What’s driven Andy’s unique career is his determination to “choose the less trodden path.” He doesn’t wait for a ‘safe’ role to be advertised. Instead he keeps in touch with business priorities, notes growth areas around the world and uses that knowledge to initiate timely chats about how he can add value. This slightly unconventional approach results in cutting edge job opportunities.
““When I was 17 I joined the Army – I wanted to give something back to the country. I served for ten years with the Royal Engineers in different countries around the globe and qualified as an electrician. I left the forces to continue to better myself and chose to attend De Montfort University in Leicester.
When I graduated in Electrical Engineering I was in my early 30s and moved back to the family home near Burnley. The industry there is very aerospace-orientated and I was fortunate to work for BAe Systems. The work was really good. I designed stuff and it was built on the shop floor, I was able to get my hands on, see the products tested on site and then watch the fly over. It was a fantastic end-to-end experience.
Next I wanted diversity of experience and was drawn to Atkins by the major buildings side of things – everything was such large scale. Another big pull was that Atkins had offices around the globe. I like to keep moving. I started in Epsom and after eight months moved to Leeds as the department I was in started to grow. Over the next few years I was fortunate to be promoted, the roles and projects were satisfying, however I had the hunger to make a step change.
I decided to get really proactive about diversifying my career. I made sure the managers knew I wanted to do something else that would take me to a different location, with new challenges. I made it clear I wanted to stay in the Company. I knew there would be opportunities with new offices opening and good growth across the Group. That’s when I moved across from Leeds to Bangalore.
My career path has always been a bit unconventional. I wasn’t first choice for the role in Bangalore. If there’s someone better fair enough! But I did proactively offer to shadow the successful candidate so I could learn from him and perhaps one day succeed him! Three weeks later I had a call to say I couldn’t shadow because the other person wasn’t going to take the job anymore! Then they offered me the role. I must have made enough of an impression to be given a second bite.
My time in Bangalore made me more humble. Seeing the conditions some people live in…families sharing a water pump, for example. It makes you appreciate what you’ve got. We stopped buying unnecessary household goods, nick knacks and became less materialistic - it felt like you’d be inappropriately showing off your wealth otherwise. We still had some fantastic holidays and did treat ourselves in more subtle ways.
In Bangalore we were used as an off shore office – making Atkins more competitive. Just about every project was for the UK and Middle East markets. The team that I managed weren’t delivering any local market projects. That said, we did get involved in local community life and were supported by Atkins in doing so.
We taught English in schools, ran regular blood donation camps and helped locals build permanent brick homes with a solid roof, electricity and running water. The families we helped acquired life long-skills by building their own homes. It was great to know we were making a real difference and anyone who participated in our Corporate Responsibility activities had a connection that was also evident in the workplace.
The other main benefits of living and working in Bangalore for me personally were career-based. I went from running a team of 25 in the UK to managing a business in Bangalore which grew from about 30 to 100. The management skills development was excellent. At the time our then CEO Keith Clark was championing off-shoring and my role was delivering on that strategic vision. It had built-in kudos which enabled me to sit at tables I’d not have been at in the past – Board meetings back in the UK, for example. It elevated my stature and set me up for my next move.
When my Bangalore secondment came to an end there were several UK roles on offer. But I wasn’t ready to go back, for me there’s more exciting stuff overseas. The Middle East was at the top of my wish list, partly because the market had turned a corner out of recession. Also it’s a bit closer for visitors from the UK and for us to pop home. Our children are in their late 20s and our eldest has his own family. They all think it is brilliant having parents overseas as they get a free holiday destination!
Qatar was booming and I knew I could help us become more competitive out there. There was no vacancy – I just did cold calling. I asked if they’d thought of off-shoring – and if so they probably needed me on their team! I was able to confidently sell our Bangalore offshoring capability, make the necessary connections and dispel any nervousness about the change as I’d been there and knew it could work.
There were some unfounded concerns about language barriers but I knew it wasn’t a problem. The Indian education system teaches engineering degrees in English for a start. Plus Atkins people around the world have the same professional approach. Our professional integrity is consistent wherever I’ve been. It is what makes us stand out – our people are open, willing to share and we all use the same processes.
In Qatar I started on the Expressway (or motorway) and dabbled a bit on our local roads and drainage projects too. In truth I hadn’t worked on major projects of that scale before; the value is in the billions of Riyals and the team sizes were significantly different. You get high levels of responsibility by the bucket full out here – more than you’d have in the UK. In return, high levels of commitment are expected.
We have demanding clients in the Middle East but on the flip side we have fantastic surroundings and life here is fantastic – there is a good balance. There infrastructure is phenomenal and improving by the day, education and health care are also of the highest standards. My friends and colleagues do exceptional pieces of work and when we have time off we let our hair down in the sun!
Today most of my role is internal – looking after staff; recruiting, bringing the team on. If asked, my advice to others is “don’t restrict yourself”. Some people have an idea they would only work in a developed or developing country or a business area they already know. I’d say opt for something more exciting and challenging. A phrase that I use is “choose the less trodden path, it gives more reward when you actually start walking down it”.