Ep 392: Julianne Antrobus - Global Head of Nuclear, PA Consulting
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:00:05] Thank you so much for joining me. We have Julianne Antrobus here today with us. She is PA Consulting's Global Head of Nuclear, and we're excited to have you here on Titans. Welcome.
Julianne Antrobus [00:01:10] Delighted to be here.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:01:12] Great.
Julianne Antrobus [00:01:12] All the way over in Washington.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:01:13] Absolutely. You don't get to do these in person too often. So, it's very exciting to have you actually in the studio.
Julianne Antrobus [00:01:18] Thank you, thank you.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:01:20] Let's actually start... Maybe, take me back. When did you first start getting interested in energy? I know you grew up near Liverpool and Manchester. Your parents had a hotel business. So, how did you kind of transfer from your childhood, really strong work ethic, moving into the energy space and engineering?
Julianne Antrobus [00:01:40] That's a great question. You've done your research. I can tell.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:01:43] I have done my research. Well, Andrew Sherry did my research for me. I'll have to plug Are We Nearly There Yet?
Julianne Antrobus [00:01:47] He's done a remarkable job on those podcasts. Well, it's really simple, actually. I just have always been interested in the world around us. You know, when I was back at school, geography, I just loved the idea of traveling. I loved the idea of the world that we lived in. How do we keep the lights on? Just all of that kind of piece around the different geographies and the challenges that different geographies have be it geopolitical, be it the energy situation. And for me, I just had this pull always to the world that we live in and kind of got very into the environmental side of things. When I went through university, I studied environmental science and went on to study my master's at UMIST which was all about environmental technology and protection. And nuclear was a big part of that.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:02:45] In university? Why was that part of your curriculum?
Julianne Antrobus [00:02:46] Because we were looking at different technologies. And that was back in the 90s. It was around clean technologies and the arguments for and against nuclear because it's always been quite an emotive subject. Just all about the energy systems, understanding the technologies that could clean up the environment and what that meant. And actually, as I went through school, as I went through my education, my degree, my master's, I never thought I would have come into the nuclear industry.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:03:17] So, your first exposure was actually through thinking objectively about energy technologies that can clean up the environment. What were the arguments that you were presented with as to pro or con for nuclear back then?
Julianne Antrobus [00:03:29] Well, obviously, the big con everybody needed to get over and talk about was waste. That was a big challenge. But equally, nuclear at that time... You know, we had a big program within the UK. Obviously, we had the existing fleet of both the Magnox reactors and the advanced gas-cooled reactors. And I think we took that for granted. And it wasn't until I lifted the lid of understanding really where does the electricity come from and how do I turn my lights on and where does it come from and understanding the contribution that nuclear actually already made... Back then it was about 25 or 26%. I'd just taken that for granted. So, through my understanding through my educational roots and then understanding it through my master's, it was just kind of, "Wow, nuclear has a big part to play. And I have just taken it completely for granted."
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:04:24] When you were first exposed to the technology and the pros of the technology, is that when you started thinking, "Oh, maybe I could do a career here." How did you actually get sucked into the nuclear sector?
Julianne Antrobus [00:04:37] Well, sucked in and staying in, it comes together? Well, actually, it was a really interesting point in UK legislation because the UK had started to look at environmental legislation and how to mitigate emissions both through water, air, etc. And the Integrated Pollution Control Act had just been brought out. And big organizations, big blue chip organizations at that time were having to think about the impact on their own organizations through the legislation. And actually, British Nuclear Fuels, at the time, was a big blue chip organization that was a heavy industry player within the UK. And they were looking at themselves and saying, "Well, okay. How are we going to comply with this new legislation?"
Julianne Antrobus [00:05:22] Throughout the UK, BNFL at that time manufactured fuel for the reactors. It designed the reactors, it built the reactors, it generated and produced electricity out of those reactors, and then there was the waste and decommissioning to consider. So, they had a whole fuel cycle that they needed to consider at every stage. What was their own environmental impact? Let alone then they were also having a positive environmental impact through the generation of the electricity, etc.
