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Seeking value

Peter Hansford takes over as ICE president this week with a mission to drive greater value for money into our infrastructure

After last week’s brutal cuts to UK public spending, it is perhaps appropriate that the next man to lead the civil engineering profession has spent much of his career on a mission to bring greater value to clients.

While Peter Hansford, who gives his maiden address as the 146th ICE President next week, maintains resolutely that he is first and foremost a civil engineer, it is clear that his real passion and expertise lies in helping organisations and projects to deliver the elusive “more for less”.

Anyone who has witnessed him in action on behalf of the ICE running the finance committee or as chairman of Thomas Telford, the ICE’s commercial arm, will appreciate Hansford’s eye for the detail when it comes to the accounts. Equally, so is his relentless scrutiny on behalf of members to ensure funds are appropriately allocated and strategy is properly set.

Delivering value

“My theme is about delivering value in a very broad sense,” he says. “The value of infrastructure to society and how the industry can demonstrate that it can deliver real value for money.
“Civil engineering is changing. The infrastructure that we are going to build in the future is not the same as the infrastructure we built in the past,” he explains. “Delivering value is about getting the best out of what we can afford.”

And of course the challenge facing the profession is not just limited to reducing the overall cost. Moving towards a 21st Century low carbon economy is also right up there at the top of the agenda.

“This is not about incremental change - it’s about a paradigm shift and doing things in different ways,” he says.”If you are going to get down to 20% of the carbon levels we had in 1990, [infrastructure] is not going to look the same.”

“Civil engineering is changing. The infrastructure that we are going to build in the future is not the same as the infrastructure we built in the past”

Hansford’s career has seen him morph from a UK-based highways contractor, into an international consultant, a central government officer and finally a project management and strategy consultant. Such a changing career path, he says, has given him a great perspective on the way that global infrastructure is created and the challenges faced.

“I am very optimistic about the future,” he says. “Yes,things are going to be difficult for a while, but we are going to be forced to question the way we do things, drive out unnecessary activities and boil things down to what is important.”

He adds: “Coming out the other side of that, we will be a stronger industry - fitter for all the challenges that we have got in our low carbon economy.”

Low carbon economy

One of Hansford’s key themes as President will be the drive towards this future low carbon economy. Having recently led the expert panel feeding into chief construction advisor Paul Morrell’s low carbon initiative, he is well placed to move the issue on from current ICE president Paul Jowitt’s work this year.

The new “Low Carbon Routemap to 2050” will, he says, set out the challenges alongside the national infrastructure plan but then actually make clear the steps the industry has to take and what civil engineers need to do.

“Infrastructure is seen as having an important role to play in the growth of an economy. I think that this is now recognised,” he says.

“Moving to the low carbon economy is going to be really exciting for the next generation.”

As a director with niche project management consultancy Nichols Group, Hansford’s day-to-day professional life, he explains, revolves around helping people and projects to make complex change happen, mainly in the field of large capital projects. This makes him very tuned in to the challenges facing the industry in an environment of limited public resources.

As such he is ideally placed to represent the ICE in the on-going Infrastructure UK study of the cost of UK infrastructure as chair of the stakeholder reference group. This group enables the ICE to provide direct industry input to the study and includes key industry players from across consultancy, contracting and major clients.

“Hong Kong was the biggest building site in the world. I went to HK when I was 27 and I was doing work that in the UK I would have had to be 40 to do”

The ICE’s involvement with such a study shows, he says, that the ICE is now able to influence government and is a recognised source of expertise to which government now naturally turns.

Attaining this credibility is something that Hansford has been deeply committed to throughout his three years as an ICE vice president. As a key author of the Institution’s strategy and leader of its recent strategy update, ensuring that the profession has a strong, influential voice remains high
on his agenda.

“I think that it is significant that a project management specialist is going to be the President of the ICE and to some extent this is going back to our roots,” he says referring to the fact that the first president Thomas Telford was very much a project manager, strategic advisor and influencer.

“That is not in any way to disregard the technical excellence of my colleagues in the ICE - we certainly need that. But we also need the strategic management side as well,” he adds. “I don’t see a dilution in the technical side of the industry but I think that we are a wide and inclusive membership.”

Route to presidency

Hansford’s route to the presidency was, of course, accelerated by former succeeding vice president Scott Steadman being unable to take up the position as planned. Having been originally slated to be president in November 2012, Hansford agreed to move forward his period of office to fill the void.

The result has meant a blur of activity over the last few months as he stepped up his plans for next year. Not least when it came to organising his centrepiece schools initiative, Create Sport, which will be rolled out across the regions. This is a challenge for 12 to 13 year olds to design a sports stadium (see box).

Ensuring that young people are aware of and drawn into the profession is hugely important to Hansford and his initiative is designed to ensure that more is done to direct and influence school students towards the GCSE subjects that will eventually take them towards engineering careers.

Although his father worked in the building industry as a carpenter, Hansford says his route into civil engineering was via his love for maths and physics rather than any particular family influences.

“As the members would expect we have been looking at our costs. But we are also looking to deliver value within the profession with affordable resources”

“I saw myself as an applied mathematician - with a desire to use my analytical skills in a practical way,” he says.

“And it may be post event rationalisation that I also think I wanted the opportunity to make a difference to the world.”

