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Call of the East

Working lives - Halcrow project director Michael Yu has gone back to his roots to run the company's contract on the Chongzun Expressway in Guizhou, China.

Eighteen months ago engineer Michael Yu found himself back where he started in his home town of Guiyang, in Guizhou province in China, helping to manage the region's most high profile highway scheme to date.

The Chongzun Expressway is the missing link in a dual carriageway road that links Guiyang, via Congxihe and Zunyi, with the industrial city of Chongqing to the north.

It is being built through extraordinarily difficult terrain (see feature page 18 ).

'It is a very, very prestigious project, ' says Yu with pride. 'And it's the greatest experience of my career to date.' Yu studied engineering at Chongqing University, graduating in 1982. He taught at a college until heading to the UK and Manchester University in 1986 to further his engineering studies. From there he went to Leeds to gain his PhD, graduating in 1990.

With his doctorate under his belt he spent 10 years with British Rail Research in Derby until at the end of the century he and his wife decided it was time to go back to China.

'There were huge construction schemes under way and I wanted to help, ' he says.

He got a job with Halcrow's China group but first spent a spell with the firm's bridge engineering team in the UK to get acclimatised to the Halcrow business. His understanding of Chinese and British culture and language was too valuable to keep hidden and within a year, in 2001, Halcrow had sent Yu to north west China to work as a structural engineer on a World Bank scheme. After five months he stepped up to the role of project director and saw the highway scheme through to completion at the end of 2002.

After that it was off to Guizhou as Halcrow team leader for the Chongzun Expressway. Yu is clearly delighted to be working back in his old stamping ground. Many of the engineers he is working with were his contemporaries at Chongqing University. Others he knows through his love of sports.

The Halcrow role on the scheme is to keep a tight watch on quality. 'I advise the local teams. Mostly we find things we are unhappy about together, but sometimes if things have been overlooked I tell them what needs to be done.' If there are disputes between parties a two minute call from Yu can defuse the situation where on other projects there might be a flurry of memos and six months delay while issues are resolved.

'Some of the contractors liked to rely on good relations with the boss of the project and ignore the local engineering managers on their sites. I thought that was very demoralising so I fought with the locals to make sure they followed the procedure.

There were lots of meetings, arguments and debates but I talked up the RE role.' Watching Yu stand up to the bosses was a new experience for many of his colleagues.

'People had never said no to their bosses before. I was the only one. But they all understand that it is just for the good of the project.' Yu has been promoted and now spends much of his time in Shanghai. But he went back to Guiyang recently for two weeks annual leave, only to find staff from the project on the phone to him almost immediately. ''Oh good, you're back. We have the auditors coming. We need you to come in.' And that was the end of my holiday.'

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