Julianne Antrobus [00:05:53] So, it was a bit of a double-edged story, really, why I was attracted. One was because of just the story behind they reduce the greenhouse gases and the electricity, etc., through the reactor design. But also, they needed to satisfy their own environmental obligations. It was that bit that first got me into British Nuclear Fuels as a very kind of wet behind the ears graduate at the time. But it's an industry I have loved every minute of being within. And that's what sucked me in to start with. So, I started on the graduate program with BNFL, '97...
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:06:32] Was this like the current nuclear graduates program, or is this a much earlier or was it in-house to BNFL at the time?
Julianne Antrobus [00:06:36] Yeah, it was much earlier, and it was very much in-house to BNFL, British Nuclear Fuels.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:06:43] So, location around, getting exposed to different parts of the business?
Julianne Antrobus [00:06:45] To different parts of the business, absolutely. And very exciting. I think for me, they brought me in to look at those environmental implications and to learn, etc. Kind of the rest was history, really. But that was the starter.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:07:02] That was the start, okay. So, you were there, and how long were you at BNFL?
Julianne Antrobus [00:07:07] Just shy of a decade. Probably nine years, because I started out on the environmental side through being a radiation protection advisor, which is a very technical role. I realized that the role of an RPA, as they call it, was very much understanding the implications of the operations and looking after the environmental side, the safety side. But I'm a real team player. And I think the role of the RPA at the time was more of compliance and ensuring everything was safe and compliant with the environmental regulations. But for me, it wasn't about stopping operations, it was about how do we continue to enable operations whilst meeting those requirements. And I felt kind of always in a struggle. I didn't want to be the police. I wanted to be kind of in with the gang doing it and delivering. So I moved, probably after three years, into fuel manufacture itself.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:08:06] So, were you at Springfields?
Julianne Antrobus [00:08:06] Yes.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:08:08] Okay, great. Preston, I've been there.
Julianne Antrobus [00:08:10] You've been there?
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:08:11] It's such a cool facility. Oh, my gosh. Tell me about that. What was your role there? What's it been like, I guess also, to kind of always be so close to one of the few places in the world where nuclear fuel is produced and supplies all the reactors of the AGR fleet, I think, as well as some of the PWR fuels all being produced there? How did that feel to be amongst that?
Julianne Antrobus [00:08:38] Springfields is a really, really special site. I mean, when I started there, it was a site of probably 3,000 or 4000 people. And it's always... One of its biggest mantras was "It is cleaned up and decommissioned as it's gone." It's evolved as a site. Originally, it provided the fuel for the Magnox reactors. We no longer have the Magnox reactors now. They're obviously going into decommissioning. But they continue to provide the fuel for the AGR stations and overseas.
Julianne Antrobus [00:09:09] So, they've had to reinvent themselves a number of times in terms of bringing new facilities on. They built the new oxide fuels complex at the site, which was real high-end manufacturing in its time, state of the art. The facility was outstanding. And yet you had then this real legacy of the Magnox facilities. But as they've kind of turned facilities off, they continue to decommission those facilities right back to an all brownfield site. And almost, they have released land from the nuclear licensed site into greenfield site as well, which is a real testimony to how they have looked after and been custodians of that nuclear facility and a great blueprint for others to follow, actually.
Julianne Antrobus [00:09:56] But you know, at that time it was BNFL, but then BNFL bought Westinghouse. So, Westinghouse brought this real different approach to manufacturing. World class manufacturing, in fact, and a real focus on customers. They had a program called Customer First, which, it says what it says on the tin in terms of really focusing on delighting the client and really focusing on that customer experience. And that drove a totally different operating facility for Springfields. And Springfields even today has a big part to play in the future of whatever happens on new nuclear build. It's going to have to again look to reinvent itself as we design new fuel types going forward, particularly with the new SMR and AMR programs. And they are, I know, excited and seeking to support that new program going forward.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:10:48] And it's also such a key asset and really important thing that the UK has. They have the full life cycle of the supply chain for fuel in-house. And that's just such a strategic asset to be able to have.
