Support services group Atkins has made a high-profile appointment in hiring Bernard Ainsworth, former head of the Millennium Dome

The quoted company has hired Ainsworth, 57, to oversee the entire construction process of major projects.

Ainsworth’s latest role was as project director of Manchester’s Metrolink tram scheme, before which he was chief operating officer of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, also in Manchester.

The appointment of Ainsworth, who has a civil engineering background, is a coup for Atkins in a sector where there is strong competition to secure staff in senior positions.

Ainsworth has been hired with immediate effect, and he will report directly to board director Steve Smith.

He first made his name in the industry as project director of the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London, for the joint-venture contractors McAlpine and Laing. He spent four years in the role, working for his employer Laing, and was responsible for delivering the project in time for the millennium new year celebrations.

During his career at Laing, which spanned 33 years, he worked for major financial institutions including National Westminster Bank and Scottish Widows, and for public-sector clients including the Inland Revenue.

He was awarded an OBE in 2001 for his services to construction.

Manchester Metrolink, Ainsworth’s most recent project, has fallen on hard times. The government, which pledged about £500m to extend Manchester’s tram service to the city airport, withdrew the cash. It cited spiralling costs as the reason, but many in Manchester blame costs associated with London’s 2012 Olympic bid.

Atkins has enjoyed a turnaround in fortunes in the past two years. Shares have recovered from a low of 52p in autumn 2002 to 724p and the company has re-invented itself under chief executive Keith Clarke.

In its interim results, reported last month, Atkins revealed a 49% rise in pre-tax profit to £10.2m for the six months to September. Turnover remained flat, but Clarke said that he was intent on achieving better margins.

Ainsworth’s CV

1968-2001 Civil engineer at Laing
1989-92 Project director at Laing
1997-2001 Project director of London’s Millennium Dome for McAlpine Laing
2001 Awarded an OBE for services to construction
2001-02 Chief operating officer of the Manchester Commonwealth Games
2002-2005 Project director of Manchester Metrolink