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

ONWARD and outwards

Mike Casebourne began work as the ICE's new chief executive last week. Alastair McLellan went to meet him.

After news of his appointment broke last September new ICE chief executive Mike Casebourne received over 300 letters of congratulation from friends and associates.

'They all said something along the lines of 'go get 'em, you'll shake 'em up, you'll make a big difference',' he remembers. 'But nobody said what difference they wanted made.'

However, Casebourne has no doubt about the Institution's number one priority.

'We've got to stop turning ourselves inside out,' he says, 'We've got to start looking outwards.'

Casebourne replaced director general Roger Dobson last week, the new title reflecting the change of emphasis. He applauds the 'tremendous amount of progress' made under the Future Framework Commission, but recognises that many close to the initiative fear it is taking too long to implement its proposals.

'We will see a speeding up of the implementation process. At some stage we've got to call a halt to revolution and calm down to evolution,' he says.

Once he has achieved that, Casebourne is determined the Institution should focus on its role in the outside world.

His desire is to make better use of the Institution's 'tremendous reservoir of technological talent' in making the ICE view 'a vital component of public debate'.

Casebourne acknowledges this is only likely to happen if members feel properly engaged by the Institution's activities. He admits that in his previous role as managing director of the Tarmac/Alsthom rail maintenance joint venture GTRM he made little contribution through the ICE to the debate over the future of the UK's rail network. This, he says, was partly his fault for not being 'interested' and partly the Institution's for not tackling the issue in an 'interesting' way.

The new ICE chief executive wants to see more members, particularly those in influential positions such as the one he held at GTRM, become engaged by the Institution's public role. He believes the carrot for that involvement could be provided by ensuring the ICE's 'front line, technological knowledge' wins it a hearing alongside the 'corporate, regulatory and political voices'.

He outlines a hypothetical scenario, in which senior members of a local association would present decision makers and the press with the 'realistic engineering based options' for a new bypass, providing a valuable counter balance to the 'pie in the sky' alternatives put forward by axe-grinding lobbyists.

If the ICE is to win a higher profile in public debate, Casebourne believes local associations will have to be re-energised. So is he a committed devolutionist? That's putting it too strongly, he counters.

Great George Street should be a role model for local associations both in the quality and presentation of the work it does, says Casebourne. But, he adds, with the membership becoming more thinly spread across the UK and, indeed, the globe, its potential influence is waning. Local associations must bear more of the burden and, possibly, get more of the resources.

'I haven't had time to get among the ICE budgets,' he explains, 'but my inclination is towards more permanently servicing the local associations. If that has to be at the expense of HQ, so be it.'

Casebourne describes his management style as 'relaxed'. He claims he will give the ICE directors and other senior staff 'very long leads', but warns that these leads will 'suddenly get pulled very tight when things go wrong.' However, he also admits that he sometimes has a tendency to compensate for other people's poor performance.

Asked how his performance should be measured, he answers: 'the satisfaction of the membership'.

However, he is not sure how this satisfaction should be measured. 'I'm open to suggestions,' he says before giving some of his own: 'Members should feel that they belong to a more active and influential Institution. One which also gives them a more efficient service in terms of both the speed and quality of any response.'

Casebourne describes the ICE as the 'premier civil engineering institution in the world', beating the American Society of Civil Engineers 'as a qualifying body, a learned society and in the coherence of our membership'.

He believes this position will be strengthened by increasing membership both in the UK and overseas. 'There's no doubt that quantity makes for influence,' he says.

However, he is quick to add that any expansion of the Institution into related disciplines must only be undertaken with a keen eye on the quality of the qualifications these new members possess.

Before being offered the ICE job Casebourne admits he 'didn't understand' the SARTOR education reforms, adding 'I would be surprised if I was any different to most directors of civil engineering firms. I had no idea SARTOR was going on. I had no idea of the effect it would have on the engineers I was thinking of recruiting.'

Now he claims he has started to understand the 'full horror of SARTOR and its implications'.

Casebourne is determined to understand SARTOR 'very quickly' and says, 'when I've caught up, I hope I'll be in agreement with its principles - but I might not be'.

'Why might I not be in agreement?' he asks himself. 'Because I think it is quite wrong to determine the quality of someone's future by reference to his A level results. Men and women develop enormously between the age of 18 and 28 and while what happens at 18 might be an indication of their future abilities, it is by no means a certain measure of how those abilities will have developed in ten years time - when it really matters. The scope for advancement through the Institution should be decided in steps later in life, rather than at 18.'

Casebourne declares he wants the ICE to be a broadly based organisation in which all connected with civil engineering desire to be involved. Its constituency should stretch from the 'high-fliers' running companies and government departments to 'the army of unsung heroes' who install and maintain the country's infrastructure.

But he continues: 'When I talk to graduates they all have the same complaint: the hurdles on the route to membership are too high and too numerous. I feel we are in danger of being ignored by everyone apart from the high fliers. What has surprised me most is that nobody can claim to have analysed the probable consequences of SARTOR.

'I don't understand,' he adds, 'why we brand Corporate Members as the elite. There should be an elite in the profession, but I can't understand why that elite is not the Fellows.'

So having spent the last 10 years building up SARTOR, are we to spend the next decade ripping it down and replacing it with something else?

Casebourne is pragmatic: 'If irrevocable decisions have been made, it is probably better to concentrate on making them work.' However, he leaves the impression that the definition of 'irrevocable' will be sternly tested in this context.

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.