“Ah, the MOD. You’ll find that a very complicated place.”
That simple sentence pretty well sums up what most of my colleagues told me when they heard I was taking over the role of Chief Executive at the Defence Infrastructure Organisation. Some of them also told me that “It’s a great job – you’ll enjoy it.”
So six weeks into my new job, were they were right?
First, a bit of background. I am a civil engineer, a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and more recently a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. My professional training was with British Rail (remember them?), and I then worked for consulting engineer Mouchel building ports and power stations in the Middle and Far East. Exciting times, working on a series of frighteningly big projects.
By the late nineties I was back in the rail industry, this time with contractor Bovis and managing complex railway resignalling contracts to tight
cost and programme deadlines. As if that wasn’t tricky enough, the whole rail industry was going through the process of privatisation which meant huge changes in how maintenance and capital projects were done.
But the best job of all was the seven years I spent as the Chief Executive of the Highways Agency. There I worked hard to improve how the Agency operates, maintains and improves the main roads across England. I built a great team, working to meet objectives set by the Department for Transport, keeping traffic moving for four million customers every day, and working collaboratively with our consultants and contractors.
What, you might ask, has any of this got to do the MOD?
Similarities to the MOD
Well, there’s the seven years running a big executive agency for government – dealing with HM Treasury, Cabinet Office, and of course my own parent department. Believe me, while DIO might not be an executive agency, there are a lot of parallels to the world that I found at the Highways Agency in 2008.
Then there’s the supply chain. Balfour Beatty, Mott Macdonald, Carillion and Amey – just four of the names that I have been working with successfully for a decade and am still working with at DIO. Indeed, motorway maintenance contracts are simply large facility management contracts.
And then there’s the customer. DIO has just four very big, very influential, and very demanding customers. These four front line commands – the Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and Joint Forces Command - deserve the best customer service that we can give them.
So were my colleagues right? Partly. I am not sure that the MOD is really any more complicated than any other government department or large corporation. But I definitely agree that this already feels like a great job. The staff are a welcoming bunch of people (for which I thank them), doing a good job under some difficult constraints.
My aim is to make DIO a respected organisation that provides the advice, support and infrastructure that our military need.
In these first few weeks in the job I am concentrating on getting the right relationships in place with MOD and the Front Line Commands. That will give us the mandate to build our capability in the business, growing Programme management and Commercial management expertise. I think the staff would probably like it too if we could get a Lean Improvement programme running, simplifying some of that bureaucracy that sometimes seems to make the day job more difficult than it needs to be.
Over rather more than thirty years I have been lucky enough to work in some great businesses working on some really worthwhile infrastructure. After just a few weeks, I can already see that leading DIO is another great opportunity – and I am looking forward to working closely with everyone here in the coming years. Oh, and I am also looking forward to learning what some of those acronyms mean…