Crossrail programme director Andy Mitchell has emerged as the leading candidate to replace Rob Holden as boss of Europe’s largest construction project.
Mitchell was clear favourite after NCE canvassed engineers following Holden’s surprise decision to quit last week.
He polled more than 40% of the vote, more than twice that of second favourite, ex-Network Rail chief executive and current Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chairman John Armitt.
Crossrail chairman Terry Morgan told NCE that it was “important” to find a replacement for Holden, but said that the recruitment process had not yet started. He said his ambition was to have someone in place or at least appointed before Holden leaves in six months.
“It’s important to get a new chief executive in place, he said. “This year we have a number of other contracts to let. We have had a good start but we have to get the other tunnelling and station contracts let.”
The importance of the timing cannot be underestimated, with Holden’s decision to leave coming just as the project approaches the critical Treasury Major Projects Review Group Review Point 4 (RP4) audit in March.
This is generally considered as the point of no return for the project and, assuming the hurdle is cleared, will, said Morgan, shift accountability for delivery fully to the Crossrail – reducing the need to refer formally to the sponsors on big decisions.
And while the two major tunnelling contracts awarded in December signalled a key construction milestone, the station contracts will be worth £1.5bn in total.
Tendering for £950M of this work is now underway with contracts set to be awarded in the summer.
“Let me be very clear – the ambition is that we will either have or know who his successor is before Rob’s departure”
“There are a number of key milestones about getting things done that for me will be better achieved when we have a strong chief executive in place ready to drive [the project] through to 2018,” said Morgan.
“Let me be very clear – the ambition is that we will either have or know who his successor is before Rob’s departure.”
Morgan added that the specification for the chief executive role would be agreed shortly, before search companies are invited to pitch to recruit for the role.
“We haven’t written the specification for three years and if you think back three years it’s a very different project from that which we are looking at today,” he said.
Those watching the recruitment process closely rate Mitchell as someone who knows the project inside out and who can guide it safely through key milestones.
Mitchell was headhunted in to programme manage Crossrail from Network Rail, where he developed the programme for the £6bn Thameslink scheme.
He has also worked on major projects worldwide including the construction of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport and West Rail schemes.
Since joining Crossrail in May 2009 Mitchell has played a key role in awarding the major tunnelling contracts.
More recent ex-Network Rail chief executive Iain Coucher is running third the NCE poll with 15% of the vote, narrowly ahead of CLM programme director Ian Galloway on 14%. Galloway is currently leading the delivery of the London 2012 Olympic Park.
Olympic Delivery Authority director of construction Howard Shiplee and Tube Lines chief executive Andie Harper made less of an impression languishing in fifth and sixth place.
Crossrail land and property director Keith Berryman is also leaving the company.
Berryman is to retire at the end of March NCE has learned. He is a key figure in Crossrail’s history and the longest serving member of its leadership team, having worked on the project for 10 years.
He has held several roles including managing director and acted as chief executive officer for much of 2005.
Holden told staff that it was with “mixed feelings” that he announced the news.
“Keith has made a unique contribution to the huge task of securing legal and planning powers for the project through the hybrid Bill process which resulted in us getting Royal Assent,” he said.
“He has been a passionate advocate of Crossrail and has promoted its cause.”