With a strong passion for maths and science, and an interest in aeronautics, it’s no surprise that Digby selected the field of mechanical engineering as his career choice. Thanks to a bursary from Gold Fields, Digby graduated with a B.Sc Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1993.

His bursary and training years at Gold Fields took him on to be part of the project team that delivered Anglo Vaal’s Target gold mine in the Free State, providing further experience in industryleading mining innovations. These included concepts such as man-riding conveyor belts, monorails, a mine without compressed air, amongst many others. However, it is Digby’s attitude and drive that has shaped his experience from mine project developer to CEO. “This foundation, and my commitment to make the most of the opportunities it presented, without doubt contributed to the career path I have followed,” says Digby. “My early years in mining gave me strong operational/technical experience, especially in leading people at a practical operations level. My later involvement in running businesses at a more strategic level honed my experience in leading people at a different level.”

Digby joined the privately owned EPCM project house TWP (now Worley) in 2001 where he completed his MBA (Cum Laude). “Our CEO at the time, Nigel Townsend, believed in me and gave me the opportunity to start running parts of the business, and ultimately the entire business.” TWP’s success as an African focused engineering house over the decades is testament to the strength of its leaders, and Digby stands strong in this regard, having being part of the growth of the company from about 100 people when he joined to more than 3 300 by the end of the same decade. TWP successfully listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in November 2007 where the company was initially valued at R1.8 billion. “This was truly an exciting period in my life.”

It was during this period that Digby really developed his leadership principles – a strong work ethic and a desire to promote education and bring people into the industry with a strong and solid skills foundation. Digby thrives on challenges, both at a personal level and at a work level and he is driven to push boundaries in both. “There will always be challenges at work to deal with; it is how we think around solving them that releases energy and innovation.” On a personal level Digby is a competitive cyclist and has mastered piloting helicopters and now fixed-wing planes, thereby fulfilling his interest in aeronautics.

When approached to take the reins of the UMS Group in 2019, Digby knew he had a challenge on his hands. UMS had acquired the well-established Shaft Sinkers and METS business – and Digby was tasked with leading the business away from legacy issues and into a strengthened position under the United Mining Services brand. “The company needed to redefine its identity with a new strategy on the way forward.

After working through a tough 2019 period, the company started returning to profitability in 2020 as its new strategy started to bear fruit. Under Digby’s leadership, UMS has recruited a very impressive team of experienced and skilled people who operate by the same principles. In 2021, the company continued to build on its profitability and has now been placed on a sound financial footing on the back of a variety of projects that stretch beyond Africa, including the Karowe Underground Project in Botswana, the WIPP project in the USA and now the MCSA project in Brazil. “In 2021 we left our legacy challenges behind us and secured a strong project pipeline.

This business is now fully rejuvenated, almost a new company, but with 60 years of experience – it’s an energising position to be in.” Digby and his leadership team have also refined the UMS brand and positioned it as a niche service provider to the industry. “While we design and manage new project builds for the mining
and processing sectors, our experience extends to construction contracts, and this is an offering traditional engineering houses are missing. We have practical construction know-how that is used up front in our designs and planning.”

Digby’s approach to growing UMS entails outlining the big objectives while focusing on the smaller steps that will push the company to building on its successes further. “But the starting point to any success story is surrounding yourself with the right people who live by the right principles. With this you can move mountains. UMS has this in abundance and is set for a strong and steady growth trajectory.”

“Digby is a prime example of somebody who is a ‘people’s person’ in all its meanings; even foes and competitors are charmed by his overflowing enthusiasm for hard work and hard play. Somebody who is a role model for colleagues and family alike, principled, honest to a tee and fair to all. Digby will succeed in any endeavour he puts his mind and considerable talents to,” says Townsend, former CEO, TWP Holdings.