“Clients’ role is critical on mega-projects,” says UK infrastructure leader

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Mark Wild, CEO of SGN (right), in conversation with FIDIC CEO Dr Nelson Ogunshakin at the FIDIC International Contract Users’ Conference in London.

Former CEO of Crossrail Mark Wild makes a plea for effective client leadership on mega-projects at international contracts conference in London.

FIDIC’s 2023 International Contract Users’ Conference event kicked off with a fireside chat discussion with Mark Wild, CEO of SGN, one of the UK’s largest gas distribution networks and the former CEO of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure programme.

Speaking about his professional background, from his days growing up in the engineering powerhouse of the north east of England, Wild said he was pretty much destined to work in the construction and engineering sector. With 35 years of experience leading complex and critical infrastructure, much of Wild’s experience has been in transportation where he has had a long career in operating and building major transportation infrastructure.

Highlighting the key role of clients in the industry, Wild said that their input was crucial in ensuring that the industry had certainty of work and a pipeline that enabled companies to plan for the future. Drawing on his experiences of working on London’s Crossrail project, Wild also said that having a bipartisan political approach was also important, especially when things went wrong on a major project. “Crossrail was superbly planned, but naming the opening date for a project eight years ahead of its conclusion was crazy and created a climate of fear as that end date got closer,” he said.

Wild addressed the issue of dealing with uncertainty on mega-projects. “Not all projects are the same and the incrementals of dealing with complexity are crucial,” he said. Reflecting on the experience of Crossrail, Wild said that the approach of having 37 packages of work and the transferring of risk to the supply chain was a mistake. “The more risk and complexity involved in a project then the greater responsibility on the client to take a lead,” he said. “Ultimately the risk is going to come back to the client,” said Wild.

Leadership was also important on mega-projects and the idea of ‘owning the whole’ was critical, said Wild. “Collaboration is vital, but it is not enough,” he said. Being able to see the “end state” ahead of time was a key role of successful clients on major projects and one the industry needed to see more of, he said.

Turning to the future and the net zero agenda, Wild said that harnessing human capital and working together was absolutely critical to meeting global sustainability targets. “We are facing a very tumultuous time in the world and the ‘authorising environment’ is still forming, but engineers and others in the sector should be leading the ESG agenda,” said Wild, who also said that there was an opportunity for the industry to take a leadership position on this key issue.