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Company profile- Parson's Brinckerhoff

INNOVATE - Technical excellence is celebrated and encouraged at consultancy giant Parsons Brinckerhoff. Margo Cole reports.

FACTS AND STATISTICS

2,200 STAFF In Europe and Africa

Top 20 UK consultant

£ 935M global turnover

11,500 staff worldwide

150 offices worldwide

- Three operating divisions: communities, transportation, energy
- A flexible benefits package allowing staff to tailor their benefits and giving staff up to 30 days holiday
- Graduate engineering scheme
- Global exchange programme between Europe/Africa and Australia, eligible to all employees
- The Professional Growth Network (PGN) for people in the early stages of their careers
- Practice Area Networks (PANs) - a worldwide virtual network for sharing global skills and experience
- Professional recognition programme - in-house training and certification for professional, technical, project management, business development and administrative staff

PB'S PEOPLE

Positioned at the forefront of technical expertise, PB offers tremendous opportunities for staff throughout the UK and worldwide.

Steve Denton - Director

Director of bridge and structural engineering Steve Denton founded the group within PB that won the 2008 NCE/ACE Outstanding Achievement Award.

He has been with the company since 1989, when PB sponsored him through his degree at Cambridge University.

After he had gained ICE chartership, PB supported Denton to return to Cambridge to study for a PhD looking at "the behaviour of concrete structures and how we could save money for clients by showing they're stronger than you might think".

While there, he split his time between research, teaching and consultancy – a balance he has tried to maintain ever since and encouraged his colleagues to emulate. "It has big advantages," he says. "You can do better work for your clients and at the same time support universities to do better research." Earlier this year Denton was appointed visiting professor at the University of Bath.

The bridges group not only carries out a wide range of design projects, but also provides strategic advice to clients like Network Rail and the Highways Agency, with a particular focus at the moment on the implementation of Eurocodes.

But, Denton is keen to dispel the myth that these are purely technical specialists.

"It's really important that we're doing practical projects and working for contractors and clients, as well as delivering innovative work," he says.

It is about having an understanding from the highest technical level to the detailed level of getting things built , and its important that we have people that are able to work across that whole spectrum."

David Hutchison - Area manager

Having spent all his career in consultancy, both in the UK and overseas, ICE vice president David Hutchison joined PB in November 2003 to build the company's rail business in Scotland.

"I wanted to get back into major projects, and that's what PB does," he explains.

At the time, the Glasgow-based Scottish transportation team consisted of just 10 people, and Hutchison was determined to build the group so it could compete for some of the region's biggest infrastructure projects.

The first of these was the £592M Edinburgh Tram project, and by 2005 the company had landed the contract as system design services consultant for the scheme. PB opened a project office in Edinburgh and pulled in resources from all over the UK and worldwide, with 250 people working on the project at its peak.

"One of PB's major features is the breadth and depth of expertise that is available worldwide," says Hutchison. 'You can call upon experts from the States, or Australia, which has been fantastic on this project."

With construction about to start on Edinburgh Tram, Hutchison's team is hoping to pick up its share of other infrastructure projects as he aims to double the Scottish transportation business.

Andrea Culp - Civil engineer

American-born engineer Andrea Culp joined PB's Bristol environment team in September 2007 when her husband's further education brought them to the UK. She admits she was nervous about the move, but says her colleagues have been very supportive.

Culp graduated with a qualification in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin at Platteville in 2001, and works predominantly on flood-related issues and river modelling. "My interest has always been in water," she explains.

"In my previous job in Colorado the big issue was lack of water, so this is a bit of a change."

The 75-strong Bristol environment group includes not just civil engineers but ecologists, hydrologists and scientists, and is expanding rapidly. Although she is based in Bristol, Culp has worked on projects throughout the UK and has the opportunity to work overseas.

"I guess it's different for me because I'm working abroad already," she says, "but it's very exciting for us young engineers to be exposed to international projects, and I would jump on an overseas assignment, given the opportunity."

Culp, who has just started working towards ICE chartership, describes her job at PB as "very exciting". "The people I work with make the difference," she explains." I sit elbow to elbow with my managers, so asking a question is never a problem."

Mike Lamb Business - group director

Chartered civil and structural engineer Mike Lamb has recently been promoted to northern region business group director for Communities, having joined PB just five years ago.

What attracted him was the opportunity to start up a new buildings group in the Newcastle office at an early stage in his career.
Lamb has grown the business from just two people to the point where there are now 54 architects, civil and structural engineers, M&E specialists and project managers in Newcastle.

His client list includes Scottish & Southern Electricity, North Ayrshire Council and both Edinburgh and Newcastle City Councils.

Last year, as part of the Aura consortium, PB landed a contract to design 18 schools in Newcastle under a £180M Building Schools for the Future PFI programme. "There are eight schools in the first phase, which are all on site at the moment and roughly half way through construction," explains Lamb. "We're about to start design on the second phase."

