A Day in the Life of Geoff Kneen, Atkins

Company: Atkins
Years in Consulting: 20ish
Job title: Group Managing Director
University: Birmingham Polytechnic
Degree: Control Engineering


What are the three words that describe you best?

Persistent, optimistic, curious

Tell us a bit about your career journey.

I started a Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship aged 16 with a chemicals and pharmaceuticals company, Ciba Geigy and also gained an ONC and an HNC in Mechanical and Production Engineering. Ciba Geigy then sponsored me to undertake my degree. I stayed with Ciba and was part of the project teams for two new chemical processing plants, where I was responsible for the development of the management and control systems for these plants. I then left Ciba to join a start- up in industrial management and control systems, Boward Computer Services, of which I was a part owner. We grew this business to around 65 people working in a number of industries. We then sold it to an American business that did not work so we did a management buyout and a year later sold it to Atkins. Since being with Atkins I have held many different leadership roles including CIO and I have led the consulting business since 2009

What industry sector experience have you had and if applicable, what do you specialise in?

I have experience in many industries; manufacturing, airports, transport, water, infrastructure. In the last decade, I have specialised mostly in the public sector.

Tell us a bit about the firm you work for.

Atkins is best known for large infrastructure engineering and it is one of the largest and best firms in the world in doing this. We were the official engineer for the 2012 Olympics, designed and construction managed the Burj Al Arab, and are currently heavily involved in projects such as Cross Rail. As an engineer I love this, but as a consultant I do think it offers the opportunity to work on assignments that are slightly different than the norm.

What is the most interesting project you have worked on?

There is an airport being built on the tiny Island of St Helena. We were involved in the business case, feasibility, planning and procurement phases – it was fascinating!

What is the most exotic place you have worked?

One of my favourite moments was on an assignment for Nestle in Vevey, Switzerland. It was my first time there and I stayed at a lovely place called Hotel des Trois Couronnes. It was quite early in my career and my room opened onto a terrace across Lake Geneva to the French Alps in the spring time – I really thought Julie Andrews was going to rush over the tops and start signing!!!

What do you enjoy most about working in a large and small consultancy?

Working in a small consultancy in my experience was always a thrill – the next deal was all-important and every minute counted. There was a great sense of team and almost endless possibility.

Working within large businesses is very different but has one great advantage. You can think really big for your clients and deliver it. Working on some of the largest and most complex projects in the world is very, very rewarding.

If you could change one thing in consultancy what would it be?

The brand. We need to be really careful with our profession. Clients want to know rates by the hour and negotiate down, we are taking on work that is more contracting than consulting to chase growth and in this we are losing something. This is one of the main reasons I was keen to join the board of the MCA. Consulting is a long and well-established profession – we need to cherish and enhance it.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Small pieces of lots of people, Ghandi, Mandela, Churchill all the normal ones but then others such as my wife and many people who I’ve worked with whom I will not name as I still work with many of them. I find inspiration in many places and from many people.

How do you manage work/life balance?

I don’t work that hard at it. When I have lots on I work longer and when I get the chance I take my time out, I don’t try and fill the time with staying at the office or making work, I take the chance to get away.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

The poem, Desiderata.

Do you have any advice for young consultants?

Learn from everyone and everything, ensure you search for real insight and understanding, keep your mind open and avoid your innate biases. Say yes to opportunities more than you say no to them. Have an abundant mind-set in your dealings with others.

This interview was published as part of the Young MCA Update.https://www.mca.org.uk/networks/young-mca