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Billion dollar brains

As major infrastructure projects around the world get bigger and technically more complex, the pool of people with the experience needed to run them seems to be getting smaller. Damian Arnold looks at the career paths of some of the men, and one of the women, in charge of multi-billion dollar schemes around the globe to find out how they got arguably the best jobs in the industry and what skills aspiring major project leaders need to acquire.

Phil Wilbraham, 49

  • Eastern Campus programme director, BAA

Phil Wilbraham joined BAA in 2003 and is now in charge of deliver ing the Eastern Campus Programme at Heathrow, including the new terminal building and two satellite buildings, known as Heathrow East. This project will replace Terminals 1 and 2. It is being developed in two phases with phase 1 costing £2bn. Phase 2 includes an extension to the terminal building, the second satellite building, a tracked transit system and a new baggage system. He was previously one of the leaders of the construction of the £4.3bn Terminal 5 and before that he led the £350M Terminal 5 Landside Development Project. This included the Twin Rivers Diversion and M25 Spur, which were completed ahead of programme and under budget. A chartered civil engineer, he graduated in engineering science from the University of Exeter and also gained a diploma in management studies from Aston Business School. He worked as a project engineer at Mott MacDonald between 1983 and 1993 and was later director of civil engineering at TPS Consult. He was appointed Eastern Campus programme director in 2008.

Cliff Mumm, 61

  • Project delivery director, Crossrail Central

Cliff Mumm has delivered massive rail infrastructure projects for Bechtel over more than 30 years. He pulled the troubled JLE project back from the brink in 1999. More recent projects include Iraq infrastructure reconstruction, Ground Zero reconstruction, and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. Away from such trouble shooting, Mumm is a keen jazz pianist. He is now hoping to hit the right notes at the £16bn Crossrail project. “Logistically this is going to be one of the most challenging jobs that London has ever seen,” he says. “It does help to have cleared up messes [in the past] because then you know what not to do.”

Andy Mitchell, 49

  • Programme director, Crossrail

Andy Mitchell was responsible for writing the construction programme for Network Rail’s £5.5bn Thameslink project. At this point he was snapped up by Crossrail to become its programme director responsible for ensuring that programme partner, Transcend, and project delivery partner, Crossrail Central , deliver on time and to budget. Mitchell worked for 12 years on high-profile projects in the United Arab Emirates, South Africa and on Hong Kong Airport and Hong Kong West Rail before joining Network Rail in 2001. As project director for Network Rail’s Southern Power Upgrade project, he delivered the scheme considerably under budget.

David Waboso

  • London Upgrades director, London Underground

David Waboso’s career defining moment came in 1989 when he was invited to work on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) project, a job he calls a “fantastic railway university”. Not long after he joined, new management was brought in. Impressed with Waboso, the new management asked him to oversee a system of prime contractors − a first for the rail industry. “It was a totally different approach to traditional railway construction, with a single point of responsibility to bring all the contractors together.” To add to the degree of challenge the DLR then became the first to install moving block signalling on a British railway. This outstanding achievement bought into sharp focus the chaos being wreaked by the attempt to install a similar system on the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE).

This led to Waboso’s next big challenge. “The JLE was having problems installing moving block signalling so they asked me to get it to work,” he says. “I realised, having done it once, that they were a very, very long way off and I persuaded them that the only way they would get the extension running in time for the new Millennium was to go for a fixed block alternative. It would have been 2003 or 2004 if they had persisted with moving block.” Waboso, who has been an engineer for 30 years, is now overseeing London Underground Limited’s upgrade of the capital’s Tube network. Courage is the one quality that is indispensable in leading these projects. “You’ve got to be steadfast in making sure you always do what is right,” he says. “It’s not for retiring roses, this business.”

Jacqueline Rast, 48

  • President major programmes, CH2MHill

Jacqueline Rast oversees multi-billion pound projects for CH2MHill including its work on London 2012, Masdar low carbon city in Abu Dhabi and the Panama Canal expansion. Worldwide recession has made her job much harder, she says. “My biggest challenge at the moment is that a lot our projects are funded by government and we are in a recession. We have to be as responsive and flexible as possible to meet the needs of governments as budgets and priorities are changing. Pretty big changes are needed to meet those requirements.” Many younger people at CH2M, about a third of which are women, are being groomed to join the company’s major projects leaders, she says. “You would be expected to punch a few tickets in terms of holding positions in various elements of projects up to deputy programme manager. “To do the job well you need to be strong in engineering financing, especially private finance. You need to understand governments and how decisions are made and be skilled in dealing with multiparties.” She is proud to be a pioneering woman in a male dominated club and optimistic that more women will join her in the future. “In the US 51% of people now doing science related courses are women, so the talent pool for potential female leaders will continue to grow. One third of our project managers are women. Frankly it is still a male dominated, mainly white club, but hopefully that is going to change.” Rast flies about 240,000km a year for her job, more than six times round the world, but likes to find time for skiing and hiking in the Colorado mountains with her husband.

