MWH is the largest consultant in the UK water sector and also one of the oldest. Last year the company celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of its founders, Thomas Hawksley, whose project to supply Nottingham with clean water in 1831 is said to have prevented cholera taking hold in the city.
Now, MWH is an employee-owned global business with 170 offices and 7,000 staff worldwide. More than 1,500 of those staff are in the UK, working either in MWH's own offices or co-located with clients.
"In the UK we're focused on being the first choice for clients and for employees," explains David Smith, MWH's director of business strategy for the UK. "That might sound simple, but I think it's a major, exciting challenge. We are a very energetic and dynamic company, and that vision is at the heart of all we do."
For clients, Smith says, that "vision" means excellence in service, expert advice, adding value and acting as a "real partner". For employees it means having "a thriving business that provides staff with exciting opportunities in a flexible work environment".
The UK business has a significant level of autonomy, and all the offices have a friendly feel not normally associated with a large multinational business. But the benefits of being part of a global company are also very much in evidence.
As well as providing opportunities to work overseas, the company strongly encourages staff to share best practice and innovation with colleagues around the world, through internet-based knowledge forums and international conferences.
"You can get involved in anything the company's working on around the globe, whether it's project-specific or strategic," explains Smith. "We're very keen to find out what makes each person tick. For some people the chance to work in New Zealand or the USA is very exciting; for others it's the chance to link up with experts in other countries. We very much try to encourage this global feel."
According to Smith, the UK business is set to continue on a growth trajectory that has seen turnover increase by 15% a year for the last three years. "I think growth is really important if we're going to continue to provide an exciting place for people to work, with new opportunities and challenges and the chance to do different things."
Those challenges could come from diversification. "We are very strong in the water sector, and what we're doing now is taking some of the things we do in water and applying them to other sectors, for example environmental consulting, project management and business consultancy," explains Smith.
This strategy is already paying off: the natural and built environment group has doubled in size in the last two years, and new non-water clients have been added to the company's books, including the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, Scottish Power and National Grid.
Smith talks about the "purpose and culture" of the company, as summed up by its stated philosophy: "Building a better world". "That's very important for us," he says. "We're dedicated to the principles and advancement of sustainable development. It fits well with the personal and professional ethos of our staff.
"Thomas Hawksley was at the forefront of making drinking water quality better," says Smith. "I compare that to what we're doing today – at the forefront of tackling climate change and sustainable development."
The company has 12 offices in the UK, and staff work on a wide variety of innovative water and environmental projects.
Leonie von Hellermann
Leonie von Hellermann joined MWH in 2000 as a graduate engineer based in the High Wycombe office. "I was attracted by the environmental aspect of the work and because it was a global company with offices all over the world," she explains. "Also, when I was applying to companies, I felt that a lot of them were just interested in getting people to join; MWH seemed to see the real value of the individual."
She started out in the networks modelling group, which she says was "a good opportunity to be of use straight away and the chance to get a good insight into what the water companies do". After two years she expressed an interest in water treatment design, and moved into that area.
Since May 2007 von Hellermann has been on a two-year secondment to Essex & Suffolk Water, commuting four days a week and working one day a week from home. "I'm connected to the rest of MWH via the intranet, so I've still got access to all the latest news and forums. I can ask questions and get answers really quickly, so I still feel very much part of the company," she explains.
Last year von Hellermann completed an 18-month stint as one of MWH's "future leaders". Employees are nominated by their colleagues to act as local representatives. "Because you're the local conduit for staff, you benefit from spending time with senior management and other people in MWH," she says.
As part of their role, future leaders are given a budget that they can use to take forward ideas that could benefit the company or the community. Von Hellermann wanted to inspire staff to reduce plastic bag use, and proposed using her budget to provide them with environmentally-friendly, company-branded jute bags. The initiative has taken off, with all 1,500 UK staff now using the bags.
Business unit director for the North West
After working for a small consultancy, Cath Schefer was keen to move to "a global company with better opportunities and bigger projects". She joined MWH in 1999 as a project manager in the Warrington office, working for water clients on network schemes.
"It's a fantastic company to work for," she says. "It's such a big company, and we have such major contracts with our clients, that the level of expertise here is quite staggering. I'm working with a lot of high-profile people that are leaders in their fields."
Within two years of joining, Schefer was invited to present a paper at the company's annual three-day global innovation conference in Colorado. "It was very challenging because you've only got a 15-minute slot, so you have to get your point across very quickly," she explains.
Schefer now takes such events in her stride. "One of the things that's great about MWH is that there is a whole network of people around the world," she says. "I really enjoy networking and meeting other people, so I enjoy these conferences and get a lot out
Her first promotion within the company was to the role of programme manager for United Utilities' (UU) £190M AMP3 maintenance programme, where she managed 80 staff across a range of disciplines. "That's when I got to work with the real talent in the industry, and I could really see how the engineering disciplines work together to make a project work," she recalls.
For the last two years she has been working closely with UU, planning and implementing maintenance work on two strategic aqueducts and managing the outline design of 52km of pipeline across the region.
Last November Schefer was made business unit director for the whole of the North West, responsible for 350 staff in five offices. She is looking forward to taking the company's skills into new sectors, as well as continuing to share best practice through the global forum.
