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Working lives


Howard McKay is a construction manager with the West Rail division of Kowloon Canton Railway Corporation. He was responsible for Area 3 of West Rail with three major tunnels.

Route to the job My early engineering ambition in the mid-1960s was to design motorcycle engines that would beat the Japanese. I found my university mechanical engineering course to be far too mathematical, however, and I finally ended with degree in mining engineering. I worked in the coal industry for five years before entering the world of 'civils' via a tunnel project in Liverpool. After coming to Hong Kong in 1975 I became a member of the ICE in 1979, following which time I have worked on all manner of structures, although tunnels have always been a core ingredient. Apart from retaining my interest in motorcycles, I have been a keen singer/guitarist for over 40 years and I still play in a rock band. This hobby led me into the bar business and, apart from my role as an engineer I am a major shareholder in five successful music bars in Asia.

Expectations Although I ended up doing something quite different to my original aim, the fact that I now look back with a feeling of satisfaction undoubtedly means that my engineering expectations were met.

Of course, at each fork in my career path there were some disappointments but it was my ability to overcome these that eventually led me to success. One of the things I have enjoyed about working on major construction projects is that the finished article remains as something that I and my fellow engineers can take pride in.

Reality I always like the joke about the school reunion where the worst maths student the school had ever seen turned up in a Rolls Royce and expensive clothes. When asked by his old teacher how he had become rich, the former student replied, 'A bit of buying and selling, Sir. I buy something for ten quid and sell it for twenty - it's only 10% but it's a living.'

In the same way, I am sure we all know of academic stars at our school that seem to have done little with their lives. The reality is, that while luck does play a part in our lives, there is also the luck that you make yourself. I think I have had a bit of both.

Advice It's an old but true adage that you should 'work hard and play hard'.

An important piece of additional advice is that you should also 'work smart'. Time management is something that everyone should study. The other advice I would give is to watch what works for others and then try to learn from it. Know your limitations and don't waste time trying to do things that others are better at. Try to get good people working around you and remember that a project is only as good as the people working on it.

Finally, make every day count, keep a sense of humour and have fun.

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