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India / India Executive / Managing director

Liz King

Liz at Ston in Croatia – a 5km long medieval wall which was built to defend sea salt pans and was impressive all the same.

"I have always been fairly ambitious and I am driven to seek out new challenges. I have learned to never say no to an opportunity because even if it sounds like it might be dull you always learn something new and it creates new opportunity."

Why did you decide to go into engineering?

It was in the blood. My great grandfather was a civil engineer and I’m told my grandmother wanted to be one back in around 1920 but at the time that was out of the question. But it got me looking into the profession pre O level; and Maths and Physics were obvious choices for me at A level.

Where did you study?

I studied a BSc course in civil engineering with a fourth year diploma at Southampton University. At the time Southampton was trailblazing the idea of the four year civils Masters course which is effectively what mine was.

Who was your first employer and why?

Only six of us on the civil engineering undergraduate course went on to do the fourth year, and for that we had to find a sponsor to back us with money and work experience. After a very tough interview I got my sponsorship from Mott Hay & Anderson (now Mott MacDonald). And I worked one summer with the bridge design team and the next summer on site on the M27. I was offered the chance to join as a graduate engineer and never looked back.

How has your career developed?

You can pretty much divide it into four parts.

1. Training and getting chartered which involved me being mobile and working in various offices and on different contracts. I was chartered MICE in 1988.

2. The technical part, which lasted ten to 15 years. I worked in structural repair and durability and became a specialist which exposed me to lots of sectors from nuclear power stations to water treatment works through to bridges. That was much more single office based and suited the time I was bringing up a young family.

3. Management. I found I enjoyed management the most and became divisional director of my division which opened up other management roles in the business. That meant I was back to being professionally mobile again. I was offered a role in the highways division managing the technical advisory team which involved me moving my family lock stock and barrel to Winchester. And then I was commission manager for Highways Agency Area 3 for three years, divisional manager for integrated transport for five and a half years, managing director for India.

4. At the beginning of 2016, I was appointed as Chair of our Shareholders' Committee, Mott MacDonald's governing body.

Did you have a career plan?

No, not really. I have always been fairly ambitious and I am driven to seek out new challenges. I have learned to never say no to an opportunity because even if it sounds like it might be dull you always learn something new and it creates new opportunity. I’ve always made it known by conversations in the right places when I am ready to move onto the next challenge and a new role has always appeared. You have to be willing to move about, there are many more opportunities if you are.

Why have you stayed at Mott MacDonald?

The company has always given me enormous support throughout my career and particularly with all the ‘woman working’ issues like having babies, and being able to work part time. Mott MacDonald is employee owned which means I feel a genuine attachment to ‘my’business and I like that our destiny is in our own hands.

Did you have a particular mentor or someone who has influenced your working life?

That was my director during the early part of my career – Dr Jonathan Wood. He was very good at going out and winning bits of interesting technical work and research for the business and he’d throw his graduates in at the deep end. I learned that if you apply yourself you can become expert in anything.

What keeps you interested in your work?

I am a shareholder and I want to drive the business to succeed. As an MD it’s my role to do that and create genuinely exciting career paths for my staff.

What advice would you offer your younger self?

Apart from being mobile and flexible there was a nugget of advice that Jonathan Wood gave me that I’ve hung on to. He said if you go to a conference, always ask a question. If you do that people feel they know you and they come and talk to you. It’s a great way to get yourself known. And now every time I’m asked if someone can go to a conference, that’s what I tell them to do.

What have been the pivotal moments in your career?

There have been three big game changers.

1. Being prepared to uproot the family and move to Winchester for the highways job.

2. Taking on the Integrated Transport role which meant changing the way I worked from being based pretty much in one office to travelling round the country constantly to 10 different offices.

3. Being prepared to move to India. My husband is working here too, and our daughters are both in their twenties and are very excited that mum has provided them with such a great place to come and visit.

What has been the best moment in your career?

Meeting my husband Roger on site on the Hayes bypass where he was working for Balfour Beatty (he has since joined Mott MacDonald). Otherwise, the overseas opportunities. I am thoroughly enjoying the experience and finding that it is opening my mind in ways that I could never have dreamt. My advice to others would be, if you get the chance to work outside your home country – grab it with both hands!

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