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Windsurfing must wait

Working lives - Profile

Mike Otlet, the man leading the spectacular Broomielaw Bridge project in Glasgow, talks to Ian Lawrence about his passion for his work.

Cardiff has featured particularly prominently in the career of the head of structural engineering at the country's biggest engineering consultant. Not only did Atkins' Mike Otlet train in the Welsh capital, he returned 15 years later to spearhead work on the majestic Millennium Stadium's retractable roof.

'Every morning to get to college I went up past the old Arms Park and I was told it was the hallowed turf of Wales, so when the opportunity came up to sort it out it was great.

'We spent four-and-a-half years working on it and were involved right up to the end. It was good being up on the roof.

It was certainly a major project in my career.'

Between graduating in 1980 and joining Atkins in 1994, Otlet worked at Anthony Hunt Associates. 'You could almost say that working there was the second stage of my training.

Tony Hunt is one of the greatest engineers of the last 50 or 60 years. He opened my eyes to all sorts of design.'

Highlights included taking responsibility for the steelwork in the roof at Waterloo Station's international terminal.

'I didn't start on the project but my job was to make it happen and that was terrific, ' he recalls. 'Because of the will to keep it on time, we got the station finished a year in advance so that was quite a big milestone.'

Other memorable projects followed, such as work on Norwich's Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and a law faculty building in Cambridge.

But when Otlet, 45, was recruited by Atkins to establish its structural office in Oxford, he noticed the advantages a larger firm could offer.

'With a bigger company you have experts in-house. We also brought in the good guys I'd worked with in the past. I was able to bring people who I had confidence in and who I knew would deliver.

'Atkins has a reputation for being a roads and transportation company and was definitely that way inclined when I joined, so over the last 10 years we've worked to change that image.'

Otlet says the elation at landing prestigious contracts like the Millennium Stadium work has not abated, and conversely unsuccessful bids still retain high levels of disappointment.

'It's as enjoyable to win a project now as it ever has been but losing a project you really wanted to do is the worst thing. Projects that got away were things like Eden and Wembley. That was disappointing, ' he sighs.

Another enjoyable aspect of his work at Atkins has come through forging links with the next generation of engineers.

Otlet is a visiting tutor at the University of Bath and says:

'All the students are very enthusiastic and they give me ideas. We are developing links between Atkins and Bath, Oxford and Oxford Brookes.

Students get practical experience and can help us out, while we can learn so much more about them than I think you ever really can at an interview.

'I do enjoy that side of it but I wouldn't want to give up completely on design. If it was possible to match up the two roles that would be a great thing to do, the best of both worlds.'

But if Otlet had not opted for engineering at all, what would he be doing now?

'If I wasn't an engineer I'd be teaching windsurfing in the south of France, but nobody's sacked me to enable to do that!'

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