Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

A riot of possibilities

ICE News - On the eve of stepping down as the ICE's 141st president, Gordon Masterton talked to Antony Oliver about his whirlwind year in office.

For a man who doesn't own a TV (well not a very big one anyway), Gordon Masterton has not been shy to grab the media opportunities presented by his office over the past 12 months.

Even before the publication of the successful State of the Nation report, Masterton had totted up about 35 media interviews over his presidential year, popping up on the Today programme, BBC Breakfast, ITV and Channel 4 News.

And of course he also chatted with Rory McGrath at the top of the Forth Bridge for the Discovery Channel and was featured in lads mag Maxim musing on the heights technically achievable for the tall buildings of the future.

'I've tried to get out a lot, promoting civil engineering, raising awareness and demonstrating our contribution to civilisation, ' he says. 'There was a great opportunity with Brunel to use his name and reputation to raise awareness with the public as to what civil engineers do.' Boosting public perception of civil engineering is one of the key measures of membership satisfaction and something Masterton put at the heart of his presidential year, alongside other key areas such as maintaining standards of qualication and improving the ICE's learned society and knowledge sharing capability.

He is pleased that the recent membership satisfaction survey reported an improvement in the past three years ? albeit a small one. 'The experts tell us that 3% is statistically signicant and a definite improvement, ' he says.

'Obviously we want to build on that and be seen to be adding value to the membership.'

Of course boosting public perception is pretty subjective and hard to measure. Precisely what does success look like?

Masterton is clear. 'One indicator is that it is just as difficult to get into civil engineering as it is to get into medicine, law or veterinary science, ' he says. 'Success is making civil engineering a profession that is sought after by young people.' His desire to communicate prompted Masterton to invent the presidential weblog this year.

While even he would accept that it is not everyone's cup of tea, he maintains that it was something he is glad to have done.

In case you haven't spotted it, Masterton has logged a one paragraph entry for virtually every one of his 360 presidential days so far. 'A lot of people read it, ' he says. 'It has given something to the wider membership to tell them what a president does ? I'm delighted because I think I've helped to engage with the membership.' In particular he says that engagement with young members has been very important to him over the past year ? and very rewarding. And of course his stated appreciation of the Kaiser Chiefs' work will not have held him back.

His introduction of seven president's apprentices to shadow, assist and learn from him over the year is something he is pleased incoming president Quentin Leiper will continue.

But as with all recent presidents, Masterton emphasises that he is very much part of a presidential team at the ICE. The team works to deliver the business plan and strategy ? part of the relay, as he puts it ? and Masterton is ready to hand the baton on.

'I'm pleased that we have moved on with the work of the institution and its business plan in quite a signicant way, ' he says. 'Before the end of the year Council will debate the governance review, which we are still redesigning and restructuring to make our engineering knowledge more effective; we are promoting the new membership routes and have explored convergence with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.' As Masterton looks forward to getting back to the reality of his full-time day job as vicepresident at Jacobs, looking after the environmental team, does he have a presidential legacy after his 12 months of hard, but enjoyable, graft for the ICE? No, legacies are not his thing, he insists. 'Business-like management is certainly one of the key strands of improvement at the ICE, ' Masterton says, thinking of the challenges that lie ahead.

'As in business, we are accountable to our members and stakeholders ? if we forget that we will start to be self-indulgent and that would be a mistake.' Antony Oliver is NCEI's editor Masterton abroad Twelve months ago Masterton set himself the challenge of reducing the 'presidential carbon footprint' to a minimum. And having visited 12 countries in the past year this, clearly, presented a challenge. In October he completed his global tour with a 18,000km round trip to Sri Lanka with director general Tom Foulkes.

Other carbon challenging trips have included a visit to the ICE's Asia-Pacic conference in Delhi, which among other things highlighted the huge growth in Chinese ICE membership, and the ground-breaking joint ICE/Institution of Mechanical Engineers presidential visit to Canada and the US. 'At the moment I believe about eight or nine trees should be the carbon equivalent [of my travel this year], ' he says. 'So unless someone comes up with a better idea, planting about eight or nine trees will be in order ? and I suspect that they may be north of the border.'

Masterton's Media Challenge

A year ago Masterton put up $57,000 of his own money to underpin a new competition to help lever civil engineering into the wider public consciousness. The idea was to reward the best published works of ction ? be they books, TV programmes, lms or plays ? that featured civil engineers or civil engineering in a positive light. With additional sponsorship cash from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors and The Royal Academy of Engineering, a $19,000 prize awaits the rst winner.

After judging had taken place, Masterton said he is pleased with the quality and, of course, with the rst year winner (which has yet to be announced as NCEI went to press).

'There were 15 entries, mainly novels, but we have a computer game as well, ' he says. 'So far we have got more publicity that we expected out of it. The principle of the idea has certainly caught the [wider media's] imagination and we are hoping that it will continue year on year.'

Masterton on ICE/IMechE On Monday 25 September Gordon Masterton chaired the historic joint meeting of the ICE and Institution of Mechanical Engineers Councils (IMechE) and trustees ? the first such meeting since the institutions split in 1847.

He insists that throughout his presidency he has retained a completely open mind over the rights or wrongs of merger, preferring simply to keep the option alive.

'These opportunities don't come along in regular intervals, ' he adds. 'There really is an opportunity to take advantage of the willingness within the IMechE to go further with this joint project.' No decisions have been taken, he stresses, with nothing ruled in and almost nothing ruled out.

That said, Masterton is realistic about the future and says that at some point in the future the 34 engineering institutions will have to be consolidated.

'The danger is that we become marginalised, ' he says. 'We have seen consolidation among institutions over the past 30 years and I don't see anything other than this continuing.'

Masterton on the value of young engineers

The creation of presidential apprentices was one of Masterton's new ideas and has seen seven graduate engineers each spend a couple of weeks shadowing the presidential entourage over the year.

They had a wide-ranging brief that in essence was designed to expose them to the inner workings of the ICE ? writing speeches, making speeches, researching visits and generally supporting their president.

But Masterton insists that the process was very much two way. 'It has helped me to get a better understanding of theneeds and wants of young people in the institution, ' he says.

That said, Masterton is aware that as graduate and student members have no corporate voting rights they would have little formal say if, for instance, the ICE/IMechE went to a membership ballot.

However, he urges young members to keep making their views known. 'They must continue to push at the edges and push the older members along with them, ' he says.

'I don't think that there are barriers to young people.'

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.