Two years of working flat out trying to get the new national stadium built would be enough to persuade most of us to hang up our boots, but Paul Gandy, managing director of the UK arm of Multiplex, has set himself a new goal – building, rather than demolishing, famous towers
A year and a half ago Paul Gandy was involved in a car accident that left him in a wheelchair for several months. He was forced to live in a hotel with facilities for the disabled near his Park Lane offices. The injuries also stopped him from taking part in his hobby – sprint-racing classic motorbikes. But Gandy has learned to be patient: "The last 10 months have not been so bad because I've been on sticks," he says after careful thought.

Gandy is managing director of the UK arm of Multiplex, the Australian contractor responsible for the £445m construction of the national stadium at Wembley. The problems Southampton-born Gandy has had with the project have kept him from dwelling on his injuries – he is only now starting to wind down after working 80 hours a week for the past two years trying to get the stadium built.

The project finally reached financial close two weeks ago, and demolition of the old stadium started four days later. It was a long time coming. In between were government investigations into the project's viability, accusations of unfair procurement, redesigns and the voracious trumpeting of alternative national stadium ideas, to name but a few of the obstacles.

Multiplex's attempts to get on with building the stadium were frustrated at every turn, and the company found itself under the spotlight. But Gandy believes that a major contractor has to accept the rough with the smooth: "When you're in the public eye and you're involved with something like Wembley, you have to accept that the press are going to have a go at you now and again."

The company also found itself at the centre of a row over its appointment. Multiplex was originally part of a consortium with Bovis that was named preferred contractor by Wembley National Stadium Limited on 18 February 2000. This consortium was dismissed six months later after it put a £340m price on the scheme. Yet, on 1 September, only 48 hours after the dismissal, Multiplex agreed to build Wembley for just £326.5m without Bovis – this price has subsequently spiralled because of inflation and the inclusion of client costs such as fit-out and design changes. A report by former Wembley project manager Tropus said the appointment was made with undue speed.

Gandy denies that there was a problem with the procurement route. "These things don't happen straightaway," he says. "For the month or so before, there'd been quite intensive discussions between Bovis, Multiplex and WNSL. The organisations perhaps have different cultures, perhaps have different views of fixed-price contracting."

When you’re involved with something like Wembley, you have to accept that the press will have a go at you now and again

Gandy appears uncomfortable discussing Bovis and any commercial elements of the deal. Sure, he can envisage situations where he would work with Bovis or any other major contractor again, but contracting does not easily lend itself to joint ventures. Are rumours true that Multiplex has a clause with WNSL that would allow the company to claim £12.6m if the contract was terminated? Arrangements with WNSL remain confidential, he says (twice).

When asked if he feels that the project could and should have got under way several months ago, Gandy points out that financial close on the project took just six months from when the German bank, WestLB, was brought on board by WNSL to help set up funding. PFI projects, particularly the early ones, are often far more time-consuming, he argues, but Wembley is further complicated by the number of interested parties and its public dimension.

The two-year wait between being named preferred contractor and demolition means that Norman Foster's designs are well advanced. As a result, says Gandy, there are unlikely to be any significant changes during the 40-month construction period. It may be the one comment that comes back to haunt him.

As to whether he thinks Birmingham's bid to build a national stadium was brushed aside without any real consideration, Gandy chooses his words carefully. "I don't think they were treated shabbily. I think this scheme has been a Wembley scheme for a long time." If Gandy has other thoughts on the subject, he's not sharing them.

He is far less reserved when discussing Multiplex's future business strategy. The company was only established in the UK in 1998 and Gandy took over in 2000, but it is growing fast, with 130 staff and plans to take on projects worth more than £40m. It is unlikely to build any more stadiums in the UK with football facing financial collapse, although it has pitched for "Bertie's Bowl", Ireland's troubled national stadium project.

Personal effects

So, you don’t like football?
I was born and raised in Southampton, so I support them, but motorsports are my thing.
You like to take part in classic motorbike sprints. Where do you do that?
The races take place all around the south of England, mainly on airfields.
Where are you going on holiday next?
I’m going to Spain in about two weeks. I’ve bought a place out there. I think you need to come down slowly after a big deal and get back to a normal life before going away.
Where did you work before moving to Multiplex?
I was director of Kvaerner’s UK building business. I dealt with a lot of PFI projects.