James Kenealey trends
In a 2020 report, it was indicated that 28% of chief executives at Fortune 500 companies had an engineering degree, with 34 of the top 100 of the Harvard Business Review’s Best Performing CEOs also being engineers.
This was the case even in companies that weren’t themselves engineering-based, such as Jeff Bezos at Amazon. But how can a background in engineering help develop the skills needed for a senior leadership role, and why are so many companies succeeding with engineering-savvy CEOs?
At Morson, several of our longest-serving directors began their careers within the Morson Projects division of the business as engineering apprentices, working their way through the business to hold key executive positions.
Morson Group Managing Director Dr Kevin Gorton, said:
“For me, engineering gives people a clinical way of thinking and solving problems. It allowed me to visualise the world through a deterministic lens, making decision making
easier. Engineering provides a great platform to build qualifications and learning across different disciplines and sectors. It has given me the confidence and drive to be successful. I would recommend young people to become engineers because of the skills and diversity of the discipline, from mechanical to civil engineering market sectors.”
Morson Projects Managing Director, Chris Burke, said:
"As an engineer you are taught to have a logic fact based approach to any situation. I hope that this approach helps team members understand the mission at hand and use facts to work out whether they are winning or losing. As with many professions, engineering is rooted in an apprentice culture. It is well understood and accepted that senior engineers have a duty to bring along the younger generation. As a result there is a natural expectation to lead young aspiring engineers, I have always enjoyed this leadership privilege."
We spoke to two of our design apprentices who have gone on to have long careers throughout Morson; Client Services Director Steve Seddon and Morson Projects’ Business Development Director Andy Hassall, to find out how their engineering and design backgrounds have helped propel them through a combined experience of almost 80 years with Morson.
“Engineers are generally practically and academically trained throughout their career and wired in the same way. We see the world through eyes that analyse, apply logic, question why things are how they are and look for opportunities to improve. Our purpose in life is to problem solve using standards but also recognise the part research and development plays to foster innovation.” – Steve
Problem-solving is a key skill in both engineering and leadership. The ability to analyse how things work and then rebuild them in a more efficient way can work extremely well when looking at both an engineered structure and the structure of a team. In the same way that knowing how all the parts of a particular machine work together to create the whole, or how one faulty part can have a severely negative effect on the smooth running of a device, a knowledge of the constituent elements of a team gives you a knowledge of how things work that gives you the confidence and skills to make subtle changes for the good of the whole.
Knowledge of engineering
“The definition of engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. In particular, the discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specialised fields of engineering, each with an emphasis on particular area of expertise” – Andy
Science teaches you the why, engineering the how. If your business is an engineering one, a knowledge of engineering itself can be crucial, as Andy finds working at design consultancy Morson Projects. Having the relevant business qualifications for a leadership role is always useful but knowing the mechanics of the engineering process you design or make is almost more crucial. It allows you to build teams and know which people to surround yourself with in order to get results. It allows you to match the right person to the most suitable role and take an objective view on projects with incisive and knowledgeable input.
Project Management skills
“My son and daughter always used to ask me “why has everything always got to be a project, Dad?” My answer was that everything needs a plan, a programme and a budget, even if just in my head.
This approach has helped me build a career from apprentice to director and add value to senior management teams by ensuring that all ideas are considered, risks are assessed with affordability with tolerances communicated. It can be challenging for colleagues who are wired differently, neither is wrong or right, we just see the world in a different but complimentary way.” - Steve
Engineers can see a set of related parts as a whole ‘project’, with the constituent elements being part of a larger whole. With every engineering project worked on needing a budget, a plan and a set of recordable outcomes, this thinking can be incredibly suited to leadership and management roles where a keen eye for planning and delivery is needed throughout.
“I think my background at Morson Projects, working with teams of engineers and designers to deliver complex client challenges across a range on sectors, has helped me massively in my leadership role at Morson Projects. I have had to work with a diverse range of people and personalities with a broad range skills and capabilities. This experience has helped me to understand, shape and develop the dynamics of the business development team that currently works for me. We are all different, whether by ability or personality; understand this and you can work and get the best from any team and the diverse engineering teams I have worked with over the years have taught me this!” – Andy
Concise, effective, and clear communication is key for everyone in a leadership or management role, and a strong foundation in engineering and the associated technical communication can be invaluable – especially if the business happens to be technology or engineering-focused but not exclusively. Leadership and management involve working with teams of diverse people with often niche skill sets and experience, so being able to effectively communicate with a variety of stakeholders makes for better, more efficient outcomes.
Leadership involves knowing how the constituent parts of an organisation work together effectively to create an efficient whole. This same theory is true in engineering projects, so it’s not surprising that so many successful CEOs in so many leading global companies have swapped the drawing board for the boardroom.
Morson is working to help develop the next generation of engineering talent, and hence the future leaders. Our Gerry Mason Scholarships at the University of Salford help bright students by paying for their three-year engineering courses, helping those who may otherwise have struggled to finance them.