Advanced Manufacturing

The 13th QUT Executive MBA International Study Tour : Part 2

Executive MBA students in the Gotthard Base Tunnel.
Executive MBA students in the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

In September 2022, Executive MBA of students from QUT visited four organisations across Europe to have an immersive learning experience, learning about project complexity at different levels and scale. This study tour started in England and Scotland, (see The 13th QUT Executive MBA International Study Tour : Part 1) and continued on to Germany and Switzerland.

Rheinmetall (Unterlüß)

After a brief stopover in London, the group traveled to Unterlüß in Germany, the home of Rheinmetall Vehicle Systems Division. Founded in 1889, Rheinmetall has developed into a diversified holding company with five divisions that include weapons and ammunition, as well as vehicle systems. Importantly for Australia, Rheinmetall is delivering 211 Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRV) to the Australian Army under the LAND 400 Phase 2 program and is one of two suppliers waiting on the outcome of the Commonwealth Government’s decision on the further provision of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) under Land 400 Phase 3.

Welcomed and introduced by CEO John Abunassar, members of the senior leadership team provided a comprehensive overview of the business that included reflection on the company heritage and the many contemporary issues faced as a result of the war in Ukraine. Operating within a highly regulated domestic environment but increasingly faced with a range of challenges relating to supply chain management, sovereign control, and an increasingly international workforce, Rheinmetall is committed to investing in R&D for rapid technology development and alternative models of collaboration for enhanced delivery flexibility and design modularity.

The group was  fortunate to tour the production facility, and the Red Team presentation responded to the challenges posed by the complexities of product management and time to market for a global organisation.

The International Study Tour group at Biasca.
The International Study Tour group at Biasca.

Swiss Federal Rail and the Gotthard Base Tunnel

After a night at Hamburg airport, the group flew to Zurich in Switzerland and then transited by train to the historic town of Bellinzona in the southern canton of Ticino. Known for its three World Heritage-listed medieval castles, Bellinzona has always occupied a strategic gateway position between the Alps to the north and the Prealps to the South. Bellinzona is also located at the southern end of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which is the centrepiece New Rail Link through the Alps (NRLA) program.

At 57km long, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is the world’s longest and deepest tunnel, and being quite advanced in terms of analytics, automation, and robotics, it is well on its way to becoming a “smart tunnel”.

With about 140 freight and 60 passenger trains traveling through the tunnel daily, it is the critical corridor connecting Northern and Southern Europe.

Hosted by the Head of Lifecycle Management for SBB, Thomas Gut, students were provided with a range of presentations that explored how Maintenance and Support (M&S) in largescale complex projects emerge as a result of ongoing M&S decisions in addition to those inherited from the construction or procurement phase. Similarly, how they respond to emergence and harness analytics informs their approach to life-cycle management which in turn impacts the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Students were provided with a range of presentations that explored the challenges of large-scale complex projects.


Other presentations detailed the history and political/cultural context of the tunnel, as well as the range of operational, stakeholder, and workforce planning challenges associated with maintenance. With a life cycle of 100 years, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is characterised by multiple sets of nested groups of life cycles. Each of these sub-elements (and their component parts) in turn have different life cycles (some unknown) and different replacement lead-in times, and all are differently affected by the threat of technological redundancy, and all are differently constrained logistically.

The Red Team presentation responded to the opportunities and issues associated with digitisation. In addition to presentations, the Study Tour visited the Maintenance Facility at Biasca and was conducted on an internal visit to the tunnel in one of the scheduled maintenance windows at the Multi-Function Service Centre in Faido.


In addition to creating four unique windows for real-world learning and practical insight into the complexities of large-scale projects, the Study Tour also facilitated the opportunity for a joined-up reflection on some of the major trends and issues currently facing leaders of complex projects.

Clearly, organisations are undergoing a range of transformations, driven by a variety of internal and external factors. Widely featured was the acceleration of green energy and the move towards climate neutrality as well as the needs and challenges of managing the issues associated with digital transformation and data analytics. Against this backdrop, the increasingly critical nature of human capital means that all organisations are deeply challenged by the war on talent, in terms of attraction, retention, and development. Furthermore, in light of a range of changing geopolitical factors, all organisations are looking to innovate business models and supply chains in order to facilitate flexible collaboration options for improved responsiveness and increased delivery flexibility.

This article was originally published in the quarterly Connect Magazine from the
International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) in February, 2023.

As one of Australia’s top-ranked programs,  QUT’s Executive MBA is designed to take experienced managers to new levels as highly skilled leaders.

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Associate Professor John Bensley is the Canberra Director of QUT Graduate School of Business and QUTeX. He has expertise in systems thinking, the management of innovation, product management and analytical psychology. John works with other University academics, Graduate School staff and industry professionals, to design, develop and deliver transdisciplinary education programs that meet the specific requirements of post-graduate students as well as a range of corporate and government clients. With more than 30 years management, marketing and operational experience from the mining and telecommunication industries his passion is understanding the determining effect of the human equation within organisations and helping people sense-make in complex environments.

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