The current president of the Chartered Management Institute, Terry Morgan, is also chairman of Europe's largest infrastructure project.
Terry Morgan and I are sitting in his office high up in the Citibank building in London's financial district, Canary Wharf. Behind him, there's a stunning view over the River Thames that takes in the Millennium Dome on the Greenwich peninsula and, way in the misty distance, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford. Over the next hour he tells me that the Wharf owes its expansion to the engineers who put the infrastructure in. He also tells me that economic regeneration always starts with the building of a railway line.
But Terry Morgan CBE isn't a banker. Relaxed in an open-neck shirt, the chairman of Crossrail plc tells me that Europe's largest infrastructure project is based among the financial institutions as a "matter of convenience". As the project moves from planning and procurement to construction, he'll want his people literally on the ground.
He wasn't always a professional manager, either. "I'm an engineer," says Morgan. "I'm actually an engineer who has arrived here by what I'd call the hard route." Morgan describes how he left school at 16, did an apprenticeship and got his chartered accreditation through a mixture of vocational experience and "some very tough exams".
Today, apart from his job at Crossrail (which takes up about 60 per cent of his time), he is also a fellow of the IET, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Institution of Civil Engineers, as well as the chair of the Manufacturing Technology Centre. He's also a companion of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), an organisation of which he is also currently the president.
Referring to the last on the list, I mention to Morgan that it is perhaps a startling statistic that, according to research coming out of the CMI, there could be as few as a quarter of professional managers who are actually qualified to do what it says on their business cards. How important is it for an ever-increasing body of 'accidental' managers to gain qualifications, and how appropriate is it for them to rely on any 'gut instinct' to carry out that role?
"It depends on what you mean by 'qualified', because there is a degree of intuition that comes into play in leadership." Morgan describes how he took his masters degree in engineering production management. "Did that make me feel qualified as an engineer? It certainly did. But did I think at the same time about becoming an accredited manager? No, I didn't. I think that as an engineer you're expected to have engineering knowledge. But management skills are often regarded as a capability you develop. And yet, of course, there are people who are good at their vocational skill who get promoted ' both for retention and recognition purposes ' but are ill-equipped to perform as managers."
This, for Morgan, is a lost opportunity. Instead of concentrating on areas where engineers with good interpersonal and leadership skills are under-qualified, this is the ideal chance to introduce them to professional bodies such as the CMI, where they can network and come to understand how other people in similar situations have developed their skills. This is where, according to Morgan, new managers can ask questions related to current thinking in technique, new legislation and how to influence opinion.
"Organisations like the CMI are there to represent their members, to try to articulate a point of view and then to lobby for that in terms of policy. It's that area of engagement that would enable people to recognise the criticality of management and leadership and how it can influence policy." This is typical of Morgan's optimism and positive attitude towards developing key people, in key skills, in key markets. "I'm a glass-half-full man," he says; an expression he uses several times during our conversation.
Morgan looks around his office and points to a certificate acknowledging his status as companion of the CMI. "I think it's important that having learned something, someone turns around and says 'well done'. I first got involved 20 years ago with what is now the CMI when I was at Land Rover, where we were trying to get first-line supervisors to learn about management and leadership skills." More recently his dealings with the organisation have been more to do with attending and speaking at events, which led to the "great honour" of becoming the president.
Keep your best people
One of the important topics that engineering managers routinely discuss is the prospect of retaining their best people in the face of a brain drain in the direction of the financial services sector. The perceived wisdom is that engineers move into management, go and get their MBA and then realise that their market worth is considerably higher in other management sectors.
"I've always thought of engineering as being the route to wealth creation," says Morgan. "When people talk about the brain drain, that's really more a recognition by other sectors that engineers are very numerate. And that was an attractive proposition to the financial services."
However, Morgan's view of the picture today is that this is "less the case", although he thinks the bigger question is what happens several career development stages before such temptation is put in the way. The big issue is how to influence youngsters when they are at the key point of deciding what it is they want to do. "And in that regard, I think we are working with a huge amount of prejudice." This can be parental, but it is often the result of schools failing to communicate to youngsters what a career in engineering can mean. "If I'm really honest, I almost reached the conclusion that this was becoming a lost cause. But I'm less pessimistic than I was five years ago and that's one of the benefits to have come out of this recession."