Julianne Antrobus [00:11:02] Oh, absolutely. And a great skill base. A great skill base there already. They've obviously had to reduce the footprint of the site physically, but with the resources that they have on the site to meet the customer demand. But they've shown that they can be agile and they can flex to meet that. So yeah, as I said, Springfields will always have a place in my heart. It's gone through a huge amount of change and was the springboard, really, to the rest of my career within nuclear.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:11:31] Fantastic. And so from there, you went into consulting, is that correct?
Julianne Antrobus [00:11:35] So, from there... I stayed, as I said, with BNFL for just shy of a decade. I had a very fortunate opportunity halfway through that when I worked for the Chairman of BNFL for a year, which gave me the opportunity to travel with the Chairman on the Senior Executive Board of BNFL at a time that was really exciting. The Energy White Paper was being written at that time, which kind of set the path for Hinkley Point C. We only have Hinkley Point C today because of the foresight of people in BNFL to get that kind of program off the ground.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:12:09] And so, you were working with the team?
Julianne Antrobus [00:12:10] Yeah. Working with the executive of BNFL at the time. And through that year, I traveled a lot with the BNFL board. At that time, BNFL was a global organization with endeavors out in the US, endeavors over in Japan, etc., and lots of places in between. And so, I had the fortune of traveling and getting to know the executive and just really understanding the relationship between BNFL and the government at that time and the role that BNFL played. But then of course thereafter, we changed the sector wholescale with the establishment of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which came and reformed and restructured the whole sector because we were about to go into a whole new phase of decommissioning and needed to be ready for that.
Julianne Antrobus [00:13:04] So, as that kind of embarked and that whole change came about, I stayed with, obviously, the Chairman for a year and I got to know a network that has stayed with me really to this day. The senior executives that were working at BNFL at that time, leaders that I had a huge amount of regard for, but thereafter, kind of informed and shaped some of my future career as well.
Julianne Antrobus [00:13:28] So, I stayed with BNFL, to your question, as I said, shy of a decade. And then, I went to work for Nuvia as Marketing Director with Nuvia, part of the VINCI Group. And they were very much focused on the decommissioning at that time and did a huge amount of decommissioning in France, but also starting within the UK.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:13:51] To kind of bring that skillset over.
Julianne Antrobus [00:13:53] Yes.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:13:54] What was that transition like for you? To go from focusing on... Well, there's a lot of transition in your career, but I guess at that point, going from thinking about new reactors and supplying fuel for new reactors, new build-enabling projects like Sizewell, to thinking about the existing fleet and decommissioning that. What was that like for you?
Julianne Antrobus [00:14:18] It was a huge shift, as you can imagine. But actually, it's probably... You know, I always look at my career as a bit of a game of two halves. I started out in that deep technical, kind of understanding as a radiation protection advisor and in the fuel manufacturing. And then the move into Nuvia and thereafter was more into commercial and the business development strategy side of things.
Julianne Antrobus [00:14:41] And I got my hard yards in Nuvia. It was a real deep contracting organization. I went to open up our market up at Sellafield to win the big multi-year, multi-million pound frameworks up at Sellafield to decommission parts of the Sellafield site. And that was a huge learning curve for me. But also, I realized that I loved the chase of going to go out and build the business with clients directly and build a portfolio, really, for Nuvia, at that time, to grow its own capability. And I was really excited. I went onto the board of Nuvia at the same time as I had my first child. So, it was all lots of shift and lots of movement happening. But no, Nuvia had a huge portfolio of decommissioning and techniques to bring to the UK. And that was an exciting time.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:15:33] Yeah, absolutely. And the legacy that I think that established... I think what I'm starting to definitely see and I already knew in knowing you personally, but in your career is really kind of being at the forefront of big changes that are going to really shift how the government, how the industry focuses on nuclear. And you've been right at a lot of those starting places, which is really fascinating.
