This award goes to a man who almost never appears in the pages of the British press, but has been a principal factor behind the success of Sir Robert McAlpine over the past 40 years

Benny Kelly

It is almost impossible to walk around central London without passing a building constructed under the stewardship of Benny Kelly. The Sir Robert McAlpine director has had a hand in it all: the new Arsenal Emirates stadium, the Eden project and millions of square feet of office space. He is in the final stages of negotiating the deal that should see McAlpine build the Olympic stadium and is also involved in the re-fit of the Millennium Dome, It’s not bad for the boy who joined McAlpine as a fresh-faced engineer straight out of Queen’s University Belfast almost 40 years ago. Kelly’s determination charm helped him to rise rapidly up the ranks at McAlpine: after working his way up to running the firm’s north-east England operations, he came to London 15 years ago to take care of the southern division and major projects.

And take care of them he has: Kelly has a famously hands-on approach to management, working 12-hour days to defend his reputation for delivering schemes ahead of schedule and under budget. During the last stages of the Arsenal project Kelly was onsite himself almost every day to steer the stadium to the finish line.

Colleagues also praise – and occasionally bemoan – Kelly’s memory; little that occurs on a project goes unnoticed. The ability to recall in detail what went right, as well as what went wrong, has served Kelly well in building up McAlpine’s construction empire, and has allowed him to build up an enviable network of contacts across the top reaches of the industry.

Despite the pressures of work, Kelly has as much of a reputation for playing hard as he does for working hard. He has been spotted recently in the guise of Austin Powers, and there’s talk of Benny’s boat being the biggest on the Solent at annual industry sailing extravaganza Little Britain. Personality of the year? Yeah, baby.