Sir John Armitt speaks about luck, politics and not being afraid of failure in latest Inspiring Engineers talk

Sir John spoke about his journey to become ICE President, revealing the twists and turns in his prestigious career.

Sir John Armitt, Past ICE President and Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission.
Sir John Armitt, Past ICE President and Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission.

As one of the most recognisable civil engineers in the country, Sir John Armitt has been a leading figure in representing the industry to government, media and the public. However, when speaking at the latest Inspiring Engineers talk chaired by Diversity Taskforce chair Anusha Shah, he revealed his had not always been a conventional career.

Sir John set out how he initially failed some exams in his civil engineering course, something that turned out to be a blessing in disguise when it allowed him to get valuable experience on site whilst he re-took them. He said that engineers should not always be afraid of failure, but that it was key to learn lessons.

On how he rose through his career, he said that he didn't have a career path and didn't act particularly ambitiously, preferring instead to work hard at his current job and to move to new jobs that he found interesting or challenging. Sir John spoke about the role of luck, claiming that much of his career progression had been about being in the right place at the right time.

As Deputy Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John has been one of the few high profile civil engineers to bridge the gap between civil engineering and politics. Sir John recalled how he had been introduced to politics in the 1970s when representing the construction industry. He said that he learnt a lot about how the public view infrastructure projects through his work on HS1 and at Railtrack, which became Network Rail during his tenure.

For Sir John, the public often see and want the benefits of infrastructure, but are understandably concerned by the impact of construction. He highlighted the need for engineers to be more public facing and to understand the importance of 'people skills'. Sir John recalled how some of his brightest colleagues had been held back by their inability to interact well with others.

So how do you become a President of ICE? Some luck, a good work ethic and an ability to get on with people, concluded Sir John.

Inspiring Engineers

Come along to one of the Inspiring Engineers' sessions, where senior industry leaders speak about how they made it in their career. Given in an informal setting, the events will encourage attendees to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask and share their own experiences of the industry.

On 7 July Senior Engineer Colin Glen will speak on 'How to engineer one of London's most iconic sites'.

Book your place today