Lamb's team also works on power projects that are run from the Newcastle office, as well as projects managed by other offices, including a cultural heritage centre in Dubai.

The group is also designing the buildings for the new Tyne Tunnel.

Rachel Skinner - Director

Rachel Skinner joined PB's Taunton office as a geography graduate 10 years ago, and is now director of transportation planning, responsible for 75 people in eight UK offices.

Each office works on a mix of local and larger projects, which draw in team members from across the country. Current projects include a major study into the viability of a new Lower Thames Crossing for the Department for Transport, the Highways Agency's spatial planning framework for the South East, East and London, and the Olympic transport services framework.

Skinner started working towards ICE chartered status as soon as she joined PB, and the company sponsored her to do a masters in transport planning and engineering, after which she moved to Exeter to set up a new team for PB's partnering contract with Devon County Council. Once that was established, and with chartership under her belt, she headed to London to build another new transportation planning team in the capital. She was promoted to her current role last year.

Skinner was involved in setting up PB's Professional Growth Network (PGN) and was chair for the Europe, Africa and Middle East group. "The PGN gave me fantastic exposure and an understanding of PB's global presence early in my career," she explains.

Majid Latif - Group manager

Chartered structural engineer Majid Latif has been with PB's energy business in Newcastle since 1989, having joined the company because he wanted the opportunity to work on large projects and travel overseas.

From that point of view it was certainly a good choice: he has spent much of the past 20 years working on massive international power station projects, and is currently involved in the Medupi project in South Africa - the largest coal fired power station ever to be built in a single phase. PB is working in a combined team with South African electricity supplier Eskom, and is project managing the scheme and providing engineering support. Almost 40 PB civil engineers will be involved during the course of the project.

Latif manages a team of 24 engineering specialists within the power and energy sector.

"We are working on projects with a total power capacity of 16,000MW and desalinated water output of 160M gallons per day," he explains.

"The projects are across Europe, North, West and South Africa and the Middle East. Our work involves advising clients on front end engineering and design, procurement, managing the contract and the design and construction process."

EXPANDING HORIZONS

A strong ethos of personal and professional development underlines Parsons Brinckerhoff's strategy for enabling engineers to deliver for their clients.

Parsons Brinckerhoff's history goes back over 120 years, having been founded in New York City in 1885. It now employs 11,500 people worldwide, 2,000 of them in the UK.

The employee-owned consultancy has had a presence in the UK since the 1990s, when it acquired Newcastle-based power consultant Merz and McLellan and international engineering firm Kennedy & Donkin. "The two companies had their own positions in the different markets," explains Greg Ayres, PB's managing director for Europe and Africa. "Our task over recent years has been one of integration and development to allow the various business units to foster and expand their specific talents."

That process has involved focusing on three key sectors – energy, transportation and communities (predominantly building and environment) – as well as expanding the services offered in key office locations. This should enable engineers to think outside the traditional "silo" mentality, according to Ayres. "We understand that a civil engineer has transferable skills," he explains. "We want to give people the opportunity of being able to expand their horizons and hopefully they will see the value of this to themselves in terms of their profession and competencies, as well as the value to the business."

In recent years the company has invested heavily in personal development, including leadership development, coaching and mentoring, and the "realising your potential" appraisal and review programme that matches people's skills with opportunities available. Technical and management skills are valued equally, with parallel qualifications available for staff to attain PB-wide accreditation through the company's global professional recognition programme.Managers are incentivised financially, but success does not just depend on the revenue they generate within their business units. "It's very much a balanced scorecard approach, with managers incentivised for collaboration," explains Ayres.

"Issues like realising your potential, graduate recruitment and customer relations are all included."

PB may be US-owned, but Ayres says the culture in its UK offices is more British than American – although the benefits of being part of a global company are in evidence.

All staff can sign up to the 50 or so discipline-specific "practice area networks" that enable experts to share knowledge throughout the world, and there is a global exchange programme between PB's UK and Australian operations. More informal exchanges happen all the time, with experts called up from all over the world to help out wherever their skills are needed. "We have resource balancing mechanisms that are driven by project requirements," explains Ayres.

"There is a lot of opportunity to export yourself for a set period of time – two, three or four years – for a particular job."

DEVELOPMENT

PB's career development programmes operate globally, and include international groups for staff with similar professional interests, and a series of internal accreditation and recognition schemes for staff on different career paths, such as project managers and technical leaders.
The company also has a "Professional Growth Network" (PGN), led by staff in the early years of their careers. Past PGN chairs now hold influential roles with PB around the world.

Dr Steve Denton, director of bridge and structural engineering, says: "One of the things I really like about these programmes is that they articulate what's important for the organisation. By recognising different career paths, we're saying that all these matter. By investing in our younger staff, we recognise the huge value they contribute.

"You have to be at the top of the game to get to the highest level of attainment in the accreditation programmes, which shows that we're committed to excellence," he continues. "And an emphasis on staff making a contribution outside the company shows behaviour we value."

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