Professor Patrick Godfrey

Doctor of Engineering

9 July 2006 - Orator: Professor David Blockley

 Mr Vice-Chancellor: Patrick Godfrey

Today we honour a civil engineer who is at the forefront of managing innovative change in the construction industry. Patrick Godfrey has pioneered new ways of thinking about and managing the complete life cycle of large construction projects by developing the interface between business and engineering and using a ‘soft systems’ approach which integrates people with our physical environment. He works with clients and designers to understand needs and find ways of creating projects that satisfy those needs to add value to all involved e.g. offshore platforms, Terminal 5 at Heathrow and most recently the Highways Agency.

Whilst the media continue to report the bad news of cost overruns and poor performance on large contracts change is happening. Projects up and down the UK are being organised differently – not just in the formal contractual arrangements but in the whole attitude of the people concerned. The movement for change called Rethinking Construction has been harshly criticised within the industry but one of the few to see its importance has been Patrick Godfrey. He has been an inspiration to many, leading by example, working up ideas to influence many engineers that they have to change. He has done this within projects for his company Halcrow but also by giving lectures, holding workshops and writing articles and a book.

All of you civil engineers graduating today are aware of the new opportunities opening up for you by this change. We have been fortunate that we have been able to attract Patrick Godfrey as a visiting Industrial Professor here in the University.

Patrick was born in 1946 and was inspired to be an engineer by the stories he heard as a young boy from his grandmother about his engineer grandfather who unfortunately died before Patrick was born. Sailing has always been a passion which maybe why his early civil engineering career was spent working offshore. He started sailing at the age 6 off the Dorset coast and at 14 did a yacht masters course. At 15 he crewed on a 70ft. ocean racer and at 17 he helped complete and sail a state of the art ocean racer. As a student civil engineer at Imperial College Patrick continued his enthusiasm by chartering various boats to sail round the Western Isles of Scotland. It was whilst organising one of these trips that he first met Trudi, his wife.

At that time Patrick drove a 1938 Morris 8 called ‘Felicity’. Trudi tells me that Patrick designed and built a tipping front seat to improve their relationship. Co-owners of ‘Felicity’, sister Sarah, now builds gardens for rich people in San Francisco, sister Penny, markets pharmaceuticals and twin brother Roger is a facial surgeon on the Isle of Man.

Patrick enjoyed his days at Imperial College - his most notable achievement seems to have been flooding the hydraulics laboratory during an experiment. Despite this the college tried to persuade him to stay and work for a PhD. Patrick was unsure and used a novel approach to decide – he tossed a coin until it gave him the answer he wanted – a novel soft systems approach!

So he went to work for Halcrow and perhaps not surprisingly his early career revolved around water. He was soon sent out to the Seychelles to supervise marine works. He worked on the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse – a project that Trudi tells me really tested their marriage because Patrick suddenly announced that he might have to postpone the wedding because of the construction schedule! Later he set up experiments in their bathroom to test a model of filling the void under the caisson with gravel!

Back in the UK in 1973 Patrick worked on a number of offshore projects in the North Sea, the Gulf and Brazil. He got the job of redesigning and installing an experimental offshore tower in Christchurch Bay. The tower got stuck at the end of Calshot Spit in a hole and all of the local tugs had been requisitioned to deal with the Amoco Cadiz disaster. But everyone involved was determined to succeed. David Fison who is now Chief Executive of Skanska UK was one of the crew who still remembers how Patrick and Trudi even supplied cakes and sausage rolls to keep them going! This was an indication of Patrick’s caring attitude to the people who make up the team that is so important to the outcome of the project and was an early example of his enthusiasm for soft systems thinking.

Patrick’s son Daniel also trained as a civil engineer and now works in IT. He says his father was inspirational in getting him to understand the worth of his theoretical studies at university.

For 10 years Patrick led a team that provided the technical support for New Zealand’s Petrocorp investments in the Maui field off the west coast of North Island. He was employed for his technical expertise but he found working as part of the investment team posed demanding challenges. The Petrocorp team were faced with a legal requirement to invest in a second platform with an appalling business case. But risk was turned into opportunity and the project was delivered for a third of the original cost, and broke new technical ground.

At the end of the 1980s Patrick, by then Managing Director of Halcrow Offshore, was asked by his CEO to transfer his oil and gas thinking to core civil engineering business. He chose the management of risk as one of his drivers for change. He helped produce the Engineering Council Code of Practice and Guidelines on Risk Issues. This ground-breaking document emphasizes the human element in risk management.

Shortly after he was commissioned by Construction Industry Research and Information Association to produce a client’s guide to risk. Patrick then applied these ideas leading the team that reduced the risks of ship collisions at the Second Severn Crossing whilst also saving £8 million. This lead directly to his appointment as consultant to the British Airports Authority on Terminal 5 for risk management whilst the public enquiry was underway.

Sir Alan Muir Wood has written ‘Patrick has an outstanding ability to tackle complex problems across a variety of circumstances that go well beyond the accepted domain of a civil engineer. He has boundless enthusiasm with each encounter accepted as a challenge and an opportunity and this is infectious.’

Patrick, we in the Department of Civil Engineering, staff and students, thank you for infecting us all in this way, staff and students who are privileged to know you. Our collaborations with you have been based on the particular systems approach we have developed which integrates the ‘hard’ engineering with the ‘soft’ human and organisational purpose. It has produced new thinking in research, has tested our research in practice and has disseminated new ideas and techniques that are having a real effect in industry – in short much ‘added value’ in the current jargon.

Patrick believes, as I do, that risk is as fundamental to action as truth is to knowledge. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, knows nothing and learns nothing. Only a person who risks is free.

Mr Vice-Chancellor I present to you Patrick Godfrey, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a leading innovator in improving business and engineering performance, as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Engineering honoris causa.


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