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Engineering Council director general

The Engineering Council has moved from the Army to the Navy in the choice of its new director general. Malcolm Shirley, who was appointed last week to take over when Mike Heath retires at the end of June, brings to the EngC the experience of running the largest military training establishment in Europe.

At 53 Shirley is one of the new breed of ex-service personnel who leave their rank behind them.

'I expect to stand on my own merits as an engineer,' he told NCE. Attributes honed as chief executive and commanding officer of HMS Sultan at Gosport have considerable relevance to running the Engineering Council - where Shirley has to be a negotiator, manage people and change, deal with the media and understand technology.

As an engineer he reveals himself to be firmly in the mechanical/marine branch by his description of how he plans to run the Engineering Council. 'My philosophy is not to take apart and redesign. Instead you put a screwdriver to your ear to see how it's performing.'

Consequently his preliminary ideas do not involve revolutionary change. Instead he will 'take forward what is already done. There is a danger in saying 'this is what I'm going to do',' Shirley emphasises.

Presently he is mugging up on every detail of what the EngC has been up to for the past three years.

The job of director general has no fixed tenure. But Shirley says he needs to stay 'long enough to be answerable for my own activities'. More specifically he describes that as 'at least five years'.

As chief executive of HMS Sultan, until his retirement in March, he was in the curious position of being in charge of an establishment which was rapidly growing at a time of major defence cutbacks. Casualties included the Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon, Plymouth, and the air engineering training school.

'I was amalgamating everything that was left,' says Shirley. HMS Sultan expanded to a complement of 3,000 of whom 1,600 were under training in disciplines ranging from mechanics through technicians to postgraduates. It is crucial for the Navy because the specialist personnel needed for operating equipment like nuclear submarines cannot be recruited on the open market. 'You've got to grow your own people.'

Shirley started out in the Navy at Manadon where he studied for a mechanical engineering degree between 1965 and 1968. He became chartered three years later. Senior appointments included two years as technical attach in Paris and five years in NATO's SHAPE headquarters.

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