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Monday 20 December 2004


Sir John Gains

Public Orator, Professor Ron McCaffer presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 20 December 2004 at 10.30am.

Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen, and especially today, New Graduates of Loughborough University.

Our Honorary Graduand today, John Christopher Gains, is one of the family, a Loughborough engineer, having graduated from Loughborough with a BSc in Civil Engineering in 1966.

His formative years were at the King Henry the Eighth School in Coventry and these proved valuable.

Firstly, his appointment as Head Boy saw the start of the development of his leadership skills that were to take him to the very top of industry.

Secondly, he was inspired by an uncle who worked for the world famous consulting engineers, Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, to take up what is universally accepted as the noblest of engineering disciplines – civil engineering. The inspiration came from pictures of the construction of the Kariba, Verveort and P K Leroux Dams, and this started a fascination and lifelong interest in big projects with major ground works, massive structures, and water.

Thirdly, he chose to study at Loughborough, attracted, very much as today’s engineering students are attracted, to Loughborough by the practical nature of the course and the sure and certain knowledge that an engineering degree from Loughborough would ensure a good well paid job.

As a member of the Holt Hall of Residence his leadership qualities resurfaced as he became Hall Chairman.

The engineering course was tough and the young John Gains found it three years of hard work. His application to his studies squeezed some of his intended participation in sport. But his interest in sport remained and he was a spectator at the Rugby World Cup Final in Australia. It does help in making the arrangements, of course, if your company has a branch there and is constructing the Darwin-Alice Springs railway.

In his final year at Loughborough the construction company Mowlems recruited him through the milk round and seduced him to join them by inviting him to visit a project, the Surrey Docks, to show off the company.

He was attracted to the established company, the respect they showed him, the people he met and above all the work he saw involving major work in the ground and over water and all on a large scale.

He joined the company and has remained to this day, displaying another of his attributes - loyalty.

His first job was setting out, casting and installing 20,000 piles at Drax Power Station. He says most graduates would have wilted under the task but for a Loughborough engineer it was almost routine as Loughborough engineers graduate not only with knowledge but with real practical skills.

Being able to set out, cast and install 20,000 piles with ease he was able to turn his mind to other issues of programming, productivity, health and safety and relationships with the workforce, giving him the platform on which to advance.

Established as an achiever he moved to the BP Angle Bay Ocean Terminal in Milford Haven, more structures and water, and there he met and married his wife Ann. Sadly he lost Ann in 1999.

Sent to Coode & Partners for design experience, he returned to Mowlems for the Gateshead Viaduct, the Scunthorpe Steel Works, experience in the estimating department and back to manage his own site for a roll-on-roll-off ferry terminal at Weymouth, one which he had priced in the estimating department. If he didn’t make a profit on this project he would not be able to blame the estimator for getting it at a low price.

On this project he displayed his ability to deal with the client as well as manage the site, as he persuaded the client to change methods and prices in order to meet an ambitious completion date. This was the breakthrough project that marked him out for high office.

This was followed as Site Agent at Scunthorpe Steelworks, Drax 2 and doing estimating work in the evening.

In 1984 he decided to share his expertise and he co-authored a paper published by the Institution of Civil Engineers “Pre-stressed pre-cast piling at Drax Power Station and the use of pulverized fuel ash replacement in concrete”.

By 1980 he had created a regional role as Regional Manager for the East Midlands and was also Director of Geotechnical Engineering responsible for piling. In 1983 he was appointed Managing Director for Mowlem Northern Division, and Deputy MD for Mowlem Civil Engineering Co. In 1992 he was appointed Director for John Mowlem & Co PLC, and became Group Chief Executive in 1995.

Along the way he developed Mowlem’s interest in facilities management offering a complete service to clients and involved the company heavily in developing Public Private Partnerships as part of the Government’s Private Finance Initiative. He became the media’s favourite spokesman for PFI. The Financial Times dubbed him “the PFI’s chief apologist” - a title he didn’t reject.

John Gains is clearly a company man; the company’s values are his values:

  • Fair treatment for customers and suppliers
• Fulfilling employees’ potential
• Teamwork and personal accountability
• Continuing improvement of skills and products
• Setting the standards for the industry

all summarise his values and set him out as a modern manager committed to his team and one who has made a major contribution to the competitiveness of today’s construction industry.

He is also proud that Mowlems is still a construction company when many competitors have moved away from mainstream construction.

He was President of the Construction Confederation from 2000-2003, representing the whole of industry to government and the wider community, and sat on the CBI’s National Council. He has also been a member of the ‘CBI’s President’s Committee’; ‘The Urban Sounding Board’, a Government “think tank” chaired by Lord Falconer; ‘The Strategic Construction Forum’ and the ‘Major Contractors’ Group’.

He chairs the Innovation Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre here at Loughborough, the largest industry-university research effort funded by the Engineering & Physical Science Research Council. He is also a member of our Estates Management Committee and its putative Chairman.

His other interests include occasional golf, sailing, an interest in exploring Africa and a 1963 E-type Jaguar. This last interest is no more than one Loughborough Engineer recognising the excellence of another as the designer of the E-type was Malcolm Sayer was a 1938 graduate from Loughborough.

With us today are his son Paul and his wife, his daughter Jennifer and her fiancée, and a friend, Fionuala. We welcome them all to the University today to witness our honouring of John Gains.

The Queen knighted him in 2003, and now we at Loughborough wish to acknowledge his lifetime’s contribution to construction and the success of one of our own.

Chancellor, I present to you and to the University, Sir John Christopher Gains, Bachelor of Science, Chartered Engineer, Fellow the Institution of Civil Engineers, for the degree of Doctor of Technology, Honoris Causa, and I am delighted to do so.


Loughborough University - Degree Speeches 2004, December 2004
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