A Day in the life of Stephen Cavanagh, Mott MacDonald

Name: Stephen Cavanagh
Firm: Mott MacDonald
University: Strathclyde
Degree: MBA
Current job title: Divisional Managing Director

What are the three words that best describe you?

Active, Candid, Finisher

Tell us a bit about your career journey.

I left University to take up a procurement role in the Electronics industry. After 5 years I decided to switch to the other side of the fence and moved into technical sales and marketing for a small firm representing American high-tech start up’s in the UK. I held a number of roles there and at 29 I was made Sales Director but then left within a year to set up a new business with four other Directors. Within 5 years we grew this to a £45m business but I was getting restless, so cashed in my equity and took a year out to study for an MBA. I handed in my dissertation in Sept 2004 and joined Mott MacDonald 3 days later as a Management Consultant. I was initially brought into focus on I.T.-led business improvement in the public sector but since then have held a variety of roles across different sectors. I have led our UK consulting business for 5 years now.

What first attracted you to consulting?

The variety of work that was on offer and the opportunity to work across multiple sectors. I saw it as an opportunity to broaden my experience before a move back into industry.

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

I have experience across a variety of sectors including Semiconductors, Digital, Telecommunications, Utilities and the Public sector; specifically central Government and Education. 

Tell us a bit about the firm you work for.

Mott MacDonald is a global management, engineering and development consultancy adding value for public and private clients on agenda-setting, next-generation projects worldwide. We are a 16,000 strong employee owned business and many of our staff have spent their whole career with the company. This ownership structure gives us the freedom to set long-term strategies and our focus on innovation and excellence generate best outcomes for our clients.

How did you first become involved in the MCA?

Mott MacDonald held a place on the MCA board and I was asked to replace a colleague who was moving into another role. Prior to this I had attended a number of the MCA’s networking events and contributed to forums and articles.

What is the most interesting project you have worked on?

Difficult to pick one but I worked on a project that was aiming to build and deploy a new constellation of satellites that would bring telecommunications to the 3 billion people on the planet who currently don’t have any access.

What is the most exotic place you have worked?

I did some work with a company who were based up in the north of Sweden. It was an amazing place to visit during the winter but a bit cold, even for a Scotsman!

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

Even after 11 years I’m still impressed at the breadth and scale of projects that we work on. This has provided me with the opportunity to work across a variety of sectors and disciplines. I’m not sure there are many other places that I could have got this. Being part of a larger business can also have benefits in that there is a more structured approach to areas such as CPD, even for someone like myself joining Mott MacDonald ‘mid-career’.

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

I’m passionate about Consulting having more formal recognition as a profession, hence my involvement in the work between the MCA and CMI to develop a Chartership award that we hope to launch in 2016.

Who are you inspired by?

I’m inspired every year by the Junior staff and Graduates we bring into Mott MacDonald. The enthusiasm and attitude they bring to their work is infectious – they will be the future owners of the business and I’m confident it’ll be in good hands.

Outside the office I’m a keen cyclist, commonly referred to as a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lyrca) and I’m inspired by the work that Sir Dave Brailsford has done with British Cycling and Team Sky.

How do you manage work/life balance?

Home is in Scotland but I work in London 3-4 days a week when I’m not travelling. This allows me to give 100% focus when I’m there and ideally keep the weekends free for family time. I’m also a firm believer that you need to run your business, not let the business run you but I appreciate that’s not always possible.

I cycle at the weekend with a group and it’s a great opportunity to let off steam and keep relatively fit.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’d simply like to see myself doing something different and not get stuck in a rut, that’s always how I’ve felt. I’ve been fortunate enough that my career has been varied enough to keep me interested and challenged, as long as that continues I’ll be happy.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

Don’t sit around and watch life and opportunities pass you by.

Do you have any advice in turn for aspiring young consultants? Or, what makes a good consultant?

Take your time to get a good general grounding across consulting before you specialise.

I also think that all good consultants actively listen to their clients. I know it sounds fairly basic but you’d be surprised how many people don’t.