I grew up in Swindon, an industrial town in the south of England. When I was 17 I joined Leyland Vehicles near Preston as a student apprentice, pursuing my unlikely dream to become a bus designer. Taking a degree in mechanical engineering at Liverpool University cemented my move to the North West.
After my training I began work designing bits of buses like the Leyland National and the Leyland Titan. A grant from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1977 enabled me to travel across the United States studying why American buses are so different to European ones (and having a great time visiting lots of interesting places!). Around 1980 I led a project to develop an experimental battery electric Terrier truck. Huge fun driving a truck that’s faster off the lights than a Ferrari!
That American knowledge came to the fore when in 1983 Leyland decided to have a go at breaking into the US bus market. I devised a plan and we built a double deck demonstrator bus that toured the country. The cities weren’t interested but Gray Line of San Francisco brought a fleet of ten impressive three axle sightseeing versions. Some of these latterly showed up in New York as open top tourist buses, and set a trend that has led to dozens of British-built examples going across to America. Sadly not Leylands as the firm reined in during the late eighties and I decided to leave.
I got an MBA from Manchester Business School and found myself at a small IT firm near Wigan as business development director. That wasn’t a great fit but through people I met there I got an interesting assignment as a sub-contractor to a sub-contractor to the World Bank advising on how to move the Turkish Standards Institute from Ankara to Istanbul.
In 1990 I joined British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) to help develop a spin-off business creating software to control complex machine tools. I also did some manufacturing consulting including at a fruit juice factory in Hamburg. I was part of the team that chose which firm would outsource (i.e. run and enhance) BAe’s non-critical IT. That firm was Computer Sciences Corporation (now part of DXC Technologies). Like hundreds of other IT-related staff at BAe I moved across to CSC in 1994.
An early assignment was being the client manager at the front of a multi-million pound contract to develop and install a very sophisticated sales and production computer system for what was then Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars. This was a genuinely state of the art solution and I had another good time going to conferences in America, Germany, Portugal and elsewhere to talk about it. During that period I was also keeping an eye on a manufacturing consulting project in Moscow – which naturally involved a trip over there to double check the reports I was getting! Fascinating city.
Around the turn of the century I became director of CSC’s business change consulting practice in the UK with a team of about 70 people working for me. Our unit was heavily involved in a number of great projects, like designing the Virgin Pendolino trains. In 2006 I left CSC and started doing some interesting work in the public UK sector working with a small project management consultancy called Mpulse, based in Manchester. I devised plans for special educational needs provision in Lancashire; helped to define the project to build the £30 million Bolton One health, sport and teaching complex; coordinated the opening of a number of high school academies in Manchester; and found ways for the city to cope with a sudden increase in the number of children entering primary school.
My bus designing dream has never quite left me. I came up with a novel design in the late 1990s which I took to conferences in Rome and Dresden, and in 2009 I won one of the main prizes in the New Bus for London design competition. I believe I can see a number of features in my entry that found their way in the 1,000 New Routemasters that hit the capital’s streets between 2012 and 2017.
Towards the end of my time at CSC I came to realise that although we collectively require more and more projects to deliver the kinds of changes we need to cope with a fast-changing world, we also have to get much better at designing and running those projects. And that’s something people should learn about at college; it has become a basic skill. So I started teaching at institutions including Liverpool John Moores University, Bath University, Lancaster University, Imperial College London and Manchester Business School. I continue to teach a popular undergraduate project management course at Lancaster.
The Zavanak web-site is a way to expand the reach of that project management to anyone, anywhere. I also want to use it as a platform to examine and discuss other areas that interest and fascinate me - hopefully providing an original angle on a variety of topics.