He thinks the question is larger than getting the message right in schools. "You can talk about encouraging young people to go into engineering, but there are diversity issues too. There is a huge split between male and female and that leaves a large resource that we should be trying to attract."
Morgan describes a recent intake of six young people on work experience at Crossrail: three girls, three boys. Of the six, one of the boys was very clear that he wanted to follow a career in civil engineering, while the other two boys had thought no further than the desire to do something practical. One of the girls wanted to "work in a company like Crossrail" and the other two "didn't know why they were here". Even though he accepts that the example is anecdotal, it is emblematic to him of "the struggle to attract the full range of capabilities from the full diversity of backgrounds".
That remains the biggest challenge for Morgan, who also regrets that the careers service "has been decimated in terms of being able to give advice". But he is encouraged by "Lord Baker pushing hard on the question of University Technical Colleges (UTCs), and that is an opportunity to ensure diversity at that level".
For Morgan it's all about "the relentless messaging on the benefits of engineering. And we shouldn't give up now". He sees the talent pool as being cross-gender, cross-nationality and open to all ages. "If we don't see it that way, the question will always be why engineering isn't seen as a valid career. And there will be skills shortages."
But it's not simply a matter of turning young people into engineering graduates. "It's about preparing them for the world of work. I came from a vocational background, where I made a choice after my vocational training about whether I wanted to do something more. I think that right now the pressure and the campaigning to get people into apprenticeships is long overdue.
"Sending youngsters to university who are ill-equipped and not clear about what they want to do, who are probably able to get more satisfaction out of vocational careers, was for me something that happened in the 1990s. We had this huge growth in university population, but without an understanding of its economic value to the economy. What was going to happen to all these youngsters? So this emphasis today on apprenticeships and vocational training is a good thing and I welcome it.
"I'm absolutely confident," he says, "that there will be a proportion of people who will go into apprenticeships, who will want to continue their career and progress to chartered engineer status. But these people will be arriving via a different route from that which would have been recognised a decade ago.
"John Hayes [minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning] talks about doubling the capacity of apprenticeship programmes under the current government. You can do that, but he also said that he was aiming to maintain the quality of the apprenticeship programmes. As you go for growth, you have to keep a very strong eye on what the quality of your output is like."
Despite Morgan's unflinching optimism, we are living in straightened times, where you can't switch on Radio 4 in the morning without hearing yet more horror stories about the disintegration of Europe, the looming spectre of unemployment and the fragmentation of society in general. But Morgan sees progressive companies doing great things.
"You only have to look at them to know that they're investing right across the value-stream, including young people and vocational development. You can sense it. They're not just trying to demonstrate outstanding business performance without actually having a holistic approach to the way they run their business. This is the sort of thing we promote at the CMI. This is all about leadership."
But Morgan agrees that, whatever term you wish to apply to the economic culture we're in at the moment, it was long overdue. "Our economy has been driven in terms of growth by its financial services alone. It was also unbalanced by the push of looking for excellence in the private sector, while employing huge numbers of people in the public sector. There seemed to be this insatiable appetite for more and more growth in terms of employment."
So can engineering play a role in Britain's financial recovery? "I think Crossrail is part and parcel of the solution. We will employ 60,000 people and will employ people for generations to come, and it will help regeneration. It has always been a fact that regeneration follows the development of a railway."
He recalls how BBC News political editor Nick Robinson recently asked him why in these days of austerity are we spending money 'digging holes' (i.e. creating underground railway lines) and not using the money to employ doctors and teachers. "I understand the question. But we have to invest in the future. If we don't we'll end up in a spiral we can never kick out of. While I understand people's reservations about Crossrail and HS2, in 20 or 30 years' time, if we don't do it, people will wonder how we could ever have afforded not to."
As I take a final look out over the vast redevelopment of east London, Morgan explains that there's no irony in the Crossrail office being set right in the heart of London's business district. "Canary Wharf could not exist without a railway system. Crossrail is happening because Canary Wharf wants to continue to grow. It has insufficient resources right now to grow to the potential it thinks it can meet.
"The Wharf was a key mover in the creation of the Docklands Light Railway and the Jubilee Line extension. This is a classic example of what can happen if you put the infrastructure in place. There are 100,000 people a day coming here to work, and that couldn't happen without the infrastructure." *