Robert Biggs PPBEng FCABE on his long-lasting career

Robert Biggs PPBEng FCABE, Robert Biggs Associates Ltd’s Managing Director, on his beginnings and term as President.

Q Did you always have an interest in construction/engineering?

My father ran a small building company so I grew up around it and I did not give very much thought to joining any other industry. My father passed on his love and interest in building construction, particularly that of older buildings, and this has stuck with me.

Q What was your route into the profession?

Things were rather different when I left school. Having taken my A Levels, I wrote to six construction companies saying I was leaving school and asking if they wanted me. From those six letters, I got three interviews and two job offers.

I spent two years as a trainee in the estimating department at Bison Concrete, and completed a City & Guilds course in building construction. After that I did a conversion course designed to bring people with non-cognate A Levels up to degree-entry level, which very useful to me.

Then I moved to the engineering design department and was given the opportunity to do a degree in civil engineering. I was one of the few students on the four-year sandwich course (two years full-time study, followed by a year working and then a further year’s study) on a full salary.

When I finished my degree, I saw an advert wanting people to join the Greater London Council’s (GLC) District Surveyors’ Service. I didn’t know much about the District Surveyors’ Service (which administered building control in inner London), but I decided to apply.

The GLC supported me in my applications to become a chartered civil and chartered structural engineer. District surveyors encouraged me to go further, which is why I am also a chartered building surveyor (FRICS) and chartered building engineer (FCABE).

Q May saw us welcome new president Richard Smith. You were president from 1994-95 – what are your memories of that time and what advice would you give him for his time in office?

At the time, I was the second youngest president in the history of the Association. It seemed to me that it needed an injection of youth, and this prompted the setting up of a young members committee involved in seeking out young talent to join. I think attracting talent is biggest challenge facing the profession.

My advice to Richard is to enjoy every minute, as the one-year term goes very fast. One learns so much in that one-year term of office.

Q You have been heavily involved with CABE, including the benevolent fund. Why is it important the Association offers this?

I don’t think many of us think too deeply about our colleagues who need help. The CABE Benevolent Fund is there to help members and their families who are in tough circumstances, and I would urge any member in need to get in touch (see more at cbuilde.com/benfund). Trustees are a caring and considerate group of members who will always look to see how they can help.

Q What inspires you in your career?

When I left local government, I started my own business as a consultant and I’ve been doing that for more than 20 years. While I’m still involved in building regulation work, much of my time is spent looking at organisational leadership and culture. This is an area that I find fascinating. I’m still working full time, even though I’ve just had my 70th birthday. My wife tells me that I should be thinking about packing up – let’s wait and see…  

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