Enthusiasm began at an early age

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 February, 2011, 12:00am

Armed with a solid track record of working on infrastructure and engineering projects around the world for the past 30 years, Walter Kerr is now responsible for the master redevelopment project at Ocean Park, with a team of 100-plus people. Born and raised in Scotland, he was educated at the University of Glasgow and began his professional career with Babtie Shaw & Morton, until he joined Ocean Park as executive director for project development in 2007. Kerr's early assignments saw him engaged in a range of projects in the structural, marine, ports and water-supply sectors. He also had opportunities to gain experience building highways, railways and - a favourite area of specialisation - dams and reservoirs. Lately, too busy to go sailing, Kerr has been mastering the saxophone. He talks to Jan Chan.

What is the state of progress for the redevelopment project?

We are well advanced with this HK$5.55-billion project and have opened the Aqua City section. For the next year and a half, we will be working on the three remaining areas - the Rainforest, Thrill Mountain and the Pole Adventure. My part is to manage the project development division and the construction team.

What are the job's key objectives?

To deliver the project on time, to the quality we want and, most importantly, within budget. These three create constant pressure, but that is also what drives our team every day. On this project, there's very strict fiscal discipline so as not to exceed our budget.

When did you first get interested in this profession?

My father was a research engineer for the National Engineering Laboratory in Scotland, and I usually accompanied him to the lab during weekends. I was exposed to engineering from a very early age.

What are the most critical aspects of running a project? Think through the design details and do nothing superficially. Getting details right before construction starts is the key. That applies whatever the size of the project because every small detail has an impact on something larger.

What's most enjoyable in a job?

The beginning and the end. The opening of Aqua City was one of those moments. For years, we had been building it and then, for the first time, the public could come in and walk around the structure. It's an incredible feeling to watch people's faces as they start to use the new facilities. Starting a project is also very enjoyable, with excitement about what the future holds.

Which career experiences taught you most about leadership?

I remember working on a dam project in Nigeria. One day, returning to the site, I found everybody sitting around, not working. It was my responsibility to get things done, so I started to exert some pressure until one of the senior Nigerian staff said I didn't understand the thinking of these people. For the local workers, when the job is finished, they would be out of work, which gave a sense of hopelessness. It was a lesson for me about understanding the team and their motivation.

What inspires you?

I've found a lot of inspiration from all the jobs that have been done well. I also get excited visiting massive projects like the Hoover Dam in Colorado. It's amazing when you realise it was built over 70 years ago, without the construction technology available to us today.

How do you mentor young engineers?

I share my experiences with them. When I was starting out, our firm's senior partners would regularly walk around the office spending five to 10 minutes with every young engineer, talking about our drawings or anything else we were doing. Today, I try to spend as much time as possible discussing different experiences with my staff, not just in formal settings, but over coffee or at lunch.

Ask for advice

Kerr says that in engineering, it can be very dangerous to pretend you know everything

He stresses the importance of building personal contacts to have people to ask for advice and information

He is fascinated by Nasa programmes, especially what was achieved for the moon landings