Julianne Antrobus [00:15:55] It's actually not until you said that... I feel like there could have been a couple of Forrest Gump moments, actually, along the way. Because in coming back to Washington, in fact, I was reminded of the privilege of having a meeting at the time with Spencer Abraham back in 2003 or 2004. He was the Secretary of Energy and I was wet behind the ears, but I'd gone to a meeting at the White House. I mean, could you imagine? I was like 20-plus. And the very fact that I'd be even in a meeting like that, that for me is probably my Forrest Gump moment. But there's been a few, now that you said that, along the way. Big milestones that have redefined our sector and our industry going forward.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:16:37] Absolutely. And I think we're certainly at the cusp of one, quite literally even today, I think, in the UK. But we'll get to that. We'll get to what's happening there. So, from Nuvia, then did you go into Atkins? And you went more into a technical role there.
Julianne Antrobus [00:16:54] No, it was actually... So, back to the network that I knew. We'd been having business meetings with Atkins. One of the executives, in fact, he was the MD of Sellafield, Brian Watson, who I hold dear. We had a business meeting, and later that night, he phoned me and said, "Can I just talk to you about an opportunity?" And he told me this story about Atkins. And Atkins had this big vision, a big transformation story. And I was really excited by it. And I thought, "Wow, why wouldn't I want to be part of that?" They were right at the start of a transformational journey. I got the opportunity to work with some of the best. And we were right at the start of a big journey to take what was really a UK consultancy organization into becoming a global powerhouse. .
Julianne Antrobus [00:17:46] You know, Atkins is a great brand. They were obviously acquired by SNC-Lavalin Atkins, which has made them even more significant in the market, particularly here in the US, as a big Tier 1 player in the DOE market. But the journey and the team that I had the privilege of working with, we just had a vision and it was how do we take that vision and become the best in terms of where we are. And I think that was led through being really clear on our strategic intent. And I would say that because I was working with the CEO at the time, a gentleman called Chris Ball, and he just had a really clear vision for the business. And my job, as Strategy Director was, "Okay, how are we going to go and get that?" He was able to balance investment in the long term with the near-term needs of the business to grow it. And how do we build a sustainable and scalable business?
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:18:43] What would you say were kind of the key pillars of being able to accomplish that from a strategy perspective? Internally?
Julianne Antrobus [00:18:49] Absolute clarity on focus on what we were going to go get. And being almost two or three steps ahead of where we needed to get to. So, it was very thoughtful in terms of the work that Atkins wanted. ITER was a step to get closer towards the new build program that was going to start in the UK. It was the program that was going to start. Very thoughtful, very focused, being clear on what we would and wouldn't do and just sheer determination as well. A team that just kind of really worked well together. It was great to work with that team. And I stayed with Atkins for, again, a decade and loved every minute of it.
Julianne Antrobus [00:19:33] But what I realized through that journey was, for me, the exciting bit was being on the journey. A journey of transformational growth is just exciting because you're shaping it, you're moving it, and you're moving at a pace. You're building the business; you can see it. And overnight, I think the business became so big with the acquisition of SNC-Lavalin, I suppose I looked at it and thought, "You know, everything hereafter is going to be quite incremental. It's not going to be as transformational as probably what we've seen." And I found that difficult to square in my own mind, which is why I kind of then realized, "You know what? I want to go and do it all over again and do it somewhere else." And that was where the relationship with PA came together, really. It was a great opportunity to do it all again, as you say.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:20:23] Well, let's focus a little bit on PA. In our engagements with you, we've just been so impressed by, I think, that clear vision that you've actually had throughout your whole career and that you've clearly brought to PA and the whole team. The whole leadership team has a very clear vision of how they want to help enable the industry to transform into being what we truly need it to be, which is focusing on deploying clean power projects and doing so in a way that is sustainable for the sector but really just for the planet. And so, can you talk to me about who is PA consulting? What is your role there? What is your vision as a company and you personally?
