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John Chick

Age: 39, engineering contracts manager, May Gurney Geotechnical, UK

Route to the job
My first degree was engineering geology and geotechnics at Portsmouth Polytechnic, from where I graduated in 1985. I followed this up 15 years later with a part-time MSc in construction management from Bath University, which was partly funded by May Gurney. After Portsmouth I joined Westpile as a site engineer and gained countrywide experience of various piling systems, together with experience in pile testing, R&D, estimating and design. In 1993 I moved to Rock & Alluvium as an estimating engineer and contract negotiator. I joined May Gurney in 1997 to broaden my experience to other ground engineering techniques. Subsequent management training has led to greater management responsibility and in 2000 I gained overall responsibility for the business procurement side of piling and last year added overall business management responsibility for May Gurney Site Investigation and May Gurney Steelwork.

Typical day
My business management function involves planned activities and tasks to be completed to reporting schedules. But this is complicated by the unpredictability of site commitments. Trouble-shooting, pre-contract meetings and the like all compete for time with R&D commitments, training plans, tender reviews, business development and recruitment / personnel issues. As a recent example, on my way back from a meeting in the north of England I was diverted to some emergency site works, which meant I had to prepare for some job interviews during site downtime. It was then back to head office to interview the candidates the next morning and then immediately back to site - this time using any downtime to prepare a business case proposal for a new item of plant needed to resolve the problem.

Highs and lows
Highs include seeing design innovations translated into reality on site; being involved with projects where all parties act as a team; watching staff develop; and the demand for quick, accurate answers. Lows are projects done the "old, adversarial way"; losing tender bids which have taken a lot of effort; and the stifling of innovation through prescriptive specs and design codes.

Ambitions
To further expand the services May Gurney offers. To see the importance of ground engineering reflected in the career choices of quality engineers. To design and develop a completely new, highly cost-effective piling or site investigation technique.

Advice
Seek responsibility. Do not fear asking questions. Read around your subject. Remember the people you meet - you will keep meeting them as time passes.