With a $1.5bn (£750M) turnover and more than 13,000 staff, Mott MacDonald is a big player in the international consultancy market and yet its employees describe it as having a "family" atmosphere. What they are referring to is the professional equivalent of a supportive "arm around the shoulder" when it's needed, coupled with a gentle push that enables staff to stretch themselves and take opportunities when they come along.
Mott MacDonald is employee-owned – no-one owns more than 1% of the business. This makes for a flat management structure and the ability to make decisions based on the long-term interest of the company and its staff, rather than the short-term expectations of the stock market or shareholders.
"We are a very consensus-driven organisation, and we try to align people's aims and aspirations with those of the company," explains chairman Peter Wickens.
Mott MacDonald works in 140 countries, offering consultancy not just in traditional civil engineering fields such as transportation and structures, but also in water, energy, PFI, environment, health and education, planning and management. "We've got such diversity in the sectors we work in, and a lot of the skills are transferable, so people really can have a "career for life" within the business," says Heap.
Wickens has worked his way up from graduate engineer to chairman during a 30-year career with the company. He started in bridge engineering, and then moved into building design. "You have various career streams you can follow, for example becoming a specialist technical engineer or a manager," he says. "I chose the latter, and became manager of the building structures division."In 1996 he moved to the US to set up and run the company's North American operation, staying for nine years, during which US-based staff numbers grew from 140 to 1,200 and turnover topped $180M (£93M). He returned to the UK in 2005 as a director of the Group, and was made chairman in 2007.
"When I joined in 1976 there were only six or seven hundred people in the company, and it had a real family atmosphere," he recalls.
"We've tried to keep that atmosphere even though we're now 13,000-strong."
The company has a strong reputation for technical excellence, and Heap is keen to emphasise that technical specialists have as many opportunities for career progression as those with a preference for management. "In every discipline we do have a lot of good people managers, but we also have technical experts," she says. "We need a balance."
Wickens describes the company's culture as one of honesty and transparency. "We try to have information out in the open and we don't hide anything," he says. "I think we're recognised as being quite straightforward, with a high level of technical expertise – and for doing a good job."
MOTT'S GLOBAL FAMILY
Mott MacDonald pulls together a wide range of specialists to work on challenging and exciting projects.
Design team leader
At the end of the third year of his engineering degree, Alistair Hitchcock got a place on a new engineering doctorate (EngD) launching that year at Southampton University, which combines work in industry with research, taught modules on management and a thesis. He had developed an interest in ground freezing, which he continued with Mott MacDonald, his industry sponsor on the EngD. Within three weeks he was in the US studying one of the biggest ground freezing projects ever attempted, on the Boston Artery Tunnel.
Next stop was the airside road tunnel at Heathrow's Terminal 5, where Hitchcock became involved in the observational method that was being used for the deep excavation. "It's very easy with the observational method to get stuck into the technical stuff, but getting to know how the team works and demonstrating the benefits of what we were doing was a massive part of it," he says.
Since then he has worked on earthworks stabilisation projects and on the massive East London Line scheme.
At the end of 2006 he joined the Crossrail project, and now runs the design team for Pudding Mill Lane – a particularly complex area, where the new line will emerge from tunnel. "It's complicated, but engineering-wise I think we've got a solution that works," he says.
Hitchcock, who passed his ICE Professional Review last September, describes the company as "very friendly". "You never see any arguments," he adds. "Just a lot of good people getting on with their jobs and working together."
Manager, Leeds office
Despite describing herself as "not a particularly ambitious person", Cathy Travers has worked her way up from graduate engineer to manager of Mott MacDonald's 70-strong Leeds office since joining in 1988.
She started as a structural engineer in Sheffield, working on building projects including Twickenham and West Ham's stadium. A turning point came when the company won a term project management agreement with Defence Estates. She recalls: "I was young when I started managing those projects and it opened my eyes to what projects are about. I had more interface with the client and was overseeing a range of disciplines."
The next turning point came when Travers returned to work after having her first child. "I became a lot more driven about my work," she says.
After the birth of her second child, Travers told her manager that she was concerned about juggling the job and childcare. The answer: take longer holidays.
"The fact that he showed me that flexibility made me feel a lot of loyalty for the company," she says. "Now that I'm running the Leeds office, I like to think I'm flexible with my staff. We understand that people want to do other things and we try to be supportive of this."
Middle East director
Ian Clarke is regional director for Mott MacDonald's operations in the Middle East and a director for the energy sector. He has been with the Group since joining as a graduate engineer in 1987, and has been in the Middle East since being offered a job in Dubai at the end of his graduate training. "It was a bit of a shock," he recalls. "The area was far less developed than it is now, and it was a challenging place to work."
His career progressed through a variety of energy, power and water projects, with increasing management responsibility. "From 1999 I started to spend more time on managerial issues, and I intimated that I would like my career to go in that direction," Clarke explains.
A year later he was made country manager for Abu Dhabi, managing 300 staff working on projects worth over Ł500M. In 2004, he was promoted to regional director for the Middle East. Since then, staff numbers in the region have increased to 1,300 and turnover is at £76M.
Clarke says the Middle East is still a very exciting place to work: "The level of development here is quite exceptional and there is a huge variety of work."
