Rail engineer heads SRK

Rail design engineer Mike Hood was appointed MD of consultant SRK in 2010 March, with an eye to alternative power projects and more high speed rail links.

Hood will exploit new consulting business opportunities in growing demands on government service delivery, as well as possibilities for nuclear power and alternative power sources, and fledgling high speed rail infrastructure.

Coming to SRK from four years on the Gautrain project with Murray and Roberts, Hood has a life time experience in railway engineering. He started his engineering career with Rhodesia Railways, later named National Railways of Zimbabwe, in the late 1970s, progressed to managing partner of SA’s leading rail consultants Robertson & Hitchins (R&H) in 1998.

Consulting engineers BKS acquired R&H in 1999, and Hood went to the UK to focus on high speed commuter rail for four years, adding to experience on freight and heavy haul rail design projects for mines and other heavy industrial clients.

The experience was to prove invaluable for the work required on the Gautrain project back home. Following a stint as senior design engineer in the London office of Jacobs, he was headhunted by engineering giant Bechtel UK to work on secondment to Network Rail as lead track engineer on the West Coast Route Modernisation project.

Bechtel was tasked with delivering high speed running for Virgin’s state-of-the-art tilting trains between Euston station in London and Glasgow.

Leadership lessons

Hood had taken leading roles in people management and systems development, always aiming to develop individual capacity through employee empowerment. He was always inspired by how people ‘rise to the occasion’ when given real responsibility and support.

“I have always felt that leaders need the courage to devolve decision making authority to those who must implement projects at all levels. It is the way that leaders handle inevitable mistakes in these decisions that make or break employee development and contributions to determining differentiators in a competitive environment,” Hood explained.

“Authoritarian responses to mistakes often ensure that the person responsible does not make the same mistake again, and from taking independent decisions again. Managers should move from being in authority to being an authority, and adopt a supportive role, encouraging a degree of entrepreneurism in decision making… without independent, quality decisions, it is difficult to become a good engineer.”

SRK boasts of an ‘unusually flat management structure’ that embodies the principles of employee empowerment from its highest levels, offering a high level of independence to clients.

Skills crunch

Experienced consulting engineers are mostly aged 55 years plus, and skills transfer and development of younger skills should be a priority.

Willingness to learn is not the problem. “Young engineers today are hungry for a challenge and eager to take on responsibility… very impatient for it, and will move quickly to seek it out if we could not create the correct environment.”

PHOTO; SRK Consulting MD, Mike Hood.

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