Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For promoting a mission-critical mindset

For Gillian Dowds, leading projects is a call of duty. 

As an air traffic controller in the Royal Navy, she learned to think critically and remain flexible even under pressure—vital skills for ensuring combat pilots completed their missions.

“They were like mini projects,” Dowds says. “I quickly realized that not only was I pretty good at organizing the information, driving the team and executing the strategy, but I also really enjoyed it.”

So when Dowds left the military in 2015 after a decade of service, “project management seemed perfect,” she says. After her first private-sector job at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, she joined Fujitsu, where she managed large government procurement projects. She did it so well that, in 2019, the Ex-Forces in Business Awards named Dowds a rising star.

“The award confirmed I was on the right track,” she says. “And it showed other veterans they could also have a successful second career.”
Earlier this year, her career path officially came full circle as she accepted a role at BAE Systems Maritime to lead teams to provide technology and data solutions to military vessels internationally.

No matter the organization or sector, she lives by one rule: “Never compromise on project management basics. Get those right, and you’re halfway to success. Get them wrong, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.”

 

Q&A: Gillian Dowds on AI and change

What project most influenced you personally?

The Hubble Telescope. Despite major adversity and delays due to underestimations of the cost and engineering effort, the team put in years of hard work to bring Edwin Hubble’s vision to life. And it continues to exceed expectations today.

What is the most influential project you've worked on?

Moving the U.K. Ministry of Defence on-site infrastructure to the cloud. It was a turning point for both the defense sector and technology.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

Communication. It takes a good communicator to break down barriers and bring teams together to minimize risk and maximize success.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy of tomorrow?

Flexibility. With turbulent environments and rapid change upon us, unpredictability and disruptive innovation will only become more frequent.

We need to be flexible to react quickly to fast-changing tech and to navigate ambitious customer requirements and agile competitors.

How are young people changing the world of projects?

Young people have had to embrace an environment of inevitable and rapid change. They’re using technology with ease to stay more connected and up to date. They’re leading the way on navigating dynamic environments with ease.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

Artificial intelligence will play a much larger part. AI will eliminate repetitive tasks, predict risks and improve productivity. It will help teams make smarter, faster decisions.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

British suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst for her confidence, immense determination and motivation. She was an excellent communicator able to change people’s beliefs.