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Engineering discipline

Working lives - Profile

From chainman to project director, Peter Anderson's rise through the ranks at Balfour Beatty has been rapid. And he has not finished yet.

This week Balfour Beatty has reaffirmed its position as Britain's biggest civils contractor, with turnover a whopping £1.3bn, up 20% on last year (see NCE Contractors File supplement with this issue).

Of this turnover, £468M is earned in roads. The firm is involved in some fairly hefty projects in this field, none bigger than the widening of the M25 between the M4 and M3 junctions.

Directing this project at just 37 years old is Peter Anderson, and from his perspective there is no doubt as to the reason for the company's - and his - success.

'I've worked hard for Balfour Beatty and they've worked hard for me, ' he says. 'It's a good relationship.'

Anderson is a product of Balfour Beatty's graduate training programme. Graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1990, he became a chartered engineer in 1995 and by 34 was project director responsible for the £150M Channel Tunnel Rail Link Contract 440.

The M25 widening is his second director role and, as he says, 'I must be doing something right.'

Anderson was actually hooked on civil engineering - and by Balfour Beatty - long before graduating.

'I was attending a careers event at school, having just finished my O levels, when I first got interested. I then got a summer job as a chainman for Balfour Beatty on the Thorpe Reprocessing Plant at Sellafield.

'I loved it and it confirmed there and then that I wanted to be a civil engineer and wanted to be a civil engineering contractor, ' he says.

A further summer spell with Balfour Beatty followed after A levels, but the decision to stick with the company after graduating really came from its approach to interviews.

'Balfour Beatty did a full day interview with three interview sessions and psychometric testing.

I thought that if the company is prepared to put that much time and effort into selecting the right person then they are going to nurture that person, ' he explains.

'And that has been the case.'

Anderson is particularly impressed by the way which the company empowers its young engineers. 'And I'm testament to that, ' he adds.

'Within the industry and within Balfour Beatty age is not seen as a barrier. It is important to me that a company recognises the drive of its younger engineers and mixes that with engineers with more experience, ' he says.

And he insists that this blend of youth and experience is always present in his teams - even if that does throw up a few management challenges.

'Some of these people with 3540 years experience have been working longer than I've been alive.

That is quite a challenge, ' he says.

But it is not something he is going to duck. 'I want to be recognised as someone who can build successful teams and who is not afraid to try new ideas.'

But he is not prepared to rest there. 'What I want to do is maintain the same level of drive that I had to progress from chainman to chartered engineer to project director, and use that to take me to the highest level.'

To this end, he is in the final throes of an MBA with the Warwick Business School.

But the demands of working on the busiest motorway in Europe - coupled with those of a new baby - are taking priority at the moment.

That is unlikely to hold him back for long, however. 'I set myself five year targets. The next is to have some kind of panproject operations role. Then on to divisional manager, ' he explains. 'Each target gives me ever increasing influence on the company's business, and ideally it will be Balfour Beatty's.'

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