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Profile: Tony Douglas

YOUR CAREER: Tony Douglas took over last week as group technical director of BAA. Jackie Whitelaw met him.

Airport operator BAA has plans for a £2.5bn investment in building Heathrow Terminal 5 and an annual construction budget, even after the post 11 September cutbacks, of £300M. Does it matter, then, that the person charged with managing the most efficient deployment of all this construction cash has no construction training or experience?

Not a bit, says new group technical director Tony Douglas who took over from civil engineer Mike Roberts in the role at the start of the new year.

'The definition of a good leader is someone who asks the right questions, not has the right answers. You can't possibly use your own experiences as solutions to everything.'

As he says, he has a team around him that knows what it is about on the construction front.

What Douglas has to offer is a real understanding of putting complex pieces of engineering together in the most efficient way. This is thanks to a career that has taken in spells with General Motors, BAe Systems, and Kenwood before he joined BAA just over three years ago as supply chain director.

And BAA is all about process as it has attempted to reform the traditional one-off approach to construction projects into one based on slick prefabricated manufacturing techniques.

Still only 38, Douglas has crammed in extensive work experience because he decided to leave school at 16 and become an apprentice toolmaker with a division of General Motors. 'By the time I'd done that for a while I realised I could apply a lot of what I'd learned but have a bigger impact as an industrial engineer.'

So off he went to night school and at 22 he had designed and was running a factory making car instrumentation staffed by a lot of lively ladies from Liverpool. 'It was my first management experience, a baptism of fire.'

His next stop was BAe Systems as manufacturing director where he had 12 months to save the AVRO jet division from closure. He shut a factory and focused on reducing the processes until, in 1995, his team put together a commercial aircraft in a world record 86 days.

He won the title of young director of the year, awarded by a national newspaper, in 1996 and found himself at the receiving end of a lot of new job offers. Kenwood attracted him because it offered a board position and the chance of working internationally. But after two years with them, transferring manufacturing to China, he decided to take up the challenge of running BAA's £1bn supply chain.

And in that supply chain construction has the most scope to improve performance. Changes are already afoot; new framework deals are for 10 years but companies undergo regular MoTs to demonstrate they are uprating their performance.

And for the next two or three years, expect more of the same.

'I like seeing how things work, what connects to what, ' Douglas says, 'and improving it.'

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