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Changing contracts

Working lives - Contractor turned financier, Laing's Mike Mercer-Deadman is a classic product of the PFI generation.

As the construction industry has adapted to the demands of the increasingly popular PFI contracts system, engineers have seen new career paths open up to them.

Laing Roads director Mike Mercer-Deadman ditched his contractor's hard hat for the more suited and booted world of delivering the finance packages and investment bid management on Laing PFI road projects in the UK, as well as on the first such road to be built in Norway.

Mercer-Deadman aturally favours the PFI model, and the long-term view encouraged by its maintenance tie-in contracts.

But he also believes that road-widening and road-charging are preferable alternatives to new roads. 'It's been clear for some time that we have to make our road assets work as hard as they can for us.

It is not viable to keep building roads, ' he says.

A Laing veteran with more than 30 years' service behind him, Mercer-Deadman confesses, 'I never thought I'd end up doing what I am doing. My job has changed enormously, but then so has the industry'.

He says his transformation from contractor to financier has felt 'organic', perhaps owing to the continuity provided by working for the same organisation. But the 150 yearold company that built the civils part of the Sizewell B nuclear reactor and the original M1 is now virtually unrecognisable in all but name.

Having shed its contracting business to O'Rourke, John Laing - now Laing - is a far leaner beast than in its contracting heyday in the 1920s.

Mercer-Deadman joined the company in the early 1960s, working as a site engineer in the day and finishing his studies for BSc civil engineering at Plymouth Polytechnic by night.

After two years on Laing's graduate scheme, MercerDeadman's first job was with the design team based at Mill Hill in London.

This was followed by a move into contracts management in Bristol, and then heading Laing's bid to start a new fee-earning business in Florida delivering projects and construction management services.

Back in the UK in 1988, he became director of Laing management contracting. A foray into leisure developments with Granada gave MercerDeadman some of the experience that is central to his PFI work today.

Laing entered the investment business in the early 1990s, and its PFI portfolio grew through the second half of the decade. 'We had the beginnings of our business as you see it today, ' Mercer-Deadman says.

A period exploring BOT (build operate transfer - 'an international term similar to PFI and PPP') opportunities in Hong Kong and China, led to Mercer-Deadman being invited to join the UK Highways business as general manager in 1996, 'running a business on behalf of shareholders'.

The challenges of long-term delivery and the thrill of contracts tendering may have satisfied Mercer-Deadman's original desire to be productive in a more hands on way. But he confesses that there is still a lot of the contractor in him. 'I do like to stick the oar in during discussions about things of a practical nature, ' he says. 'You see the same problems occurring time and time again.'

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