Staff Spotlight: Ain’t no mountain high enough for Australian Industry Capability

There ‘ain’t no mountain high enough’ for Australian Industry Capability (AIC) Delivery Manager Eric Lerais.

Having relocated to Australia in 2013 with wife, CSIRO Earth Observation specialist Flora, Eric was a member of the original bid team that secured the Australian Future Submarine Program contract for Naval Group. The couple who are permanent residents and soon-to-be Australian citizens have since welcomed their first child, baby Martin, to Adelaide.

At home on rocky terrain, the experienced mountain runner hailing from Dijon, Burgundy, in France, is set to see the lengthy and complex Program through to the end and ensure Australian suppliers get every opportunity to be part of the journey.

What do you enjoy most about your role at Naval Group Australia?

In my role I oversee the development and implementation of our suppliers’ AIC proposals to ensure they detail how they are going to maximise Australian industry involvement throughout all phases of the program. I contribute to identifying capability gaps in industry, and I ensure that we are utilising the framework that exists between the Commonwealth of Australia and Naval Group.

Also, from a sovereignty perspective, my role includes making sure the capabilities that are needed for operation and sustainment of the submarines in the future resides in Australia for maintenance requirements.

What I love most about my role is interfacing and working with the suppliers. We are developing a supply chain from scratch which is very exciting to be a part of, and it’s contributing to increased design and manufacturing capabilities in Australia.

Why is Capability over Content so important for the Future Submarine Program?

Capability over content is critical, because this is an opportunity to lift up the level of the industry base that’s in Australia, increase jobs and in-country knowledge and expertise. Content is a by-product of what we are doing.

What would your advice be to Australian suppliers wanting to get into the Program?

My biggest advice would be to be patient, because the qualification processes are long. There are always going to be extra requirements for defence suppliers in terms of quality, security, the products themselves and so on, and those requirements are even more demanding in the submarine space in a lot of cases due to the complexity of the platform

Be ready to invest at a minimum the time that is required through the qualification process, and maintain engagement with Naval Group. Having said that, while it may be more difficult, it is also more rewarding from a business perspective.  

The Future Submarine Program provides long-term opportunities because it begins with the qualification process, then there’s the build and sustainment which allows you to maintain a good revenue line, and from an image perspective it is also evidence that a supplier’s level of capability is good enough to be part of one of the most complex Defence program’s in Australia’s history.

What do you love about living in Australia?

I’ve been here seven and a half years, and there is so much about Australia that I love. The work/life balance Australians value, the scenery and space; the way of life. It’s quite different to France where there is a high density of population and more competition for space.

I also love the people! It’s a young society, so when you come from elsewhere like I have it’s easier to integrate because there are people everywhere from different backgrounds and you feel immediately welcomed. My wife and I always enjoy when our family visit from France and showing them the beauty of Australia. Not only is it a wonderful holiday for them, it’s also a great childcare option for us when they do (laughs).

What are some of the Australian quirks you’ve had to get used to?

Australians are very funny in how friendly they are. You are super friendly right from the start, calling people “mate” and giving them a nickname before you even get to know them! It’s nice, but it’s not like that in France so I’ve had to get used to it.

What are your interests and hobbies away from work?

Apart from spending time with my family I love my sports. I do a lot of running and I like playing soccer and tennis, bike riding, mountain bike riding – anything outdoors. It’s my dream to one day climb Mont Blanc, which is Europe’s highest mountain.

There are so many beautiful places in South Australia and with Somerton beach or The [Adelaide] Hills for a quick run – what more could you want?

How did you begin your career in AIC?

I’ve always been interested in the defence industry. I studied law and strategy at university, and my first professional experience was working in defence (the land domain) in France at Nexter Systems. I eventually came to Australia with Naval Group, and this was an extraordinary opportunity as, at the time, Naval Group was just starting their involvement here.

Given my experience and interest in industry I was brought on to understand the industrial base in Australia, and to gain insight into the existing capabilities. I was part of the original bid team and once we were awarded the contract I stayed to continue looking after industry capability; looking ahead to the design, build, and sustainment phases, and what we need moving forward to achieve sovereign capability.