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Whitby sets out his presidential stall for 2001

MARK WHITBY has only one reservation about becoming an ICE vice president in November - the need to toe the party line.

Currently Whitby is chairman of the Future Framework working party producing vision/mission statements for the ICE. He is mindful that he has only another two months to let rip.

'I'm hoping that the political constraints of my involvement will not cause too much frustration when it comes to public announcements,' he said.

Whitby's return to Council membership in the same month will herald a three year period during which he will, at 51, become the youngest president of the Institution in the modern era. He is candid about his prospects in the hot seat.

'In three years I will probably know why past presidents have said that you can't achieve as much as you want - which I've been sceptical about in the past. Perhaps I'm one of those people who think you can build Rome in a day. But the nice thing is that I will be doing it an age when hopefully I'll continue to have an influence after I've gone through the cycle.

'It's nice to feel that I will be carrying on the good work of men such as Tony Ridley.'

Whitby has strong views that engineers should feel good about what they are doing and that every project is an opportunity to make the ordinary extraordinary. He feels that the current image of the profession is damaging and points to a recent article in the Financial Times about the World Economic Forum's report on global competitiveness to prove his point.

The survey of 53 countries using a number of criteria including potential for growth, current income levels, technological and infrastructure data scored the UK in fourth place behind Singapore, Hong Kong and the US.

But the report states that the UK ranks 50th in the category of engineering as a profession. 'It shows just how much we need to improve the perception of engineering in this country,' said Whitby. He has a strategy in mind which centres on greater integration of engineers from different disciplines.

'Engineering has divided itself up over the ages and we need to feel part of one family again. I was delighted to read recently that the inventor of the clockwork radio, Trevor Bayliss, lectured at the ICE. I can't understand why more lectures like this don't take place at the ICE.'

Bayliss has also lectured to Whitby's Engineering Club, a forum for engineers of different disciplines to talk about engineering. The lectures which have been taking place at the offices of Whitby Bird in London for the last five years have included guest speakers such as the 21 year old inventor of a flying machine.

'He had a very quiet voice, but you could have heard a pin drop,' said Whitby. Another speaker was Saeed Zahedi, the designer of the cybernetically designed limb which enables amputees to run.

Whitby feels passionately that institutions should change to reflect this feeling of community. 'There is a desperate need for the engineering institutions to collaborate more and to the point where differences are no longer relevant. There has to be a case for one single big institution that would not necessarily be called the ICE. So far there has been talk of IEE and IMechE joining forces, which I applaud.

'The big question is: do the membership want it? I believe they do. But how do we prove that? By literally asking them.'

Whitby is not about to disown his pride in being a civil engineer. 'Our clients are often public agents. Civil engineers deal more with the public than any other engineering profession.'

He believes civil engineers have enough to boast about without trying to ape other professions. 'The society we live in today celebrates individualism and some professions like architecture need a figure head to attract a client. Engineering is different because it's never the result of one man's achievement. Collaboration means we are akin to session musicians.'

It is why he is so happy too that much of Whitby Bird's work is bridge design, for which the company has won two recent Civic Trust awards. 'With bridges engineers have the chance to have their own band,' he said.

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