Oral history of British science
Head, Peter (Part 9 of 14)
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Head, Peter, 1947- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 9 [58:14][Interview Four: 14 December 2012] Story about start of PH work with Dundee University on Aberfeldy gold course footbridge, the worlds first composite material bridge: PH paper with Brian Richmond on composite materials for Kerensky Memorial Conference, attended by Dundee professor Bill Harvey; Aberfeldy Golf Course approaching Bill Harvey to provide a footbridge to extend golf course; PH meeting in London with Bill Harvey where they decided to develop composite material bridge for golf club. [03:00] Remarks on extent of previous use of composites in civil engineering: many proposals but little practical experience of using composites in bridges; examples of composite use in post office building and at Covent Garden. [04:52] Remarks on Aberfeldy bridge: use of advanced composite construction system [ACCS] for design; involvement of students in sketching design; implications of lightweight deck for aerodynamic stability; anecdote about PH bringing manufacturers together with civil engineers Ray O'Rourke to Aberfeldy to pitch for support; creation of business plan and support; PH enjoyment of activity; students building bridge from parts; Ciba Geigy providing adhesives; students' satisfaction in building bridge; anecdote about visiting bridge by sleeping train; PH family helping on site; [10:45] problems with quality of section linkages; anecdote about awful weather on day 'Tomorrow’s World' were due to film the launch main bridge deck; anecdote about 'Tomorrow’s World' approach to science communication. [14:35] Remarks on use of composites in bridges compared to use of steel: no need for cranes; anecdote about lightness of Kevlar cables; safety advantages of lightweight materials; warmth of materials making them more pleasant to manhandle metal; bouncy nature of bridge; potential uncertainties over risks, such as over durability; lessons for PH in building consortium of interest; anecdote about opinion on bridge of Urs Meier's, proposer of carbon fibre bridge across Gibraltar Straits; technological leap of Aberfeldy bridge design. [19:25] Comments about challenges when PH took over as Maunsell chief executive in 1997: Tony Blair government stopping spending money on infrastructure projects; financial problems for Maunsell; death of partner Brian Richmond and illness of David Lee, with families wanting to sell their stake in the company; problems with Maunsell pension fund; share of work from Aisan part of Maunsell group to London; currency risks with Malaysian project being paid for in local currency, causing problems during Asian currency crash. [24:30] Remarks on arranging sale of Maunsell: advantages to American AECOM company of taking over Maunsell; PH support for takeover but knowing that there would be difficulties in changing company culture; PH writing merger strategy document with AECOM person in Los Angeles; much travel for PH to bring deal together. [27:40] Remarks on complicated negotiations within three different Maunsell groups to divide company: Australian and Hong Kong Maunsell group reactions to deal; anecdote about PH approach in first round of negotiations in London hotel; PH approach to negotiations; PH securing a good deal in negotiations, gratitude of shareholders. [32:00] Anecdote about deal with AECOM almost failing at last negotiations at Santa Monica, importance of PH strategy document promoting global company approach in winning AECOM over. [34:44] Remarks on: new organisation and change in culture created by merger, short term financial targets and incentives; growth of combined AECOM-Maunsell company into very large company. [36:45] Remarks on aquistion of Oscar Faber: PH leading negotiations even though he knew that his own career at AECOM would be damaged by Faber chief executive becoming Faber-Maunsell chief executive; PH reasons for not wanting to remain chief executive, disliking stresses and making people redundant, in spite of his success in the role; PH desire to focus more on sustainable development; PH continuing technical involvement with projects whilst being chief executive; PH proposal for millennium project; stressful life as Chief Executive; [41:50] PH work on Ampang-Kuala Lumpur Elevated Highway, difficult negotiations with Leighton contractors; teams working on Copenhagen and Bangkok metro projects; PH negotiations over cash flow deficit on Copenhagen project. [44:00] Remarks on PH career at Maunsell after merger with Faber: stepping down as chief executive in favour of Ken Dalton to become Corporate Development Director; demise of AECOM corporate director system; anecdote about new managers always blaming their predecessors to prove their own progress; tough period for PH; PH colleges Richard Hankin, Ed Plewa; Faber-Maunsell long term successes. [47:30] Comments on PH developing interest in sustainability: PH keynote speech on sustainability at 1998 World construction conference; lower energy materials; Severn crossing understanding of benefits of infrastructure projects; gradual realisation that infrastructure projects were part of the worlds environmental problems; London First business pressure group creating sustainability unit chaired by PH, consequent engagement with National Heath Service [NHS] over PFI hospital projects; [51:40] building environmental objectives into PFI design framework; changes in NHS approach to sustainability. [53:25] Remarks on London First: companies involved, such as BG, Thames Water and others; membership of RSPB [Royal Society for the Protection of Birds] and social and religious groups; lack of Greater London Authority making large scale efforts difficult. [55:40] Further remarks on sustainability: late 1990s view on sustainability, 1997 government objectives; reception of PH 1998 keynote address; PH feelings of having more impact later in career.
Interview with civil engineer, Peter Head