Julianne Antrobus [00:21:05] Great question. You might have to remind me a few as we work through that. For me, from a personal perspective... I'll start with that because that is quite important. I think it shapes the rest of the story. When PA came and spoke to me, I didn't really know PA in a nuclear context. But I was open to a discussion and I sat down and they started to talk to me about the work they were already doing in nuclear, which was small at that time with some contracts at Sellafield.
Julianne Antrobus [00:21:37] And I was ready. I kind of knew I'd gotten to a point with Atkins... I would have loved to stay with Atkins, but I could have continued just doing what I'd already done. And you either decide whether you want to step out of your comfort zone and back yourself and go and do something else. I felt that I'd kind of grown up with Atkins at a point that was really pivotal in my career, but I was ready to take all of that, and with Nuvia and with BNFL, and I was wanting to do it in my way. And this for me, my step into PA was what I would say is my first leadership role in the way I want to build my business. I've always been, probably somebody else's number two. And I felt for me, PA provided an opportunity for me to bring all that great learning, all the great learning that I've had working with others and they've led businesses and bring it to how I want to build my practice within PA.
Julianne Antrobus [00:22:32] And PA afforded me a blank piece of paper. They said to me, "Okay, we're really interested in this nuclear thing. We've invested in Sellafield. Come and tell us what you think this market could do and how big it could be and why PA in this sector? And when I started to think about that and started to do my own due diligence with PA, I just got really, really excited. They were about 3,500 when I joined. They're now 4,500, and big ambitions of growth. And I just sat there and thought, "Surely, I can't be at the start of another," what I say, "transformational journey." And for me, this time, to be able to lead it and take, as I said, all of that great learning.
Julianne Antrobus [00:23:16] And that's the journey we've been on. What I've been able to bring to PA is the fact that nuclear was not a market they knew. I was able to understand the capability that they have. And first and foremost, PA is a innovation technology consultancy. Now, I would drop the consultancy, because actually, we're just first and foremost innovators and real technology junkies. And I think consultancy can actually give us a bit of a misrepresentation. We very much work with our clients who've got a big ambition. They think big, they need to start small and then scale fast.
Julianne Antrobus [00:23:55] And we work with our clients through either them wanting to develop a technology, whether they want to set up an organization and start from the beginning and create the right culture, create the right organizational design to build that capability for the future, or we help them orientate themselves within a market to see what is the market they should go for relative to what they want to be in the marketplace. So, we work in many different guises, but first and foremost, we want to work with taking our clients through the journey of realizing their own ambition. And for us, we have the right to play in that space because we bring innovators, we bring technology together. We can help our clients commercialize that technology and set themselves up to deliver on their ambitions. And that for me is why nuclear. I think PA brings something really different to nuclear.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:24:43] Okay, so when you joined PA, a small nuclear team that you're now leading, you've got the clear vision for it. What is that vision in your words? And what's the team that you've built? You've kind of transformed the existing team and then grown it to be. What is that new capability?