Until April last year, Wim Verheugt headed up the environmental services department at Netherlands-based environment consultancy Euroconsult. Since Mott MacDonald acquired the company, he has become the consultant's regional director for Eastern Europe and has international management responsibilities for water and environment.
"Euroconsult was set up 50 years ago for the sole purpose of working on development aid-funded projects," explains Verheugt. "What we bring to Mott MacDonald is a very strong track record on natural resource management and a focus on wider issues to do with sustainability.
We are focused on organisational issues, which is very different to working from an engineering perspective."
Recent commissions include a study across 12 countries looking at habitats and protection for elephants and rhinos; the rehabilitation of typhoon-ravaged coastal areas of China through planting mangrove forests; and the restoration of the ecosystem of the Eurasian Steppe by linking species habitats with a sustainable rural economy.
Verheugt splits his time between his home in the Netherlands and Mott MacDonald's Cambridge and Croydon offices, and between his two roles in water and environment and managing the company's growth in Eastern Europe. "Countries like Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan have very strong economies built on oil and gas," he says.
"We have a history and proven track record in these countries, and are working to capitalise on that in more sectors."
Engineer/economist Phil Napier-Moore is part of an expert team working on the strategic aspects of renewable and low-carbon energy. He specialises in wind power and carbon sequestration, and is a key player in a unit set up within the company to advise on renewable energy and carbon offsetting.
"There's a very empowering culture here," he says. "If you have a good idea, there are opportunities to apply for internal funding and run with it.
Napier-Moore graduated with an MEng from Oxford University in 2004. He specialised in civil engineering, but had an interest in the energy sector, particularly in developing countries. "I'd always been interested in the environment and development, and a career in energy combined these," he says.
He describes the renewables business as "fast-growing and rapidly-changing", adding: "I like the fact that you don't stand still and there's always a new challenge." He spends two weeks every three months seeing sites, working on projects and meeting with developers overseas.
"Most of my work has been in continental Europe, but CO2 capture and storage can be in India and China, and biomass fuels are in equatorial countries."
Water projects manager
Pakistan-born engineer Mubashir Niaz has been with Mott MacDonald since 1997, splitting his time between the company's Abu Dhabi and Cambridge offices. He is currently in the Middle East, managing clean water, wastewater and desalination projects in the UK and Saudi Arabia.
In 2005 Niaz was studying for a masters in water and environmental management when he heard about the earthquake that devastated villages in Pakistani Kashmir. "I have family there," he explains. "They were all safe, but I looked at the suffering and said to myself 'you are an engineer from Pakistan, you are at the end of a masters and everything you know is applicable here'."
Mott MacDonald allowed him unpaid leave to work for Oxfam as a technical team leader on the earthquake disaster relief programme. He managed a team of 250 people working to restore permanent water treatment and supply to an 80km stretch of the Jhelum Valley, work that earned him the title "Individual of the Year" in the British Expertise Awards. Niaz is still active in the area hit by the earthquake.
When he graduated from Exeter University in 1998, Simon Harris says he recognised that "sitting in a design office wasn't for me", but still wanted to be involved with engineering. He answered an advert for a graduate and technician training advisor at Mott MacDonald, and found himself responsible for setting up and managing professional training for 350 young people.
Once development programmes were up and running for each discipline, Harris reached a crossroads: a permanent move into human resources or the chance to join the company's fledgling PFI team. He opted for the latter. "I had a technical understanding of engineering, but this was a new, broader era of operational and lifecycle costs," he recalls. "I relied very much on my network of contacts and the support of colleagues to learn quickly."
Harris' experience and that of the team grew as PFI expanded. "It came to a point where the business recognised that there were lots of clever people here giving a high value service," he explains, "so the Group invested in developing the team to offer a broader selection of management consultancy services."
Harris now heads up the 50-strong London and South East region team within Mott MacDonald's business and technology consulting division. An average week could involve advising the Home Office or HM Revenue & Customs, setting up PPP policy in the Czech Republic, being on site at a PFI hospital in Chelmsford and managing the team in London – "fantastic variety but hard work."
- PRIDE The company value set - Progress, Respect, Integrity, Drive, Excellence.
- Employee-owned All employees share in the financial success.
- A great place to work 11th in the 2007 Sunday Times 20 Best Big Companies to Work for.
- Award-winning Over 50 awards for projects and people in 2007.
- Growing At 20% a year for the last two years.
- A global family Embracing many cultures and countries united by PRIDE values.
- Flexible Opportunities to work in different sectors and on projects around the world.
- Graduate training programmes and a dedicated team supporting 700 employees towards chartered status in the UK alone.
- Career development programme for newly-chartered professionals.
- Management and leadership development.
- Mentoring and e-learning programmes.
- Partnerships with Cranfield University and Ashridge Business School.
- Global networking opportunities.Benefits
- Profit share for all, based on company performance.
- New range of flexible benefits planned for 2008.
- 22-27 days paid annual leave according to service + eight bank holidays.
- Contributory pension scheme.
- Life assurance and personal accident cover.
- Childcare vouchers.
- Employee Assistance Programme providing 24-hour advice.
- Give As you Earn charity contributions.
- Sports activities and social networks.