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Playing for the golden goal

Profile - Tom Foulkes

Tom Foulkes hopes to add a dash of Sven Goran Eriksson's management style to the running of the Institution of Civil Engineers when he takes up his post as director general in September. Antony Oliver spoke to him.

As David Beckham led England out to play Brazil in the World Cup quarter final in June, Tom Foulkes, the ICE's new director general, was glued to his television - cheering himself hoarse.

'Football is tremendously important, ' he says, pointing with pride to an item on his CV: '1989-1992 - Commanding Officer, 28 Amphibious Engineer Regiment; achievements - winning Army Football Cup all three years of my command.'

And while trying to reign himself in with 'let's not get too carried away with the metaphor', Foulkes, the lifelong football supporter, just can't help himself. 'High performance football teams are not very different to high performance teams in an institution like this, ' he enthuses.

'In a really good team the whole is much greater that the parts - that's what we are trying to achieve. My role is not as the David Beckham: I am the (England manager) Sven Goran Ericksson, standing back, looking at the problem, looking at the resources and thinking two or three steps ahead.'

Foulkes is unashamedly passionate about football, inherited from his grandfather who, while posted to Newcastle with the Royal Engineers (RE) in 1906, used to make guest appearances for the club when they were short.

Like his father, Foulkes also made a career with the RE and has continued the family passion for football. He is president of the RE Football Club - which helped form the Football Association and participated in three FA Cup finals, winning it in 1875.

'Sadly we are not quite at that standard these days but we do remain very closely associated with the Football Association as one of the founder members.'

Introducing this kind of passion and teamwork to the Institution is very important, as is ensuring that individual stars are recognised, he says.

'We have lots of David Beckhams at the ICE - the members out there doing hugely important things in their own organisations.

The trouble is we don't know who they are and that is something I am keen to highlight'.

Foulkes, a fellow of the ICE and IMechE, also channels his passion into engineering and has his very own civils hero in Sir Joseph Bazelgette. He talks flowingly about this 'modest self effacing man' who really tackled issues that mattered. Foulkes appears genuinely frustrated that so few engineers, let alone the public, appreciate what he achieved.

Similarly he is keen to ensure that, like Bazalgette, the many good engineers of today are recognised for their achievements.

'Where are the Bazelgettes of today and how do we help the public at large to capture some of the drama and excitement of some of the great engineering enterprises?' he asks.

So while he insists that the institution must focus on its members, it also has to ensure that people are fully aware of what the profession has to offer.

'We have to help the public to see that civil engineering can bring enormous benefits. I think that we have to become more effective in this area, ' he says.

Like the Army, he says, the civil engineering profession suffers from its own success and is taken for granted. This makes it difficult for either profession to engage with society.

Foulkes is clear that one of the main solutions to this is for engineers to get a firmer grasp on the business of civil engineering. He is keen that, rather like the engineering stars of the past, the profession gets more involved with the whole process of infrastructure creation.

'We must take the business of civil engineering beyond the commodity of design, ' he explains. 'Engineering is about delivering solutions. But it has to be successful economically to be understood and valued by the outside world.'

Foulkes is passionate about the need to get more civil engineers to study for MBA qualifications as he feels that this suits their core skills ideally. He studied for his own MBA with the Open University and believes it unlocked huge potential in his career.

'Engineers must understand the fundamentals of business - cashflow matters; profit is important; so is looking after your staff.' He insists that he is not and has never been the stereotypical army brigadier and is keen to ensure that he is not pigeon-holed as such at the ICE.

'It has been my life for the last 33 years, ' he says. 'What I have done in the Army I am very proud of, but it doesn't define me.

'The stereotypical brigadier is probably old and fat with a shiny head and big white bushy moustache and spends a lot of his time writing letters to the broadsheets about declining standards. That's not the sort of guy I am, ' he says.

His current Army role as director of the Army Estates Organisation is deeply embedded in construction. With a $460M budget covering 212 projects, including some of the biggest private finance initiative projects to upgrade and build barracks and facilities, he has his hands full.

Getting the best value for the taxpayer's money is vital, and this has put him at the heart of one of the most forward thinking construction process organisations.

But at 51, he has opted to move on, having concluded that 'there aren't really any more jobs in the Army that I want to do before I retire.' In many ways, the ICE job came along at just the right moment.

'I want to make the ICE something that engineers want to belong to - not have to belong to, ' he says. 'We need to be more focused on what members actually want to do'. As director general Foulkes will use his passion for and understanding of the profession, his business nous and, importantly, his leadership skills. But he will also use skills picked up from his current philosophy studies - 'the fundamentals of life - why are we here and what are we trying to achieve, where are we now and where do we want to get to?'

His role at the ICE will, no doubt, draw on these fundamentals to find and present ideas to the Executive and Council. 'Not making decisions, ' he says, 'but preparing the evidence, doing the analysis, presenting the options and helping to articulate the arguments.

'I think we can do more to be explicit about our strategy, ' says Foulkes. 'Where do we want to be in 10 years time? I want to actually articulate and debate this strategy.'

So expect to see bench-marking, expect to see issue specific alliances with other institutions and expect to see an introduction of many other modern business practices at the ICE.

But he is careful to emphasise that he will not be diving in and turning the ICE upside down when he starts full time on 16 September. Nor will he be rushing around with big ideas telling everyone what to do.

'I am very happy for other people to take the credit, ' he says. 'In fact it is amazing what you can achieve if you do make sure that other people take the credit. But if we are not getting it right for the members then there is something wrong.'

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