Julianne Antrobus [00:25:02] So first of all, I haven't built, really, a nuclear team. I think that the difference is we have a nuclear practice, but that nuclear practice is working with clients, but bringing, I think, very different skill sets to this sector. And what do I mean by that? So, we have absolutely skilled capability within the UK nuclear market already, deep engineering capability. I mean, we were talking about it earlier, Michelle, around we need different skills now in this sector to drive the next generation of what we need to deliver down to reducing costs and decarbonizing the market, etc. And so [00:25:42]for us, it's about bringing a totally different skill set. Economists, innovators, data analysts, not the traditional set that we have used before. But that different set complements the existing capability. It's not to displace it; it's to complement it and build up and out. [18.2s]
Julianne Antrobus [00:26:01] So, we're not trying to be like the established supply chain that is already within nuclear. I think we're trying to really complement it, but with a very different skill set. And my ambition is... Well, it's not limited. For me, I'm over here in the US taking the practice after three years into a broader market. That's really, really exciting for us. For me, I've got the backing and a great leadership team that now is fully on board with where we're trying to go with our nuclear practice. And it's all about continuing to drive disruption and pace into our sector. Two things that we desperately need to ensure that we can deliver for the future and really drive those costs down. So, lots in that. But ultimately for me, it's about growing the team with people that are first and foremost passionate about making change, making a difference, and being disruptive at pace.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:27:04] That's fantastic. I completely agree, and I'm very excited to see how that vision plays out and work with you, hopefully, to make it play out. It's such an inspirational note, so I'm going to start to wrap us up, but I kind of want to keep on that thread. As you look to the UK and where the UK is going, the government, looking at tomorrow, or sometime this week, if not tomorrow, potentially having the Great British Nuclear announcement about what that will look like, which creates a ton of opportunity, I think, to really jump start the SMR, AMR development process in the UK.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:27:45] But it's not just in the UK. As you mentioned, in the US, we have a ton of opportunity here to build out nuclear and clean technologies that all complement each other and really think about things from the systems level perspective. How do we actually decarbonize hard to debate sectors? How do we actually put in place policies that will enable innovation to be deployed and commercialized? And how do we ensure that we can finance these types of projects going forward in a way that brings in that kind of multidisciplinary thinking and learnings from other sectors, other disciplines, to ensure that we're actually successful in this overall challenge of decarbonization?
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:28:23] So, when you think about that grand challenge in the UK, but also in the US and even more globally, what are you looking forward to and what is your sense of where we're at? Tie it to GBN, but I'm kind of curious where you're at in terms of what the next chapter looks like for nuclear and for the global energy state of play.
Julianne Antrobus [00:28:54] Those who know me know that I'm an eternal optimist or I still wouldn't be within our nuclear sector. I've been in our sector probably for 20-plus years. I stay because I've worked with the best and for the best. And I mean that in all genuineness. And for me, we have an opportunity right in front of us. And I really do hope that we don't miss this opportunity and give it away. But we've got to make it happen in terms of some commitments, in terms of decisions this week.
Julianne Antrobus [00:29:25] GBN is only one of the things that needs to happen. I posted out something this week about GBN being that curator. It needs to really be an accelerator to unlock and enable the market to move. We're on the cusp of having investors really excited about this market, but if we can't make it happen soon, they're just going to go again. We've got to demonstrate and build confidence, and we'll only build that confidence if we're going to start delivering what we say we can deliver.
Julianne Antrobus [00:29:56] So, the opportunity is there. I think it's for us to make, but we do need some of those decisions to happen over the course of the next few days to unlock this. I think there are other things that are happening around the patch, but [00:30:09]globally, I really sense that nuclear... It's not about nuclear, it's about nuclear within the energy system. You said that, and that's really important for us because we never talk about nuclear on its own. It's about how does nuclear play within the overall energy system, its role. And if you only look at it and argue it from a nuclear point of view, that's going to be quite limiting. So, we need to broaden out the discussion, broaden out the conversation to look at it at that energy systems level. [29.6s]
Julianne Antrobus [00:30:39] And that's where nuclear wins. It doesn't win against another technology type, it just wins in the overall argument that we need nuclear to be part of that balanced portfolio. If we can get to that point, then that's the right conversation to be having. And I want us to get to that point and kind of almost mature the conversation that we have within the UK, but also globally around the role that nuclear will play within that bigger picture.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:31:04] Well, that's fantastic. Thank you so much, Julianne. It's been really brilliant to have you here. And thank you so much for coming all the way over to us to do the episode. Thank you so much.
Julianne Antrobus [00:31:13] It's a pleasure, Michelle. Pleasure. Thank you so much.