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IStructE's shrinking world

Profile Mike Fordyce

The next president of the Institution of Structural Engineers will be based in Brisbane, Australia. Antony Oliver asks why.

Camped in a borrowed office on the top floor of the IStructE's Belgravia headquarters, Mike Fordyce unfurls a complex chart showing a mass of activities between September 2004 and October 2005.

'We've been planning this for a couple of years, ' he explains, pouring over the chart. It details where he should and shouldn't be during his presidential year, which starts in October. It is clear that Brisbane-based Fordyce will be busy during his next few visits to the UK.

'Keith (Eaton, chief executive of the IStructE) has worked hard to make sure I can be at as many events as possible during the year, ' he says. It is a very bold move by the IStructE to choose a president who lives on the other side of the world, not least because most presidents have at least two years to immerse themselves in the Institution's affairs ahead of their term of office.

But, apart from a little trepidation about the logistics, Fordyce is convinced it is absolutely the right step for an increasingly international organisation.

'Living in Australia I'm almost an outsider looking in - I've been less involved in the Institution's working than most vice presidents are. Perhaps this means I will more readily ask: 'Why are we doing this?', ' he says.

The IStructE has been working towards being more international for some time and key to this are the changes planned this year to allow its Council members to be drawn from the entire membership rather than simply the UK.

Fordyce's appointment underlines this policy. 'As an international organisation we are demonstrating there is nothing to prevent even the president coming from overseas, ' he says.

Such a plan depends heavily of course on modern communications technology to provide fully remote access. That said, Fordyce has had little success with video-streaming technology to date, mainly because the time difference means he has to 'attend' meetings in the middle of the night.

Hence the preplanned programme. He was in the UK last week for the IStructE annual dinner, returned to Australia for winter there and will start a 10 week stint in the UK in September. That trip will see him installed as president in October and take in many meetings and visits before returning to Brisbane for Christmas. He then has two further UK trips planned - five weeks in February and three weeks in May, during which he hopes to fit in as many functions and meetings as possible.

'When I'm not in the UK I'll be looking to vice presidents to help out and share the load, ' he says, pointing out that he will inevitably miss some events.

This unusual presidency makes Fordyce conscious of the need to demonstrate his relevance to the 70% UK membership of IStructE. He has tried to structure his UK visits around attending annual regional dinners but does not want people jumping through hoops to accommodate him.

But getting to meet and interact with local members in the regions is a priority for Fordyce as this is where he feels the real strength of the IStructE lies.

His experience of the Institution in Australia - he is chairman of the Queensland branch - is of an enthusiastic membership keen to organise a full programme of events.

While he accepts that it is perhaps easier to achieve this in Australia, he is convinced that replicating the model worldwide and encouraging members to get more involved is the way forward.

Fordyce moved to Australia in 1984. Having already had a fairly international career to that point he says that he still had 'itchy feet and was looking for new challenges to conquer'.

Leaving two sons in the UK, he left Manchester with his wife Joan and two daughters to set up life in Brisbane working for Cameron McNamara. A number of company mergers and six grandchildren later, he now works for Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) still based in Brisbane.

'If you've been to Brisbane you'll understand why I have stayed there for 20 years, ' he says. 'The lifestyle really is so pleasant - as long as we can still travel regularly to visit family we have no desire to leave. There is of course a lot of emailing.'

He translates his experience of running a 'virtual family' to the Institution. Boosting communication among members is vital, he believes. He wants to see virtual seminars, meetings and conferences to enable UK and international members to take part in activities more easily.

By doing this the IStructE will underline its credentials as a truly international organisation - a goal Fordyce believes is key to its continued relevance in the future.

Networking is so important, he explains, and being a member of the IStructE means he is able to tap into a wealth of experience and expertise wherever he is working or looking to win work.

'I love travelling and meeting new people, ' he explains. 'In my work now I really like to interact with people and try to really understand their problems and see what is really going on with projects.'

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