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Roger Dobson

NCE's first impression of ICE director general Roger Dobson was of a 'quietly spoken 53 year old with an engaging manner and a ready smile' (NCE 14 June 1990). Eight and half years later, although Dobson is obviously older, the smile and engaging manner are still there. However, both NCE and the ICE itself have got to know the man in the round and the words 'forceful', 'patrician' and 'politician' can be added to flesh out his character.

Dobson steps down at the end of March, leaving behind many friends and, as anyone with his forthright style will, a few enemies.

The soon to be ex-DG claims there has been a 'huge change' in the profession during the 1990s, particularly in the recognition that civil engineering is a discipline involving more than 'the construction of dams, roads and bridges.' This change has been mirrored at the Institution, according to Dobson, who picks out a more lively and listened-to graduate and students group, a better dialogue with local associations and a less diffident attitude to PR as examples.

Dobson identifies four major milestones during his time as the senior member of the ICE secretariat. The first was the completion 'to time and on budget' of the refurbishment of Great George Street. The others are the 'sale' of NCE to Emap, the introduction of new routes to membership and David Cawthra's Future Framework Commission.

Dobson has seen ten presidents come and go. Asked how the success of a president's year should be judged, he replies: 'If the average member can tell you who the president was two years ago.' About three quarters of Dobson's presidents came up to this mark, he says.

He claims that his proudest achievement is to have put the Institution onto ' a really firm operating footing'. Vital to this is the way in which Great George Street has been transformed from a 'morgue' into something 'buzzing and throbbing' which impresses all visitors, including senior politicians.

'There is a subconscious recognition that the building objectifies the civil engineering profession', says Dobson.

His main disappointment echoes a concern expressed back in 1990 over the apathetic attitude of the ICE membership to institutional affairs which was reflected in the pitifully small proportion who vote in Council elections.

'When I came here', says Dobson, we were struggling to get above 7% of members voting. We're up to 12% now, but we never got to the 20% I hoped.'

The biggest challenge for the future according to Dobson is to drive home the professional nature of civil engineering, which will result in more members and an enhanced status for the discipline.

However, he is frustrated by civil engineers' long-running obsession with status as something which should automatically come with qualification.

'Status comes when you're recognised for doing a good job, it doesn't come from passing an exam,' he says.

But Dobson suggests that concern is now misplaced anyway.

'Public appreciation of what civil engineers do has improved quite considerably over the last ten years. As a result their status has risen, we just haven't realised it yet. It seems to be something that is innate in our personalities - pride is a dirty word to us.'

Dobson, whose passion is sailing and who is the winner of three Admiral's Cup gold medals, concludes: 'Our motto used to be 'the only thing that should exceed our arrogance is our excellence'.'

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