Jorge Quijano, 57

  • Engineering and programme management executive and vice president, Panama Canal Authority

Jorge Quijano, is that rare example of a project leader with more than 30 years experience on the piece of infrastructure that he is in charge of upgrading. As executive vice president of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) he is running the organisation that has been set up specially to deliver the $6.2bn expansion of the canal. Following an early career as a process engineer on a Texas oil refinery, the Panamanian has worked on the canal since 1975 and was chief operations officer from 1999-2007. He was seen as the ideal person to build an organisation from scratch to deliver the canal expansion. “It’s very exciting and it keeps the adrenalin going. I’m 57 and this may be my last major project.” The project is now two and a half years into construction and is being undertaken by an Impregilo-led consortium. “It’s a big challenge making sure we keep on top of the quality of the work. We have to follow through each and every action that the contractor does. We need to able to smell the claims before they happen.” Most of the projects are either on target or very close, he says. The first two contracts will be finished in December ahead of schedule. “There are so many variables that you need to have your antennae primed to everything going on to identify problems before they hit and take action. You must be disciplined not to bow to pressure to change requirements.” Above all he advises aspiring major project leaders not to be led by their egos. “We are better at directing when we serve than when we are served,” he says sagely.

Mysore Nagaraja, 68

  • Consultant for New York City on water and waste water programmes. Former chief engineer New York Metropolitan Transit Authority

Nagaraja was involved in more than $40bn worth of investment on New York’s subway where his projects included the $8bn scheme to connect the
Long Island railroad into Grand Central Station. He is currently troubleshooting on the city’s $10bn water and waste water programme. “Dealing with political interference can be really difficult. Once you establish the budget everyone expects you hold to that budget and schedule.”

Tom McCarthy, 52

  • Rail managing director, Bechtel

McCarthy had a track record of helping Railtrack (as was), out of a mess when he was seconded to work on the network’s national recovery plan after the Hatfield crash in 2000. He then took over the West Coast Main Line upgrade in 2002 with the project running four years late and with a budget up from the original £2bn to an estimated £13bn. The Californian oversaw successful completion of the project in late 2008 to a reduced price of around £9bn. The project had more than 7,000 people working on the upgrade of 650km of track, 2,800 signals, electrical lines, signal points and switches, mostly done during weekend possessions.

Howard Shiplee, 62

  • Director of construction, 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority

Howard Shiplee is one of Britain’s top project managers, having forged his reputation at Bovis between 1986 and 1988 before moving on to Amec where he oversaw construction of the Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong and Manchester airport terminal. He then moved on to High Point Rendel where he oversaw the redevelopment of Ascot Racecourse, completed in 2006. He started his career as a teenage bricklayer in Liverpool, now he is developing and managing construction contracts, budgets and timelines for the new permanent facilities across all venues and the temporary arenas for the 2012 Olympics.

TC Chew, 58

  • Deputy projects director, MTR Corporation

Chew is one of the few engineers to have experienced the contrasting challenges of running urban rail projects in Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Kuala Lumpur and London − where he worked on the Victoria Line upgrade. As deputy projects director at Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway Corporation his responsibilities include the Sha Tin to Central Link and the Kwun Tong line extension. Future projects include the $7bn 15km South Island Line, which is starting in 2011 and the extension to the West Island line. A Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Chew is expected to take over from projects director Russell Black who is due to retire.

Robbie Burns, 54

  • Network Rail major programme director, Crossrail

Robbie Burns is responsible for more than £3bn of capital works which will ensure that the UK national rail network integrates perfectly with the new Crossrail route. Among Burns’s tasks are to manage the upgrade of the Great Western Railway from Paddington to Maidenhead, including resignalling and electrification. He will oversee construction of a new junction where the Heathrow Spur will meet the Great Western Railway and the rebuilding of Paddington Station. He will also look at how the system will work in terms of timetabling. Burns spent 26 years in the British Army before he joined Network Rail in 2001. He became Midlands regional director in 2003.

