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Binnie Black & Veatch gained a new managing director last year, fresh from the US. Nina Lovelace went to meet him.

David Nickols officially took over as managing director of energy and water specialist Binnie Black & Veatch (BBV) in December last year. In reality, he was in the job a few months earlier to allow him time to adjust to the cultural differences between the UK and his home for the past 14 years - New York State.

Moving back to his home country was a shock he says, and not only for personal reasons - swapping a Manhattan apartment for a detached house in Surrey - but also because he was thrust into a world of privatisation which had replaced the water authorities he left behind in 1987. He had missed out on the change over, and the first three of water regulator Ofwat's Periodic Reviews.

Nickol's reputation for expertise within the water sector had been built up at WS Atkins, working under the wing of Chris Binnie, then in charge of civils work.

The decision to move to the US was not work driven but for love, he explains, after meeting his, soon-to-be, wife, an American citizen.

'Initially I thought it wasn't a good career decision, ' he says. He would have to start again; plus sit a whole new set of Professional Engineering (PE) exams for New York State.

As it turned out the change of lifestyle was easier than he expected and sitting his PE was relatively simple. The major adjustment was the difference between the UK and US water utilities, mainly because the US still used municipalities rather than authorities.

This meant that one year Nickols was working on a £625M filtration job for New York City, and the next a £7,000 job for a town in New Jersey.

This provided a varied career, he says - but also often full of frustration as it was frequently hard to introduce any new thinking.

With each state checking design plans for any water supply changes, innovation was stifled by having to deal with several tiers of local government, Nickols explains. 'Clients could rarely be encouraged to try new ways of doing things as it would make it more unlikely that the plans would be rubber-stamped by the state, ' he says.

During his 14 years the system showed little progress, so when BBV offered him the role of managing director back in the UK he decided to take the new challenge. Then MD Doug Smith was keen to move onwards and upwards as president of BBV's parent company Black & Veatch Europe.

Having settled into his role, Nickols is ready to start tackling the job at hand. This includes expanding the business into more diverse fields and developing ways of coping with the inevitable work slump that will come at the end of the current Asset Management Plan Three.

Nickols adds that in particular he wants to increase Binnie's flood and coastal capability and to sell Binnie's database management skills to other industries.

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