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Surgical spirit

Working lives - British Water has a new international director, Lila Webley. Bernadette Redfern met her.

If you are wondering which hip joint to choose in your replacement operation, or what type of pacemaker to have fitted, then British Water's new international director Lila Webley can tell you all you need to know. 'Surgical instruments, implantable devices. . . I know about them all, ' laughs Webley. Until she moved into her new role, Webley was head of international business at the Association of British Healthcare Industries.

Moving from healthcare into the world of water sector consulting and contracting has not been as great a leap as you would imagine, Webley says. 'It was pretty similar in terms of organising international events, running groups and exhibitions, identifying priority markets and chasing sales leads, ' she explains.

'The biggest challenge in my new role has definitely been learning about the sector, what the members want and trying to deliver that, but members have been brilliant at explaining that to me, ' she adds.

As a new water industry expert, Webley has found it more difficult 'explaining to my friends why they can't wash their cars with hosepipes at the moment', though she adds with modesty: 'It is a new industry and a new sector and I still have lots to learn.' Webley has clocked up considerable international experience. Prior to working with trade associations she spent 12 years with the Department for Trade & Industry, travelling all over the Middle East and Pakistan. 'I was country manager for Syria and Lebanon for three years before being posted to Pakistan for six months.

Out there I was responding to enquiries from UK businesses, meeting local companies and organisations and I also helped organise a visit by then Prime Minister, John Major, ' she says.

On returning to the UK, Webley was made country manager for the United Arab Emirates, just as business in the region was beginning to take off. As well as supporting businesses seeking work in the Emirates, she briefed ministers, wrote articles for magazines, and reviewed and updated the UK's export strategy. 'It was and still is an exciting place to work and I spent a lot of time out there, ' she says.

For now Webley has turned all her attention to her new role. 'My priority at the moment is to make a success of this job. Day to day, companies have a wide variety of needs and there are a range of services that we provide to companies wishing to know more about overseas markets. One company might be interested in Brazil, another in Mexico. We try and meet everyone's needs, ' she says.

Not surprisingly, Webley is spending considerable energy on getting to know about the water and sewerage needs of the new and aspiring European Union accession countries.

Infrastructure work is a priority, as all have to get their water networks up to common EU standards. Over the next few years billions of Euros will be invested in clean and dirty water infrastructure.

Webley has just returned from a trade mission to Turkey.

'Turkey, Poland, Hungary and Romania are all exciting, ' she says.

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