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The art of innovation

Careers profile - Whitbybird trades on its spirit of adventure, says Margo Cole.

The nameplate on Whitbybird's London office does not say 'consulting engineers' or even 'structural engineers' - just 'engineers'.

It may seem like a small detail, but it actually reects the company's attitude and approach ever since being set up 24 years ago by a group of young engineers who 'got frustrated with the low-impact world of consulting engineers', according to chief executive Mike Crane. He says that their aim was to create a business with a more proactive approach to engineering and architecture than traditional consultants.

They challenged architects and set out to be received as an equal contributor to the design process, all tempered with a real understanding of buildability. 'We'd all spent time in contracting so we loved getting our boots dirty. We just wanted to get out there and see our designs built, ' recalls Crane.

The same philosophy still holds true today, although the company now has a staff of over 500 in nine offices in the UK and three overseas.

Structural engineering still predominates, but recent years have seen diversication into other disciplines, including transportation, geotechnical and environmental engineering.

Growth has been steady and organic, with staff numbers growing to match the workload.

Whitbybird takes on high-quality graduates, encourages them to learn from those around them and increases their responsibility rapidly.

Engineers work in teams of about 20, with each team working on a variety of projects at any time. They are not divided by expertise so everyone can get a chance to work on all types of project - large and small.

There is recognition that everyone has different skills. The company has built its reputation on a combination of highly creative design, sound nancial management and engineering excellence so a wide range of skills is important.

'We are very aware that people have strengths and weaknesses, and our job is to nd their strengths and help them grow, ' says design director Simon Smith. Crane adds: 'We're not trying to make someone an average all-rounder; we're making a collective that's excellent. The spirit of the company is quite adventurous.

We're not afraid of taking a calculated risk.' Whitbybird intends taking a few more 'calculated risks' over the next few years as it is set to double in size. This will involve more regional ofces, further expansion overseas and widening its portfolio of engineering expertise. For anyone thinking of joining, it should be a very exciting time.

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