If Mott MacDonald succeeds in its aim to become a truly global consulting engineer over the next five years it will be down to the quiet but firm determination of its new chairman Tim Thirlwall (left) and his managing director Mike Blackburn (right).
Thirlwall is officially named as Mott MacDonald chairman this week, following the retirement of his predecessor Robert Beresford. When he stepped up, he appointed Blackburn, already a Mott MacDonald director, as his right hand man.
Mott's ambition is to become a global player by 2005. 'We are very strong internationally now,' says Thirlwall, who points out that 65% of the firm's income already comes from abroad. 'But we are still not a truly global firm.' At the moment Thirlwall and Blackburn consider the consultant to be a mainly British operation, which sends senior staff abroad to head up overseas projects when needed.
If the globalisation strategy works it will put Mott MacDonald in a unique position as there are few truly global consultants. Main competitors should include the likes of WS Atkins, assuming its merger with Bovis goes ahead as planned (NCE last week). Parsons Brinkerhoff, which recently bought Kennedy & Donkin, is also growing through acquisition, and is expected to be another competitor, as is Bechtel - although Bechtel is still considered to be predominantly US-based.
Thirlwall and Blackburn straddle the globe in terms of experience. Thirlwall already knows the US market well. He was chairman of the firm's joint venture with Hatch Associates in 1996. The venture is now working on the Los Angeles Metro and the Toronto subway and the joint venture is generating around 11.25M a year in revenue.
Blackburn has extensive experience in South East Asia. Between 1993 and 1996 he was managing director of Mott MacDonald's 50M turnover Hong Kong office.
Both men have worked their way up through the ranks of firms which have over the years come together under the Mott MacDonald umbrella. Thirlwall began as a bridge engineer at Mott Hay & Anderson in the late 1960s and since has worked on civils projects in Britain and abroad, including Heathrow Express, and the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit system.
Blackburn began his career as a ports and harbours engineer with Rendel Palmer & Tritton in the 1960s before becoming an associate at Parsons Brown & Newton in 1982, one year before the firm was taken over by Mott Hay & Anderson. He has worked on marine projects and was recently head of supervisory work on the North Lantau Crossing in Hong Kong.