, which provides professional project and asset services to the energy, chemicals and resources sectors, with a staff of more than 49,000 people around the world.
Delivering his talk online from his home in Houston Texas, Chris offered a fascinating insight into his career from leaving school at 16 to leading Worley on its transformation journey and the pivot to sustainability, supporting customers with their sustainability challenges “against a background of unprecedented change”.
“I remember being a young kid leaving school on the Witherwack estate and working in the shipyard. My first boss was incredibly motivational” he says.
“When I decided to go to night school, I didn’t have a car. Public transport would take me too long to get to the night school, so he and his wife drove me to night school, two nights a week until I had the qualifications to go to university.”
Night school led to a scholarship at the University of Sunderland where he graduated in 1989 with an honors degree in electrical and electronic engineering and got a job with chemicals group ICI before moving onto engineering projects in the oil and gas industry.
He then did an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, which taught him how marketing connected to strategy, and how strategy connected to operations.
In 1998, Ashton joined engineering group Parsons E&C in London, which merged with Australia’s Worley in 2004.
Since then, he has held many leadership roles in the company based in Texas, California and Pennsylvania as well as the Middle East and London.
Most recently he was Chief Operating Officer responsible for the integration of the Jacobs ECR multi-billion dollar acquisition and for strategy for the transformed Worley business.
Prior to this role, Chris was Group Managing Director for Major Projects and Integrated Solutions accountable for the business line’s growth and performance which includes Worley’s fabrication businesses, WorleyCord and Rosenberg Worley, and their Global Delivery Center located in India
Chris has also held executive roles with responsibility for Europe, Middle East and African operations, and the Power sector globally.
As well as his Honors at Sunderland and Masters at Cranfield, Chris has completed the Executive Management Program at Harvard Business School and the Company Directors Course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Chris, who is passionate about getting young people more excited about engineering, said: “I am delighted to be talking to students at my alma mater and to share my journey from the council estate I grew up on to leading a global company full of incredibly talented people.
“We are living in extraordinary times and the opportunity to create real change in our world is within our collective reach.
“The engineers of the future have a crucial role to play in developing game-changing technologies and solutions to deliver a more sustainable world for ourselves and for generations to come.”
Professor Lawrence Bellamy, Academic Dean, Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism, added: “Chris’ career journey is a real inspiration.
“With global experience at the highest level we must thank him so much for taking the time to share so personally how he navigated his way to the top.
“It’s of great value to all attendees to gain from the benefit of his outstanding insight.
“He’s a real testament to what is achievable with the right knowledge, skills, outlook and decisions. We are very fortunate to have an alumnus of such calibre to join us.”