Mike Gilbert is not a man who likes to play off the back foot. Interviewed just nine days after moving into the BCA's Crowthorne headquarters he is already reluctant to plead the brevity of his tenure in response to questions about the organisation's long term future. The phrase 'ask me that again in a few months time' does pop up from time to time, but usually as the ritual preamble to a lengthy and detailed reply.
Hardly surprising, really. His lengthy CV suggests the 52 year old former British Standards Institution director has a formidable array of skills, not least the ability to deal with the media in a smooth and professional manner. Best of all perhaps, from the BCA's point of view, Gilbert has his roots firmly in the construction industry - and is an unabashed fan of concrete.
'I trained as an architect and was brought up as a disciple of modern design,' he says. 'My first major project was the construction of the Princess Grace Hospital in London, which had a reinforced concrete frame. We really kept the diamond drilling company busy.'
It was during his years with Seifert & Partners that Gilbert first became aware of the existence of the BCA's predecessor, the Cement & Concrete Association.
He praises its 'invaluable design guides and the quality of C&CA staff' but admits that, like most people in the construction industry at the time, he was unaware it was directly funded by the cement producers.
Gilbert is already adamant however that his mission at the BCA will not be to recreate the C&CA, with its hundreds of staff, research laboratories and training centre.
'The BCA will remain focused on concrete; the cement industry has significant challenges of its own. But as the sophistication of the concrete industry continues to increase, I expect to see more and more partnerships between the BCA and other industry bodies,' he says.
In 1979 Gilbert made his first major career move, joining IBM as a project architect. 'Working for the client was invaluable experience,' he comments. 'And I was lucky enough to supervise projects where people like Norman Foster, Rod Townsend and Arup Associates were involved, so I learned a lot.'
Soon Gilbert took on a new role as consulting architect to IBM, developing the company's worldwide design and construction standards. He also headed up introduction of the quality assurance standard BS 5750 to IBM Property - which in due course lead to an unusual invitation.
'I was seconded to the British Standards Institution to work on the development of the environmental standard BS 7750,' Gilbert says. My quality management experience made me a fairly obvious candidate , but in 14 years with IBM I had never been involved with the sort of project where 40 people sat around a table and all put forward different opinions!'
Despite this diversity the new standard was produced in '12 months flat', coming out not long before the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Soon after that the International Standards Organisation adopted BS 7750 as ISO 14000, and Gilbert found himself in demand as both lecturer and author.
He is particularly proud of the fact that his book Achieving environmental management standards has sold 30,000 copies, is now in its second edition and had been translated into languages as diverse as Korean and Portuguese. 'And I have lectured and given seminars on the environment all round the world - including Rio during the Earth Summit,' he adds.
Environmental concerns, including alternative cement fuels and recycled aggregates, are high on the BCA's agenda these days, of course, and Gilbert's experience and contacts in this field should be invaluable. But there appears to be nothing obsessional in his opinions, no indelible green tinge to his thinking.
'Yes, the environment is very important and we must proceed in a responsible fashion,' he says. 'But we must also take care not to make the industry uncompetitive, or to let in cement imports from countries which are less fussy about the environment.'
Gilbert's standard-hustling skills must have impressed the BSI, because in 1992 he was asked to join its management team as property manager and push through the complete refurbishment and relocation to its new Chiswick HQ.
Then the problems of the Directorate of International Training were dumped in his lap.
He says the real problem was that the directorate was basically a one product organisation. 'Practically everything offered was based on ISO 9000. Quality assurance training was a competitive market, and we were losing market share. My job was to turn it round.'
This Gilbert duly did, in little more than two years, mainly by offering new training packages in environmental management, project and total quality management. His success was rewarded by promotion to the BSI's QA Board and responsibility for restructuring the way the organisation handled its commercial services. By 1997 he was operations director and later director of BSI European Commercial Operations - a £50M/year business. Then the BCA job came up.
With longer than nine days under his belt Gilbert may have fine-tuned his original thinking. (see page 3). But he is pretty clear about his priorities, and the nature of the task he faces.
'There is a pent-up need, right across the supply chain, to get the industry back in the public eye and improve its image,' he insists. 'Is it possible that the current organisation of the concrete industry just isn't up to this? Is change needed?
'As for the BCA, it's already well respected with a good track record. My task will be to look at the organisation and re-engineer it where necessary to serve the needs of the cement makers and contribute to a vision for the concrete industry that everyone involved can buy into.'