A distinguished career

When Lindsay Crossen drives around the country, passing over some of our largest road systems and numerous bridges, his working career literally flashes in front of his eyes.   ALAN TITCHALL explains.

Lindsay_Crossen.jpgLindsay Crossen has only had three jobs in an engineering career spanning over four decades, but there’s an awful lot of interesting contracting history in between.

That career, and his valuable contribution to the contracting and engineering industry, was recognised recently when he was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ).

“My career has been divided equally between engineering technology and construction management,” he says of a working life that started with the Ministry of Works as a drafting cadet in the 1960s.

“The was big push on infrastructure in New Zealand in the 1960s – roading and hydro especially. These projects attracted a lot of engineers from Europe, but we didn’t have the technicians to go with them and I was recruited into drafting training school.”

In the 1970s, after furthering his education with an engineering degree from Canterbury University, Crossen was sent to Twizel as site engineer on the Ruataniwha spillway project which was part of the Upper Waitaki power development scheme (the country’s largest hydro project that started in 1968 and took 18 years to complete).

The hands-on role provided a good field education, involving a diverse range of engineering tasks on a very tight site, a lot of mass concrete construction, and three very cold winters, he recalls.

Crossen spent another five years with the ministry’s Christchurch office working on a bridge designs, mostly upgrading timber bridges on the West Coast to box culverts. 

In 1987 when the MOW was being broken up, Crossen left to take up his second job as a design engineer for the Southland District Council where he was quickly promoted to the position of county engineer looking after the 4500 kilometres of roads and 240 bridges in this vast district. 

“At one stage I had 140 staff under my control covering the largest roading network under any local authority in New Zealand.”

His seven years with the Southland Council involved working through the country’s local government reorganisation in 1989, merging counties together and setting up South Roads – the first local authority trading enterprise in New Zealand.

Tiring of local politics, Crossen decided in 1995 to join the commercial world as a construction manager with Fulton Hogan in Dunedin. His first project proved the toughest of his career.

MacArthur’s Bend is eight kilometres north of Dunedin just after the end of the motorway. It’s a nice piece of roading now but wasn’t in 1995 when it was being straightened out with an earthworks project.

“It was an old fashion measure and value contract and with only five bore holes for a complex job. Every bore hole that said rock proved to be dirt, and every place it said dirt there was rock. On top of that, the weather was really bad.”

It took two years to complete, he recalls, and involved a lot of mediation and cost double the original estimate. 

Crossen quickly worked his way up the Fulton Hogan company ladder as it grew, eventually becoming operations chief executive, involved in some of the country’s biggest roading projects, including the Northern Gateway Alliance. During this time he spent over three years as Roading New Zealand’s council chairman.

“Then it was time to let someone else have a turn,” he says. Around the same time he also stepped aside as operations chief to become Fulton Hogan’ group civil engineer.

“I had been doing the job for 10 years, and it was an opportunity for someone else to step up and take the company to the next step.”

He describes his current role as “a bit of a loose forward”.

“As an executive, I work on a number of projects and duties for the managing director who chucks projects at me left right and centre – both here and in Australia.”

A fair bit of decision making is still made on ‘gut feeling’, he says and the intuition he honed in his first 20 years as a technical engineer.

Asked what has been the highlight of a distinguished career, Crossen says it’s the large projects he remembers most fondly.

He was involved with the Northern Gateway Alliance from its beginning to the final wrapping up of the project in May this year.

“It was back to large scale engineering like the hydro days, with a big workforce on site, and a real positive attitude to getting it built.

“In terms of engineering, great things were achieved on this project, although you can’t see them now. There were some very steep and difficult gullies that had to be smoothed out, and a lot of deep fills and shear keying just to have something to build on.”

In terms of cost, the NGA tested Crossen’s negotiation skills to the maximum.

“Once we had the outcome cost determined – that was it. The rules of the alliance were ‘no variations’, and that was understood well from the start. We only had eight variations on this job and they were all small ‘add-ons’ or ‘take offs’.”

Rather than use a collection of small contractors on such as large project, the decision was made to train their own staff and buy and hire their own equipment.

“We had experienced people from all over the country wanting to work on this project and a lot were trained further to advance their skills. Others, who came from other industries, were trained up from start and there’s a number of success stories of these people going on from that project and doing well.”

Crossen says every major project now involves on-site skill development.

“It’s a bloody good feeling when you know you have delivered about 80 new national certificates. It’s a hidden thing, but gives a lot of satisfaction.”

Contractor Vol.33  No.5  June 2009
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