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    Dr Don Fry – Aussie all-rounder

    Illustration: Sam Griffin

    Dr Don Fry’s ultimate objective in life is to see every home on Earth powered by sun and water. As owner and director of AIMTEK, Fry has designed and built 225 ships and trained 1,000 apprentices. Now he wants to fly from Sydney to London in two hours and unleash the sun’s nuclear power. Here is the world according to Fry Interview by Jodie O’Keeffe

    Follow your dreams.

    I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur. I just continue to do the things I like doing. I’ve always dreamed of building aeroplanes, ships and jet engines. I pursue those objectives with a passion and I try to make a success of them. If they happen to make money along the way, that’s good.

    Take responsibility for your actions.

    I built a sugar bin for a mill. It collapsed completely. The train underneath it was destroyed. There were 3,000 tonnes of sugar on the ground and it started to rain. I had designed the bin, I supervised construction and I had made a mistake. I found that mistake and redeveloped the theory of bins. My work became the new benchmark for bin design and my credibility was enhanced because I got in there, paid for the fix up and didn’t complain about it.

    Don’t believe the PM.

    Twenty years ago, I built 14 patrol boats for the Australian Navy. The prime minister promised the contract would be extended. I believed him. When I got to the end of the contract, the promise was broken and I had to retrench about 500 employees. It was the biggest setback of my career.

    Be a good organiser.

    I program my days carefully, even down to five minute increments. I don’t have any boring days. I don’t have any boring moments. I make the most of my time.

    Combine theory and practice.

    I walk onto one of my construction sites and, if I don’t like the way they’re doing things, I teach them how to do it better. It’s harder when I try this with the State Emergency Services at the scene of an accident. They say “Who are you?” I tell them, “I’m just a professional engineer with a bit of skill in doing these things and if you tie that rope there and jack that and push that, you’ll get that guy out in a tenth of the time.” Because my experience has been theoretical and practical, I’m in a good position to understand theory and teach it in a way most can understand.

    Don’t start it unless you can finish it.

    I’m not going to climb Mount Everest; I might not make it to the top. At 35, I took on the job of building the patrol boats for the Australian Navy. It raised eyebrows because it was one of the biggest defence contracts to be awarded at the time and I was a very small ship builder. It was a big job, but I saw it as a number of small jobs all tied together, over 5 years. It was the most successful job I’ve done, even today.

    Banks are not your friends.

    My creditors and suppliers have been the biggest investors in my business. They are more realistic about business than the banks. In other countries banks will provide funds where, if the innovator fails or dies before the project is complete, they put someone in to manage it, finish it and recover the money. Australian banks fail to support the innovative manufacturing industry and the industry suffers as a consequence.

    Dr Don Fry, AO, has studied mechanical, electrical and structural engineering, nuclear physics and naval architecture. Among other projects, he is working with the University of Queensland to develop Scramjet engines, designed to fly 1,000km in seven minutes. He recently delivered The Warren Centre 2006 Innovation Lecture.