Civil engineer Terry Hill became chairman of Arup last month. He talks organic growth, entrepreneurship and quality with Andrew Bolton.
Arup has traditionally been led by structural engineers. Although its founder Ove Arup's roots were civil engineering contracting, the firm has become identified with its design of innovative structures, and the qualifications of successive chairmen have reflected this.
Last month, outgoing chairman Bob Emmerson handed over to Terry Hill, one of only two civil engineers to have chaired the firm. Unlike his civil engineer predecessor Povl Ahm, who was more involved in the structures side of the business, Hill comes from Arup's transportation group.
As head of this division, he has helped establish it as a force to be reckoned with, both within the firm and in the engineering sector more widely.
'It is not that significant that I am a civil engineer, ' says Hill.
'It is significant that I have a commercial approach to our activities, ' he adds.
Hill was one of the key players in Arup's unsolicited bid to revolutionise the privately financed Channel Tunnel Rail Link. His team proposed the route. Arup then went on to become part of the London & Continental team which won the concession to design, build, finance and operate the line.
'Infrastructure policy and strategic work has been a big part of my life, ' says Hill. He brings to the chairman's role a keen commercial eye, which combines with the traditional Arup enthusiasm for and creativity on challenging projects.
For Hill it all boils down to being able understand what clients really want and to respond accordingly.
'What I've always been interested in is knowing the commercial proposition in any work I have done, ' he says. 'It's not just about the fee deal, but about how it fits with the client's needs.
'On CTRL there was an understanding of how it was going to operate and an understanding of what the promoter's role was, rather than just being the designer, ' he says.
Hill hopes to transfer to other parts of the firm some of the commercial philosophy he developed in Arup's transportation business, although he acknowledges that the structures teams are already working along similar lines.
The idea is to get in early to help the client get a good fix on costs.
'We are getting in there earlier with architects and being more collaborative. Eighty per cent of the total cost of a building is probably decided in its first few months, ' he says.
But Hill does not presume to be an expert in this area and is keen that his enthusiasm is not misinterpreted as arrogance.
To balance his civils and transportation skills, Hill has appointed structural engineer Cecil Balmond as his deputy.
Balmond has been with Arup since 1968 and has a string of collaborations with high profile architects.
Hill holds the Arup chairmanship for the next three years. During this time he expects the business to grow, in particular on the back of increased work in China and the United States where the firm has built up a local business from small offices, using local staff. In China, the firm is working on Beijing airport, a new television centre and the stadium for the 2008 Olympics, plus a string of other projects.
In the US Arup is developing a strong presence in the transportation sector. It has New York's massive Second Avenue subway under its belt and expects to start on site later this year.
It is also developing proposals for a direct rail link between Manhattan and John F Kennedy Airport.
Hill is a dyed in the wool Arup man who first joined the firm in 1976. He had a three year break from the company between 1996 and 1999 when he took up the post of technical director at CTRL client Union Railways.
But the break did little to diminish his attachment to the Arup values which, unlike its Stock Market listed competitors, see corporate growth as a result, rather than something that should be sought.
'I don' t think growth is a target, ' he says. 'Size is an outcome. If we are good, people will want more of us.'
So far the philosophy seems to be working. Arup remains a top three consultant with annual fees running at £362.7M according to this year's NCE Consultants File. And it maintains this position despite the mergers and acquisitions going on among other firms in the top 25.