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Man of the people

Colin 'youngest ever ICE president' Clinton steps down next week. Antony Oliver caught up with him after a busy year on the road.

AT THE start of his term of offi e as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Colin Clinton was clear about what he wanted to achieve.

'I want to be remembered as the president that actually engaged with people, ' said Clinton when interviewed by NCE last November. 'I am going to be on the outside of the Institution - going to visit people rather than always hosting them at Great George Street.' The ICE President's Question Time - the PQT - was his preferred means to deliver this engagement. He vowed to visit at least 100 offices and establishments over the year to pass on his enthusiasm for engineering and the ICE.

Could it logistically be done?

Did he have the energy- Were there 100 organisations that would let him through the door?

Would anyone voluntarily give up their lunch to listen to him?

Yes, it appears, was the answer in each case. By the end of his presidency next week he will claim 123 such PQTs and after taking into consideration a dozen or more regional dinners around the UK plus trips to China, Africa and Moscow, Clinton reckons his engagement could easily have reached 20,000 civil engineers across the globe.

'Everywhere that I have been this year, people have told me they were pleased that I've brought the ICE president to a level they could engage with, ' he explains. 'I think that people are more engaged and turned on by the ICE.' All of which requires bundles of energy and much hard work. Yet although he still has a week to go before handing the presidential baton to Gordon Masterton, Clinton is clearly revving up to return full time to his desk at Arup - albeit a new desk in the Camden office as director of marketing and communications for Europe.

As a working president Clinton spent the year committing one and a half days a week to Arup on top of his ICE commitments and maintains that this will most likely be the norm for presidents in future.

Reforming the role of the president was one of Clinton's key challenges and, he says, crucial to enabling him to carry out the role at such a busy point in his career. His year has involved stripping out the chaff from the president's diary to provide the time and space to focus on key, strategicallyimportant ICE activities, he says - getting out and about to visit engineers in the regions to really communicate the value of ICE membership.

Reforms also meant ensuring that the president - and the presidential team - stepped back from the day to day operations at the ICE to allow the secretariat to get on with the task of delivering the 'radical' five year business plan.

'I'd like to think that the ICE has matured in the last 12 months, but that is certainly not all down to me, ' he says. 'I'd like to think that the relationship that I've had with [director general] Tom Foulkes and his team has helped but it's a partnership - we employ them and so we have to allow them to get on with the job.' The other big recent change to the president's role was to create the concept of the presidential team so that each succeeding vice president effectively starts preparing for their term of office from three years out.

In Clinton's case that meant preparing the 2003 relaunch of the State the Nation report and kicking off the regionalisation process which he steered towards full funding this year.

'What I have achieved started three years ago.' He adds, perhaps tongue in cheek: 'If I hadn't worked so hard in advance maybe I'd be arguing to extend the presidency to two years.' Of course not everything went exactly to plan. Clinton says his biggest disappointment in the year was not being able to hold his Midlands-based 'Celebration of Engineering'.

This event was billed during his presidential address as the opportunity to really celebrate the stars of the profession and would have brought together all the ICE's awards presentations for the year.

However, despite the support of CBI director general and fellow Birmingham boy Digby Jones, lack of member support meant the event failed to get out of the blocks.

A small setback, he says, particularly when you consider members' response to the big issues such as the recent ballot over subscription rises to pay for enhanced support in the regions.

'I was delighted by the near 40% turn out in the subscription ballot, ' says Clinton. 'Usually you get 12% to 13% so I was really encouraged by the reaction.' The ballot fairly conclusively backed the subs hike, with 56.6% in favour versus 43.4% against. But Clinton is clear that the ICE must work very hard over the next 6 to 12 months to demonstrate that members get a tangible return for an extra £56 on their subscription by 2008.

'Certainly the ICE now has to deliver, ' he says. 'We now have eight regional teams in place and they are all sitting down and putting the measurables together.' Time will show if they will be able to make a substantial difference to the organisation.

But he maintains that the results generated already by pilot regional teams in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Midlands, North West and South West prove that this is the right route.

The other big and controversial issue for Clinton's year was the consultation over merging with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Despite engaging just 12% of the membership, Clinton is convinced that the process was a successful - and useful - exercise.

'I believe in one institution, ' he says, aware that just 51% of respondents agreed with his view. 'And I accept that it is going to take some time. In the real world there are agendas and politics, ' he concedes.

So what now for Clinton?

Just the final pre-handover duty of presenting his presidential medal to Princess Anne, president of engineering relief charity RedR-IHE, as a token of thanks for her 'impassioned' support over many years.

RedR has been high on Clinton's agenda over the last 12 months and he saw at first hand the work being done with the charity's help during his trip to Africa earlier in the year - 'engineers and neering really touching people's lives'.

The presentation during the RedR annual general meeting next week will clearly be a special moment for Clinton.

After that he will be on the home straight towards a normal life once more.

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