My secretary would say it’s mad. My work can be divided into three areas: defining internal programmes of development, such as integrated design systems; helping to progress Atkins’ innovation culture; and attending research and innovation forums.
What does work outside the company involve?
I am chairman of Construct IT, a Salford University group that looks to develop IT use as an enabler of process change; chairman of the Chartered Institute of Building’s technology panel and a member of the Department of Trade and Industry’s Foresight construction panel. I’m usually away from the office a couple of days a week.
What do you like best about your job?
Routine is anathema to me, so I like the flexibility, and also the feeling that I am working on matters of strategic importance to WS Atkins and the construction industry.
What do you dislike?
I am a facilitator, so sometimes the industry’s inertia can be frustrating. It’s a bit like pushing a piece of string.
Why are you in so many industry groups?
My job is to try to change Atkins’ processes and culture, but if I spent all my time in the firm, where would the ideas come from? I need to work outside the company to have the credibility to effect change within it.
Also, I have an innate curiosity and believe that things can always be done a bit better – and that you don’t learn much by inspecting your own navel.
Who are your mentors?
My PhD supervisor, John West, because those three years set me up for life; Roger Wootton, a charismatic, inspirational character who recruited me into Atkins; and my father-in-law, Alan Willey, who has given me excellent career advice.
Why did you do a PhD rather than going straight into civil engineering?
I came to the end of three very pleasant years and thought: “Is that it?” I hadn’t felt stretched because there has to be a lot of teaching in a civil engineering degree, which means there’s not necessarily a lot of learning.
Why did you move from academia to the commercial world?
When I started, I planned to spend two or three years in industry and then find a lectureship post. But I discovered that I could find the challenges I needed within a commercial role. The rewards are better, too.
What was the turning point of your career?
Atkins was tendering for the National Physical Laboratory – the national standards laboratory for units of measurement, which was looking to privatise the management of the lab. We didn’t win the contract, but my work on that brought me to the notice of people within Atkins and took me in the direction of science and technology.
How do you switch off after work?
Sometimes I don’t. My family takes up a lot of my time – I enjoy walking with them in the mountains and countryside, or playing tennis and squash with my son. I also sing in a church choir.