Ian Galloway, 58

  • Head of London 2012 delivery partner CLM

Since taking control of London 2012 delivery partner CLM in 2007 Ian Galloway has been responsible for making sure all the Olympic Park venues are hitting their budgets and their deadlines − under huge public and political scrutiny. Galloway was seconded to CLM from Laing O’Rourke and left Bechtel to do the job after a long career with the company which has stood the Northern Irishman in good stead for the logistical and political challenges. During this time he was project director on section two works for the High Speed 1 rail line to the Channel Tunnel. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from UMIST in 1974 and started his career in manufacturing and petroleum refinery operations. Before joining Bechtel in 1985 he managed a series of international oil and gas processing construction projects in Algeria, Tunisia, Abu Dhabi and Kazakhstan.

Dick McIlhattan, 61

  • Implementation director, Crossrail

People with experience of big oil and gas projects are seen as very useful when it comes to running other infrastructure projects because their management processes are seen as more progressive. Bechtel’s Dick McIlhattan has long experience of this from Bechtel’s oil and gas engineering office in Houston, Texas where he oversaw the building of refineries in the US Virgin Islands. He was also in charge of delivering big power plants, nuclear, chemical and mining projects in the US and Mexico. In the UK he has been involved in the West Coast Main Line upgrade and now he has been drafted into Crossrail.

Dr Michael Horodniceanu, 65

  • President, New York MTA Capital Construction

Horodniceanu is in charge of $15bn of capital projects at the New York City Metropolitan transit authority including Second Avenue Subway, the extension to Seventh Avenue, the Fulton Street Transit Centre and the South Ferry Terminal. Before joining the MTA he was CEO of the New York based civil engineering company Urbitran. As New York’s transport commissioner between 1986 and 1990 he introduced Total Project Management (TPM), a system under which one person was made responsible for the management of a project from inception to completion.

Mick McCarry, 54

  • Construction director, Balfour Beatty/Skanska, M25 widening scheme

Mick McCarry, 54, is responsible for spending a million pounds a day for the Connect Plus consortium of Balfour Beatty and Skanska on the £6.2bn M25 widening project. His recipe for success is to surround himself with a tried and trusted team to minimise nasty surprises on a job that is potentially full of them.

“We have an established supply chain including Atkins, WSP-Giff ord, Stent Cementation, McArdles and Lafarge,” says McCarry. “They are all big players in their field and guys we have been working with for years. There is virtually no learning curve here.” Key attributes needed to do his job eff ectively are good lines of communication with every member of staff , thus strengthening his ability to put problems right as quickly as possible. “You need to be able to talk to people, from the chief executive to the guys out in the field, and be understood,” he says.

His project back catalogue includes major PFI road schemes, most notably the M40 widening in the mid-1990s while with Tarmac. “That was very challenging as a very early PFI project that ate up £1 billion in three years,” he says. McCarry comes from a family of bricklayers and stone masons and his father ran a construction business. After studying civil and structural engineering at Cardiff University he spent much of his early career at Balfour Beatty working on roads, bridges and tunnelling works.

Bernard Ainsworth, 62

  • Project managing director, Sellar Properties

If having a rich and varied experience is a key qualification for running a highly complex £2bn-plus construction project, then Ainsworth, is royally qualified. He is overseeing the building of the 310m-high Shard of Glass at London Bridge.

People skills were learnt as the industrial relations manager for John Laing on the building of a power station on the Isle of Grain, Kent, from 1972 to 1976. “A job beset by strikes,” he recalls. He then learnt about logistics, materials and costs as the planner of a huge PVC plant in Cold War-era Poland where the project manager was a certain John Armitt, now chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority.

A particularly formative experience was managing the building of the Toyota Car Plant at Derby in the late Eighties. “The Japanese have a more considered view of decision making. Decisions are evolved from the team, so relationship building within the team is very important,” he says. Much higher profile and more politically charged jobs followed including the Millennium Dome and Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

After such a rich career, this is his advice: “The biggest thing to change in the last 40 years is the ability to have information at your finger tips to make meaningful decisions. So make the most of that by getting the right information at the right time to the right people. That will allow you to make the right decisions. “Approachability is very important. Don’t be the fierce ogre in the corner. But be honest and if you think somebody is wrong tell them.” In his spare time, he is managing another construction project. In this case the building of a holiday home in the Orkney Islands where he can finally escape from it all with his wife.

Ian Thoms, 63

  • Chief executive, Bombela − Gautrain Rapid Rail project

Ian Thoms was seen as the perfect person to manage the building of the $3bn Gautrain Rapid Rail Link project in South Africa for the private finance concessionaire Bombela. His CV boasts the successful early completion of MTR Corporation metro projects in Hong Kong, including the Tsuen Wan Extension (1982) and Island Line (1985). He also worked on the Eastern Harbour Crossing road tunnel (1989) and managed major elements of the MTR Corporation’s Airport Railway (1998) and rail company KCRC’s West Rail project (2003). Thoms started out with John Laing as a graduate engineer in 1968.

