It’s lonely at the top: Bowen

“Do engineers make good directors or managing directors? I can answer that very simply because I have a biased view,” Bowen, an engineer by training, said. “The background we have, the education we have and our approach to life make engineers very good directors.”“The one thing about engineers, we do like numbers and understand numbers. And there’s nothing that annoys an accountant more than someone who knows more about numbers than they do. And my accountants hate me because I know the numbers too well.”Bowen said engineers were also good at planning and scheduling – important skills when running a company of any size.“I think what engineers do understand is the concept of projects, [and] the way I approach running my business is just the same as running a complex engineering or construction project,” he said. Bowen said a managing director’s single most important job was selecting, motivating and supporting a management team. He said good time management, the ability to self-motivate, being capable of making tough decisions and dealing with many complex issues at the same time were among the traits needed by a successful MD.Bowen advised aspiring managing directors to find a good mentor who’d had a lot of life experiences.“What you will find, when you become an MD, is that life is pretty lonely at the top,” he said. “You can’t share things with the executive team that you’d like to. The board, you’ve got to be a bit distant from them. A good mentor can really help.”Bowen said the rewards of his position far outweighed the negatives. “If things are going well then you can take the credit but on the downside, you take ultimate responsibility for poor performance, whether it’s financial, poor execution of strategy, poor safety performance – it all comes back to the MD,” he said. “One of the more unpleasant roles for managing directors is that you can take the can for something, even if it isn’t your responsibility. There’s a lot of MDs out there at the moment facing tough times because of the equity market – nothing to do with their own performances … What will end up happening to a few of them is the shareholders and the board will say ‘get rid of him and start again’.”Bowen said he had gained a lot of satisfaction from his role at Macmahon. “I’ve been there eight years,” he said. “When I joined the company it was a loss making company [with] a market cap of $20 million … here we are eight years later and we’ve taken it from a loss maker to a very profitable organisation heading towards one and a half billion dollars a year turnover. And most importantly, the market cap’s gone from $20 million to a billion, so for shareholders it’s been a 50 times increase in the value of the company.”

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