Career path: Paul McCormick, AECOM

Paul McCormick is managing director for highways and bridges, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India at AECOM. He started out as an apprentice – a route he recommends.

Paul McCormick, AECOM

Why did you decide to go into infrastructure?

My father was a mechanical/electrical engineer in power generation for the British aircraft manufacturer Hawker Siddeley.

What did you study?

I started an Ordinary National Certificate (ONC) initially for a two-year day-release programme, then went on to do a Higher National Certificate (HNC) for two further years, followed by a one-year bridging course and then a four-year degree, all part-time. 

How did that lead to this career?

College and university learning underpinned what I need to know now, but the on-the-job learning was equally, if not more, important.

Would you recommend others to take up an apprenticeship; and why?

Definitely – and it’s advice my son has followed. He is now an apprentice at AECOM. Apprenticeships are a great way to combine on-the-job learning and study, giving you real insight into the engineering profession very early on in your career. The advantage of the apprentice route is that, by the time you are chartered, you will have 12-15 years’ experience, which can accelerate your career and earning potential.

Who was your first employer and why?

Leicestershire County Council – I wanted a job that was local and provided guaranteed training so I could develop. 

Brief CV?

I have worked as an engineer in highways for more than three decades, initially in the public sector before moving to the private sector in a range of board director roles. I am responsible for a range of exciting infrastructure projects, from the largest expressway project in Qatar to AECOM’s London Highways Alliance Contracts with Transport for London (TfL).

Did you have a career plan?

Every five to 10 years over the past three decades, I have planned personal career goals and sought opportunities to achieve them. I have plans in place for the next two decades as well.

How has reality panned out against that plan?

Generally pretty good – I was MD of a small company in my 30s, and I learnt a lot from that. Now I’m MD of a part of AECOM, responsible for 2,600 staff.  There have been ups and downs along the way, and lots of hard work, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

What is special about where you are and why did you stay?

My role at AECOM is one of the happiest but also most challenging roles that I have been fortunate to hold. I am privileged to work for inspiring senior leaders who give me the headroom to grow professionally while empowering me to help increase our share in the civil and infrastructure market.

What is exciting?

Working with our amazing teams across the geography to win new work and then delivering it ahead of client expectations.

Who has had the most influence over your career and why?

I have been fortunate to work with a number of excellent people and have always tried to emulate and learn from their best traits. The first chief engineer I worked for in the 1980s was a man called Tommy Thompson, who had a dogged approach to excellence in delivery whilst training and inspiring others. I’ve since worked with many other great leaders.

What about work gets you interested, keeps you interested?

Seeing young professionals flourish and go on to lead great infrastructure teams.

What can employers offer to make you most happy in your career?

Challenging projects and a quality work environment so that it’s great to come to work every day.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Early on in your career, be the person who helps others meet their deadlines. Be visible in the office so you are seen as a reliable, can-do, hardworking and helpful individual. But remember to have fun – many people’s careers span four decades, so it is important to enjoy your job and make time for family and friends.

What is the one thing you have done that has been fundamental to your career?

My studies to achieve a degree and then obtaining chartered status with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

What is the best thing so far in your career?

When I led and won the Qatar Expressways contract with fee value of $148 million to AECOM.

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