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Is a passion for engineering all it takes for success?

The recipe for a successful civils business is not whether the person at the top is an engineer, but whether that person can motivate and inspire success, says NCE editor Antony Oliver

Why is it civil engineers are so precious about who runs the business of civil engineering? It really is a massive red herring.

Provided your boss understands the business that you work for, its staff, its customers, the market, its opportunities and threats etc, it surely matters very little whether his or her background is in civil engineering or floristry.

Certainly there can be no doubt that without engineering passion and engineering talent, engineering projects will struggle to be successful. But engineering passion and talent alone is not sufficient to keep a business going.

Few firms today, whether in engineering or elsewhere, are driven simply by doing well today what they did yesterday. Success is measured all too often simply by growth in the business. Perhaps we should see this as the greater shame.

Which is why the Flint and Neill strategy of "growth in terms of developing as engineers and the projects we work on", as reported in NCE this week, is quite refreshing - and quite rare.

OK, this is rather simplistic in that of course even a firm like Flint and Neill cannot just sit around musing over structural challenges for the sake of it - it also has to ensure that the business earns enough money to pay the bills.

But the concept of ensuring that business remains "all about the engineering," is crucial and is to be applauded. It works for many others not least Arup, and has been at the heart of Atkins return from near oblivion.

And as ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin points out in NCE this week, the industry has got to continue to not only keep and reward its existing talent but also work hard to entice the best from all other sectors. And given the current workload aspirations, why wouldn't we?

The scale of civil engineering activity across Europe, India, China, the Gulf States and Australia, highlights that we cannot rule out talent from outside the industry.

Not least because it cuts both ways. Across the whole of UK business human resources professionals are also on the hunt for just the kind of rational problem solving brains that this profession is built upon.

Thankfully most engineers aren't for wooing they are driven by the engineering and the passion of the project rather than growth of the business for the sake of it.

So while it doesn't require an engineer to be in charge to make a business successful, perhaps the single reason for encouraging firms to push engineers to the top is to inspire. To demonstrate that engineering careers are varied and can take you to the top.

- Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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