Patrick Kniveton was destined for a career in engineering from an early age, designing his own amplifiers and putting on light shows for school plays and discos in his teens. He was always questioning things, displaying an interest not just in how things worked but also in how they could be improved. Now head of engineering and improvement at Rolls Royce Marine Power, Kniveton became the 128th president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2013, which he cites as one of his greatest achievements. However, he has many to choose from: he is credited with leading the installation of the Isaac Newton telescope, and with pioneering traffic signal technology which is still in use today.
1. What was your biggest break?
Being made redundant from my first job when I was 24. I didn’t enjoy the job anyway, the company was losing a third of its workforce, and I found a wonderful opportunity straight away, installing and commissioning telescopes on top of a mountain in the Canary Islands ! Since then I have always believed that this sort of change leads to better things.
2. Have you had a notable mentor – and if so what was it about them that was so inspiring?
Roger Stainforth, who was the business general manager and my boss at an electronic traffic signs business in R-R at the time. He was a consummate salesman and always encouraged me to aim high. We created a very successful business together.
3. What one piece of advice would you give to the 20-year-old you?
Be positive and enjoy every minute and every opportunity
4. What qualities to do you look for in the people you work with?
Integrity, openness, self-motivated, and a sense of humour.
5. Who do you admire and why?
My wife and children, who combine patience and dedication in everything. Conviction politicians (of any party) who stay true to their beliefs – examples have included Margaret Thatcher and Tony Benn.
6. What does the future of your industry look like?
Engineering will always be one of the most creative, exciting and satisfying careers. I believe we will take more innovative ideas from biology than ever before – 500 million years of evolution have developed incredibly effective mechanisms. Additive manufacturing (3D printing) means that future engineers will create things that will be limited only by their imagination.
7. If you hadn’t chosen your current career, what would you have done instead?
I would like to have been an MP – perhaps minister for business or science. I really enjoy writing and making speeches.
8. What is your biggest extravagance?
My collection of ties ! I probably have about 200 and I spot MPs or TV presenters wearing new colours – Alastair Stewart (ITN News anchor) often has good choices. My most expensive is an Italian designer tie by Vittorio Italia. The one that draws the most comment is one with a London tube map on it.
9. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party and why? (you can invite three people – they must be alive)
Joan Collins – she has poise, a wonderful voice, and I’m sure a lot of rather florid stories to tell!
Tom Bradby (ITN’s political editor) – I enjoy his style on the news and I would like to hear all the political gossip that can’t go out on air.
Bradley Walsh – a very talented host, comedian, and actor, who seems to turn his hand to anything and would be great entertainment.
10. What do you do to relax away from work?
Cycling, badminton, circuit training, swimming and theatre. When I was 27 a work colleague used to laugh at me running up stairs and he wondered how long I would keep doing that. I still run up stairs today!
11. If you could change one thing about Britain today, what would it be?
Fewer traffic lights and more cycle lanes ! Trust people more, they will behave more responsibly, and the traffic will flow better.
12. What would your last meal be? (please choose a starter, a main course and a pudding)
French onion soup, Lomo de Cerdo (Canary Islands style), vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce – all cooked by my wife who is an excellent chef!