As such he was steered towards the career by a combination of teachers’ advice and, he suggests, the inspiration and excitement of growing up in Basingstoke as the town was being built around him.

Hansford’s career started with Amey Roadstone Construction, building motorways and working on projects such as the A40 Witney bypass in Oxfordshire and the M11 Cambridge western bypass.

Overseas experience

He moved to join consultant Maunsell to seek out overseas engineering experience in Hong Kong - a move that he says gave his career a serious boost.

“Hong Kong was the biggest building site in the world at the time and you just had to be part of it,” he says. “I went to HK when I was 27 and I was doing work that in the UK I would have had to be 40 to do. It accelerated my career.”

After Hong Kong he returned to the UK to pursue his passion for people and management by studying for an MBA at Cranfield, an experience which he says “widened my outlook”.

He then joined Nichols Group and worked on the Docklands Light Railway’s extensions to Bank and to Beckton before moving on to seek experience of government with the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA).

This period was, he says, with hindsight, very forward thinking for the government given that he championed the first high speed rail study while SRA also sowed the seeds for the new East London Line and the resurrection of Crossrail.

Delivering value

Following a brief spell with quantity surveyor Gardiner & Theobald, he moved back to Nichols after the demise of the SRA and has been developing strategy, delivering value for money and generally helping clients to do their business more effectively ever since.

“I get quite excited about issues around governance and strategic risk management,” he explains. “But I also spend much of my time advising clients at a strategic level, trying to win work and acting as an expert witness and arbitrator.”

Now based in central London and never far from his beloved iPhone, Hansford commutes from Redbourne, Hertfordshire, where he lives with his wife Pam. She will take time out from her work as an adult education maths teacher to accompany him on his overseas trips.

His two children are both living in and around Edinburgh University but neither have followed their father into engineering. His son Sam graduated with a politics degree in July and is now a vice president of the Edinburgh Students Union. His daughter Elizabeth has just entered her second year at Edinburgh, reading economics and social history.

‘Big society’ project

Aside from the odd round of golf, Hansford’s main outside work activity this year has focused on the celebrations for Redbourne village’s 900th anniversary.

It is a project that prime minister David Cameron would certainly describe as very much a “big society” idea. Hansford has helped the community come together to organise a activities such as a sports day, carnival and music festival to raise thousands of pounds for youth projects for the village.

“It’s a fantastic project,” he says. “We have got the whole village working together and I’ve been very pleased to have got involved.”

Of course Hansford has also been spending huge amounts of his spare time working at the ICE over the last few years. As such he is acutely aware that the ICE has to be in shape to meet the demands of a cash-strapped future and deliver value for every member’s subscription.

Economic downturn

“We are not immune to the effects of the economic downturn,” he says pointing out that the ICE’s commercial income from Thomas Telford is down as well as its subscription revenue.

“As the members would expect we have been looking at our costs. But we are also looking to deliver value within the profession with affordable resources.”

He remains totally convinced of the value of membership and points out that it becomes more and more important as people become increasingly required to demonstrate competence. But he also recognises that persuading employers to insist on the qualification is a challenge, not least across the contracting side of the industry.

The arrival of Balfour Beatty chief operating officer Andrew McNaughton and Costain director Bill Hewlett as vice presidents is, he says, a major boost for contractor engagement and an area he will be championing.

“Infrastructure is seen as having an important role to play in the growth of an economy. I think that this is now recognised”

Hansford is also excited about the move to push continuing professional development (CPD) to centre stage at the ICE next year with 10% of the membership soon to be asked to submit their CPD records.

“People make a big deal of it but all it is saying is that to be a competent professional in today’s world what are the things that I need?” he says. “You decide what you need, do it and then report it.”

Overall, however, he sees success in his role as president as helping the membership see that it is becoming more influential around the big issues facing society and furthering its aspiration to help drive the nation forward.

“People often complain about the status of engineers but I think that it is for us to demonstrate our value to society,” he says. “I can’t guarantee it but hopefully the rewards will follow - by being engaged and ensuring that the right decisions are made and by showing that we are providing value for money.”

Curriculum vitae

1972-75 Nottingham University
1975-81 Amey Roadstone Construction
1981-85 Maunsell Consultants Asia in Hong Kong
1985-86 MBA Cranfield
1986-99 Nichols Group (Docklands Light Railway
1986-1992)
2000-02 Strategic Rail Authority, executive director infrastructure
2003-04 Gardiner & Theobald
2004-present
Nichols Group, director

 

Create sport

Peter Hansford will next week launch a major schools competition across all the ICE regions designed to fire the interest of 12 to 13 year olds in civil engineering careers.

The “Create Sport” competition will challenge students to plan, design and construct a model
for a new sports stadium in
their region with the best in each region battling it out for national honours next summer.
“Most of us became civil engineers because of school experience via teachers or maybe parents,” explains Hansford. “Getting an awareness of engineering amongst parents and teachers is really exciting.”
The competition is also
intended as a focus to encourage engineers to adopt a local school and become an ambassador to promote the profession. The idea is that targeting this specific age
group will influence the choice
of GCSE subjects and so steer
more students towards civil engineering careers.
“It’s about getting an awareness of engineering in schools at an age before GSCE choice, because once they make that choice it may be too late,” he says.
“The competition is a one-off for this year but if it’s successful it could continue.”

 

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