Canadian Consulting Engineer

Comment: Inspiring but not “stars” CCE Masthhead

December 1, 2012
By Bronwen Parsons

The article on page 30 featuring "Seven Inspiring Engineers," is a new venture for Canadian Consulting Engineer. We generally give attention to engineering projects, rather than the engineers behind the work.

The article on page 30 featuring “Seven Inspiring Engineers,” is a new venture for Canadian Consulting Engineer. We generally give attention to engineering projects, rather than the engineers behind the work.

We asked for nominations for the article and received many excellent suggestions. In the end we chose seven individuals who represent a variety of engineering roles. Hopefully we will be able to feature more people in future issues (keep the suggestions coming).

One quality that makes the featured engineers stand out from the crowd is their ability to set a clear, and often unorthodox, course. This was best expressed by Stephen Carpenter: “I think the important thing for any leader is that you have to inspire, you have to set the vision; you have to have clear goals.” Carpenter chose to take what was then an unbeaten track through the wilderness to pioneer the green building movement. Today, that industry is fast becoming mainstream. Peter Buckland and Peter Taylor attribute their success largely to their decision in the early days of their business to specialize only in bridge engineering. Today they have a worldwide reputation in that field.

These engineers are good communicaters and they know how to get the best from other people. They are willing to trust others. “You have to let your leaders lead,” says John Pearson, about delegating to his senior team. Multi-tasking Pearson lives a super-busy life as an international executive travelling the equivalent of six times round the world every year, but he still makes time for other people, not only for charitable causes, but also in his business life. He says that “the right ability to be tolerant, and understanding and compassionate” helps him be an effective leader and creates an environment where people can “aspire to higher goals.”

The genial John Herbert has a similar approach that has helped him negotiate and build teams around the world for developing water and sanitation projects. “You have to be really patient and work hard at listening and trying to see things from someone else’s point of view” is his advice.

These engineers are inspiring, but that doesn’t make them “stars.” Star engineers don’t exist in Canada in the way that architects are celebrated figures when an important building opens. Who can name the engineer of Confederation Bridge or the CN Tower, even though these are two of Canada’s greatest iconic works of engineering of the recent past?

On October 30, CCE’s Weekly E-Newsletter reported about a panel that took place in Toronto at the Design Exchange between engineers and architects, about their relationship and interdependence. The discussion steered into the question of whether engineers are appreciated enough. The engineers said that while they aren’t looking for glory (“we take our enjoyment from the work”), they do feel hurt when everyone is celebrating a building opening and the engineers aren’t recognized at all for their contribution. The article sparked an interesting exchange from subscribers – both architects and engineers – on this whole topic. See



Bronwen Parsons


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