Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Marathon plan

Working lives - Hugh Sumner drew up the transport plan that helped secure London's 2012 Olympic bid. Now he must turn that plan into a reality, he tells Christina Taylor.

Since London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics, Hugh Sumner has barely paused for breath.

'Work started on delivery [of the Olympic transport plan] at 7.30am on July 7th [the day after the International Olympic Committee decision to hand the 2012 Games to London], ' he says. 'We had already prepared the programme execution plans so we were ready when we won the bid. Now we are in a rapid mobilisation stage.' As Transport for London director of Olympic transport, Sumner was in charge of putting together the bid's entire transport strategy, and he is obviously proud of the achievement.

'It's the biggest thing I've done to make the world a better place. It is something we can leave for our children, ' he says enthusiastically.

Indeed, he says, his own nine year old son provided 'stunning motivation. He gave great performance feedback'.

Sumner is well qualified for the role of Olympic transport guru, as some are now calling him, having spent a good 18 years of his 26 year engineering career working on making the London Underground system more efficient.

His career in engineering was initiated by a stint of school holiday work experience building a coal store. Until then banking and finance had beckoned.

Answering an urge to 'provide benefit for society at large, ' Sumner enrolled for a sandwich degree in civil engineering at the University of Wales where he specialised in structures. A hands-on year with contractor Sir Robert McAlpine landed Sumner his fi rst postgraduate job, and he stayed with the firm until he became chartered in 1984.

Then he moved to London Underground (LU).

'After becoming chartered I decided I really wanted to learn more about management, ' says Sumner. 'The thing I had enjoyed about site was leading enterprises, albeit in a small way.' Taking an MBA and scholarship at the Cranfield School of Management helped him move up a gear, leading in 1988 to his involvement in drawing up a strategic plan for LU.

After a further seven years as general manager on the Bakerloo line, working on the company plan and in human resources, Sumner became director of passenger services, leading operations and maintenance. 'It was a real time, 24-hour a day operation, ' he says. He was 'the Fat Controller with a spanner'.

From 1995 to 1999, Sumner and his team increased revenue and passenger numbers, and improved customer satisfaction - while reducing costs. As head of passenger services during one of the most intense phases of IRA activity, Sumner was responsible for LU's counterterrorist programme, achieving he says, 'a tenfold reduction in risk to customers'.

Although he cannot divulge details, he says it is much the same system that LU is running today.

Reflecting on the latest London bombings, Sumner is unflinching, saying they were only a 'slight distraction' to the ongoing Olympic delivery. 'We'd been working with the security services from the start. You feel bad, but you keep going.' Sumner says his proudest professional achievement - aside from his part in the success of London's Olympic bid - was setting up Infraco Sub-Surface, the operating and upgrade company that foreshadowed public private partnership company Metronet.

'I built the business from start to finish in four years, ' he says.

Sumner's daily focus is now on 'Olympic overlays and the technical management of transport plans. We are working to change London and change society, ' he says.

But despite the high profile achievements and ambition, Sumner still feels close to his origins.

'I have not lost my engineering roots, ' he insists.

'I have a management veneer over the core of a humble engineer.'

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.