Hans Dekker, 42

  • Vice president, operations, Fluor

Responsible for Fluor’s infrastructure operations in Europe and the UK, Dekker is chief executive officer of the Fluor-led Infraspeed consortium. This is delivering the 3.2bn ($4.7bn) euro HSL-Zuid High Speed Rail Link South in the Netherlands under a 30 year design, build, finance and operate contract. He is also project director of the Greater Gabbard off shore windfarm off the coast of Suffolk − the largest in the world. Dekker has been with Fluor for 17 years, working on the Shell Per+ oil refinery. He studied at the University of Delft and has a masters degree in electrical and control systems engineering.

Julian Foster, 41

  • BAA programme manager, Heathrow, Western Campus

Chartered civil engineer Julian Foster is inspired by the words of the management guru John Harvey Jones − who famously said that civil engineers make brilliant leaders of big projects − as he plays his part in the £4.8bn capital works programme underway at Heathrow.

Foster is responsible for the complete reconfiguration of Heathrow’s Western Campus and refurbishing Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 to bring them up to a quality on a par with Terminal 5. Meanwhile, he has delivered a big extension project at Terminal 4 that opened in September. Finally, he is delivering the Terminal 5 C satellite building and station box on a site the same size as that of Terminal 4 to be completed by January 2011.

This project involves bringing in 500 workers “airside” to build the new terminal in doublequick time, cheek by jowl with live aircraft. A holder of an MBA in project management, Foster previously worked with the consultant Scott Wilson where he built up his expertise in management of aviation projects.

Phil Stride, 53

  • Head of London Tideway Tunnels, Thames Water

Stride is managing a hugely complex £2bn project to bore 39km of tunnels that will prevent more than 32M.m3 of storm sewage overflowing into the Thames each year. Locations of the shafts for the Thames Tideway tunnel are being agreed with 13 London boroughs. Stride will manage a tunnelling process under which he will have to negotiate difficult ground conditions. He has worked for Thames Water for 35 years and was head of capital delivery (water supply) until April 2008. A chartered civil engineer, he was the ICE’s UK civil engineering manager of the year in 2003.

Gilles Dumoulin, 46

  • Project director, Vinci

Construction Grands Projets Dumoulin is in charge of building the “missing link” 10km tunnel in south west Paris that will complete the A86 ring road around the city. He is responsible for 2,000 people working on a project that is due to complete in 2011. Dumoulin began his career at Vinci in 1988 working on nuclear power stations such as at Civaux in France and on motorway building. He started leading big projects 15 years ago including hotel projects all over the world, prisons in Chile and the law courts in Martinique. He has been project director of the A86 since 2007.

Simon Kirby, 43

  • Infrastructure investment director, Network Rail

Simon Kirby is in charge of Network Rail’s £12bn mega projects spend including the £5.5bn Thameslink project and the King’s Cross station upgrade. He worked on the Trident nuclear submarine programme and from 1998-2003 was managing shipyards for BAe Systems. He joined Network Rail to work on major projects in 2003 and in 2007 was appointed to the new role of director, infrastructure investment which included “mega-projects”, such as the West Coast Main Line and the Thameslink programmes. Kirby has an MSc in engineering business management.

  • Who should be in the next major projects report? Let us know at Many thanks to Simon Pratt of Clive & Stokes who advised NCE on this selection

Readers' comments (3)

  • Is this the same Bernard Ainsworth who was the Managing Director of Trans4m (Metronet Alliance) that according to the NAO greatly contributed to the demise of Metronet by being unable to complete its Station Refurbishment programme on time and to budget?

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  • Quite a few Bechtel people get a mention, Mumm, McCarthy, McIlhatten but are they really worthy of inclusion? The JLE project was not the best ever and although completed on time what about the budget and the on-going reliability issues associated with the signalling system. As for West Coast well you have to question what was delivered just look at the daily performance of the train service. Also, these guys overran on a number of occassions on RS 7 & 12 but were only called to account on Rugby! What about when they 'lost' an enginnering train at change of shift time, it was only 1/2mile long and painted yellow.

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  • Can't think of anything that Simon Kirby has done. He certainly has not been high profile. Most of the schemes referred to he inhertited anyway and, as with most of the new Network Rail blood, kept well away from the West Coast Programme. Coucher keeps making statements about having to drive down costs but what has Kirby done in this respect?

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