STEPPING INTO what will be his new office at the ICE, the man who will be the Director General & Secretary, Mike Casebourne, seems slightly overawed.
ICE's inner sanctum is an imposing oak panelled room some 8m square and two normal storeys high. Magnificent proportions enable the elegant room comfortably to swallow a huge desk, boardroom table and suite of leather couches and armchairs. It is a scene that would have inspired envy and admiration in people such as early 20th century railway magnates - which is probably what was originally intended.
Casebourne is a late 20th century railway magnate of a sort, and being the DG&S is something that has long inspired him: 'In the past I've been happy to see this as the pinnacle of a career. 'But,' he confides, 'when I saw the advert I thought 'bloody hell' the job's come up too early!'
Another couple of years would have suited him better.
Last year, when the search for a new DG&S began, Casebourne was immersed in the competitive hurly burly of contracting's newest business, infrastructure management of the privatised railway industry. This year he still is.
It took repeated conversations to hook him into the DG&S position. Personal contact rather than paper and form filling characterised the recruitment process and the CV submitted was a simple tart up of something prepared earlier, when he became Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors' chairman three years ago.
To be DG&S he is having to give up as managing director of GTRM, a pounds 180M turnover railway infrastructure maintenance contractor with 3,500 employees of whom 380 are professional staff and 20 are on the management board. With his decision to move to the ICE taken barely more than a week ago Casebourne still has no firm succession plans in place at GTRM.
The Tarmac/Alstom-owned company's major contract is for maintenance of the entire West Coast Main Line from Euston to the Scottish border. It is one of the most intensely trafficked
railways in the world and overdue for its first major reconsruction since electrification in the 1960s.
Back in the magnate's office, the calm is broken by a shrill melody from Casebourne's mobile. A discussion ensues about the bids going in to try and unseat rival maintenance contractors in South Wales and for the West Anglia railway lines. GTRM currently has seven term contracts. One of these is up for renewal by tender and, while other firms are snapping around, Casebourne would like some of their action.
'I do love it!' he exclaims, once off the phone. 'That's the life I'm leaving.'
It demands infectious energy, charisma and enthusiasm - qualities which Casebourne displays in abundance and which singled him out as being the right person to lead the ICE.
The phone stays connected to the network, just in case. 'I don't want to be the last person to know a train has come off the rails,' he comments. It may sound flippant, but Casebourne means it.
Casebourne emphasises that his management style is to give people responsibility. 'I like everybody who works for me to take their own decisions - and witness the effect of those decisions.'
When things go wrong he says he will 'discuss that effect and demand that they do better - in private'.
Casebourne has little time for professional managers who jump from one business to another and think that they can run them without understanding the detail. 'I'm a firm believer that a manager of all he sees must understand all he sees.'
That philosophy will be guiding his initial approach to the ICE: 'I'm in this for the long term so I'm not going to run around like a lunatic changing everything.' What Casebourne will do is ask people what they are up to and what they think they should be doing, both staff members and Council.
'I'll get them to tell me, even things they don't mean to,' he grins.
As a result he hopes to be able to 'breathe a wind of change' through the organisation rather than imposing new rules.
Casebourne describes the ICE as having 'a tradition of being dominated and managed by senior members'. It has only partly changed, he says, and it is necessary 'to complete that process of evolution in order to arrive at an organisation that is nationally and internationally regarded as well run and employing a contented team of people'. Completion of the reorganisation and new internal appointments started by this year's President Sir Alan Cockshaw and retiring DG&S Roger Dobson will be carried out by Casebourne, after the survey of his new domain.
Casebourne's main objective is to improve the strength of the ICE in the regions. He wants the Institution to have a voice 'as an opinion-forming body locally'.
'The problem is money and the balance (between London and the regions) has to be
Overseas, Casebourne says that the ICE has 'got to make international contact a worthwhile business.' Putting things bluntly, he says this means the ICE must be an organisation that is taken note of around the world.