Atkins showcases British design talent in support of London 2012
COUNTDOWN TO THE LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES
58 DAYS TO GO
Atkins UK’s boss explains why it’s the Games’s engineering design consultant
Q What was your brand’s primary reason for being involved with the Games?
A It’s a superb platform for the company, our staff, our supply chain and the other companies and customers we work with. Engineering design consultancy, and its standing in the public eye, isn’t a story that is heavily told. So for us this was a great opportunity to tell that story. Our Olympic work isn’t unusual compared to what we do every day, but it’s a superb, iconic project to be involved with. Another reason was to provide something that we hope inspires a generation. I like the idea of re-engaging the Brunel years. The UK did engineering extremely well in that era, it was a great export for the country, and a fantastic career. But over the years banking, finance, and accountancy have had more pull. The Olympics is an opportunity to re-engage with new generations and to inspire them to look at engineering as a real and exciting profession.
Q How did you structure the case for involvement to the board?
A The Olympics is very similar to Atkins. We like the winning ethos but also the collaborative approach. It’s what we do every day: build teams around projects, develop collaborative approaches and look for innovation. The Olympics has also certainly tested our innovative ideas. Take the temporary staging, which we’re now heavily involved with. For instance, on the equestrian side, because of a no-dig policy at Greenwich Park, we’ve developed a platform that fools the horses and riders that they’re on firm, stable ground, without the need to level all sorts of topography.
Q How have you structured your business to maximise Olympic opportunities?
A Our usual way, by putting a lead team on it. They’re the ones who constantly reach into Atkins to bring forward the right people and induct them into what a client is after. Quite often, some of our projects are aligned to a sector, like rail, but this one pulls together people from different disciplines.
Q How did the announcement that you were involved affect your business?
A We received a very positive reaction from everybody. I wish I was an engineer. To be able to say that you worked on such an iconic project, it is very exciting for our staff. There’s a thirst to work on it. With clients and suppliers, we’ve been quite surprised by how many are interested. It just catches the imagination. It’s helped us in an awful lot of conversations in the UK. Likewise internationally. UK Trade and Investment has been keen to get us out to Brazil and their Olympic preparations – like a Victorian-era showcase of our export capability. We’ve also leveraged work in Qatar off the back of it. We’re dedicated planning advisers to the government, building an planning department from scratch. They’re building such an amount.
Q What were the most crucial commercial opportunities for you and how will you be using these for maximum effect?
A For us it’s not short term, though we’re probably seeing more direct impact than we first thought. It’s about a medium to long-term investment that will allow us to showcase engineering consultancy, and its breadth, because engineering consultancy doesn’t really convey that. People are surprised to find we do archaeology, too. Yes, and ecology. The sustainability legacy of the Olympics is a big part of what we encourage our company to think about. The work we’ve put in – recycling 98 per cent of the soil on site – all of this adds to an environmentally-friendly post-Olympics site. That’s a key part of what we challenge our engineers to do. We can get very worthy and turn our lightbulbs off to save energy, but it’s not going to make a row of beans’ difference. We can fundamentally change the design of a building so it doesn’t require heating – that’s an interesting thing.
Q How are you using your Olympic ticket allocation?
A We’ve a fair mixture. We’ve run internal competitions across the globe. We are also using it externally to entertain clients. The Bribery and Corruption Act wasn’t designed to capture this, in my view, but it’s made it difficult to get some clients to come, especially government-based clients. We’ve even had clients actually buying tickets from us, because they want to come, they want to see and to hear the technical background as to what was done.
Q What has surprised you about your involvement to date?
A There haven’t been any great surprises, but it’s produced some interesting connections. We face so many industries, that our ability to take ideas from one place and apply to a very different case has to be very strong. There’s a cracking example in the ExCeL stadium, where they’re worried about the air conditioning wafting around the table tennis balls. The guys who worked on that are fluid dynamics experts from the gas sector.
David Tonkin is chief executive officer of Atkins UK.