Wastewater networks business area manager for the UK
In January this year, Steve Kenney was appointed as wastewater networks business area manager for the whole of the UK. "It's going to be a challenge for me, because it's more managerial than I'm used to," he explains. "I chose a technical route to management, and I've always been interested not just in career progression but in technical progression as well."
Kenney joined MWH's High Wycombe office as a graduate engineer in 1994, and has always worked on the wastewater side of the business. During that time he has moved around the company's UK offices - including Warrington, Cardiff and Wakefield Đ and worked for many of MWH's major clients, including United Utilities, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water and Scottish Water. "Being flexible about my working location has allowed me to move to where the interesting programmes of work are and to progress my career," he explains.
He has also spent time in New Zealand. "Wastewater modelling is a global discipline that is similar around the world, so the skills are transferable," he says. "A large project came up in Auckland, the company thought my skills would add benefit to the project and I was interested in getting that experience."
He adds: "I was always aware that there would be opportunities to work overseas, and it was an area I intended to explore."
Being willing to travel, and getting to know people throughout the company, has had a major impact on his career. "As my career has progressed, I have ended up managing projects rather than just being a technical specialist," he says.
Now, in his new role, he is responsible for the technical performance of the modelling teams, as well as being more involved in the strategic side of the business. He says he has three aims: knowing the team and coordinating staff development, recruitment and training; continuing to develop tools, methods and technologies for the challenges of AMP5 and the Water Framework Directive; and maintaining MWH's industry profile.
Graduate trainee Andrew Tweddle joined the company's 100-strong Newcastle-upon-Tyne office in 2006 having liked what staff had to say when he attended a careers fair. "They were keen to get across the diversity of work on offer around the country and around the world," he says.
"I was impressed by the projects they'd done." On joining, he was given a mentor to guide him through the process of becoming chartered through the ICE. "You have a graduate workbook where you can track and plan your career development, not just for the ICE's requirements but for all the soft skills that help you to develop," he explains. "It outlines key dates you should be aiming to meet, and tracks your progress along the way."
MWH's graduate training programme also includes tailored training courses at different locations around the country, enabling graduates to meet, socialise and share knowledge.
Since joining the company, Tweddle has been working on wastewater networks, mainly using modelling techniques. "A lot of jobs are on quite a large scale, and it's been very good experience," he says. He's also had site experience, and plans to do some design work next year as he aims for his Professional Review in four or five years.
Tweddle describes the atmosphere in the Newcastle office as "great", and adds: "It doesn't feel like a big company. Everyone's so friendly and wants to help you if you've got a problem. But at the same time you can share information around the world – so you've got the best of both worlds."
"Everyone's friendly and wants to help if you've got a problem."
When I left university I wanted to work in the water sector," explains principal engineer Adrian Johnson. "MWH was a well-known expert consultancy in the area and sounded genuinely interested in me and what I wanted to do."
He joined as a graduate in 1992 in the High Wycombe office, where his first job was a big sewer modelling project for North London.
That experience led to Johnson being appointed as a lead engineer for the £170M Almond Valley, Seafield & Esk wastewater PFI scheme near Edinburgh. "I liked getting involved in a wide range of issues, like the process side, planning, environmental assessment and risk, as well as working with our partners on the PFI contract," Johnson recalls. "I very much enjoyed the catchment approach. We had five sites and had to decide what was best for the whole area."
After that, Johnson says he "wanted a change". "I had been doing a lot of design and I was getting interested in the sustainable development agenda." MWH sponsored and supported him for a year while he took an MPhil in Environment and Development at Cambridge, after which he moved back to Edinburgh to help Scottish Water with the long-term strategic planning of its asset base.
Johnson now leads on sustainability in MWH's natural and built environment group, where his work includes developing and piloting guidelines for carbon accounting among water companies and other clients. "We're building up capacity at the moment so we can help clients understand and reduce their carbon impacts," he says.
WHY NOT JOIN THE MWH TEAM?
No1 in water - largest UK consultancy in the water sector.
7,000 employees worldwide, 170 offices worldwide.
1,500 employees in the UK.
07 Key Services - Business Consultancy, Programme Management, Project Services, Engineering, Design, Construction, Environmental Management.
MWH benefits include
- Stock ownership opportunities
- Contributory pension scheme, including life assurance
- Minimum 23 days holiday
- Private healthcare
- Flexible working, including part time and flexible start/finish times
- Subscription to professional institutions
- Enhanced maternity and paternity benefits
- Childcare vouchers
- Option to buy a further five days holiday
- Subsidised social events through the office social society
- Global knowledge communities
Globally, MWH fosters an atmosphere in which community engagement is actively encouraged. In the UK, that translates into practical commitment to local organisations and a wide range of charities, including WaterAid and RedR.
"Although the company very much supports WaterAid, a lot of what happens is driven by the staff themselves wanting to be involved and take part," says David Smith, director of business strategy for the UK.
One of the three prongs of MWH's new "Carbon Care" programme is to channel money into environmental schemes local to the company's UK offices. "We are doing a lot of work internally to reduce our carbon emissions," explains Smith. "There's a lot of hype about being "carbon neutral"; we want to be carbon responsible. We do have some emissions, but instead of buying into an offset scheme, we're creating a fund based on our own carbon footprint and using that fund to help community projects to get off the ground."
Employees have formed a "carbon panel" to assess where to spend the money, with early recipients likely to include schools near the High Wycombe office and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.