DONALD Morrison was in Belfast when he heard the news.

He was 12 years into his career with Babtie, the Glasgow-based civil engineering company he joined after graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University in 1992, when the story broke that it was being taken over Jacobs, the US technical professional services giant. And he read all about it in The Herald.

“Not many of us had heard of them,” Mr Morrison said.

“When we went on to the internet, we established they were an oil and gas company who had made one or two forays into infrastructure before then. But we still look back on Babtie as one of the best acquisitions we have done.”

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Mr Morrison’s career has blossomed both throughout his time at Babtie and since the acquisition.

In his current role, the Glaswegian is responsible for a team of 10,000 as managing director for Jacobs’ buildings, infrastructure and advanced facilities business across Europe.

And he has seen company, which as Babtie forged his reputation on major infrastructure projects such as the M77 motorway, retain a strong commitment to Glasgow throughout.

While there can often be fears for jobs when a homegrown business is taken over by an overseas player, Jacobs has used the former Babtie business as a platform for growth in the UK and beyond.

Today, Jacobs employs around 1,000 people in Glasgow in the former Scottish Legal Life Assurance Society building, which was recently refurbished.

The headcount is around 500 more than Babtie employed in the city in 2004, with Jacobs having taken on 229 apprentices and 179 graduates in that period.

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Although Babtie had a strong civil engineering pedigree, known for its work on major road and hydro power schemes, the scope of its operations is much wider now.

Indeed, Mr Morrison notes, civil engineering now accounts for less than 50% of its operations.

“We have evolved from being a traditional engineering and construction provider to a team of multi-disciplinary specialists, ranging from economists to urban designers to aquatic ecologists,” he said.

In fact, Jacobs has an office purely for its aquatic ecologists in Southampton, where research is carried out into the impact of infrastructure schemes.

Mr Morrison said: “Some people say, why would you need that office? Well, you need niche specialism, [it] can lead to so many other things. And that kind of diversity of thought you can bring is just amazing.”

Jacobs’ in-tray includes design work on the continuing drive by Transport Scotland to dual an 80-mile stretch of A9 motorway, the major road link connecting central Scotland with the Highlands.

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The project touches on ongoing efforts by Jacobs to change the public’s often-negative perception of major infrastructure schemes and counter the view that they are “done to them, not for them”.

In the case of the A9, initiatives are in place to engage school children in the project through the Academy 9 programme with Transport Scotland, and to raise awareness of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers at schools situated near the route.

“That’s all about creating legacy,” Mr Morrison said. “You can actually change that narrative by meaningful engagement. It really helps people to understand the amount of care that goes into getting the right solution.”

Building on the theme, he points to the company’s involvement in the Thames Tideway project, which will build a 25km ‘super sewer’ under the famous river.

Mr Morrison said Jacobs is inspired by the legacy of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, architect of London’s original sewage system after the “Great Stink” of 1858.

“When he created the London sewage system in the 1800s, there were so many other benefits,” he explained. “He dealt with that root cause of sewage pouring into the Thames, but he created world class public realm on the north bank, the Embankment, in London and capacity for traffic et cetera.

“As we look at these new opportunities, [and] how we integrate infrastructure in the UK, we see a significant opportunity for that.

“The majority of public sector clients are under significant funding pressure. We believe in continually pushing for a better way, through integrated infrastructure.”

He added: “If you can actually engage with stakeholders that you are going to get a better outcome, you are going to get the right infrastructure solution, faster, [and] that it is going to be less intrusive, I think that is key.”

Closer to home again, Mr Morrison welcomed the “vision” shown by Glasgow City Council for key areas such as Sauchiehall Street, through its Avenues project, and to make Glasgow the first net-zero carbon emissions city in Scotland. Harnessing data, he added, is crucial to the impact of such projects.

“We’re getting to a position, I believe in the UK, where you can use that data to drive a better vision or the country,” Mr Morrison said. “I think we absolutely need that at the moment.”

Returning to the deal which took Babtie into Jacobs’ ownership 15 years ago, Mr Morrison said the experience has been transformational. “[It has been] phenomenal for the business, and a lot of us as individuals,” he said.

Six Questions:

Q What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to?

A I have travelled extensively on business from India to California and Morocco. I love meeting people and understanding the different perspectives they have. For leisure, a rare day of escape in the Scottish mountains is my passion that doesn’t happen too often now.

Q When you were a child, what was your ideal job?

A I don’t recall ever having a specific plan. I loved geography at school and for my Higher and Advanced Higher assessments I spent a lot of time studying the glacial features of Glasgow and the surrounding areas. I had always had an interest in engineering and ultimately took a decision to study civil engineering.

Q What was your biggest break in business?

A Difficult to say really, as there have been a few key ones. I have always tried to be humble, hungry for new experience and the hardest worker and I believe this has paid off.

Q What was your worst moment in business?

A Inevitably, there are times in your career when you are overlooked for a role or a move - these are never easy at the time and there is no right career path. I have always been relentlessly inquisitive about the diversity of our business and that has led me to making five or six moves within Jacobs.

Q Who do you most admire and why?

A One who stands out is Sir Joseph Bazelgette, the 19th-century British civil engineer, who created a sewer network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the cleansing of the River Thames - one of the key catalysts for growth of London in the subsequent period.

Q What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?

A I am a big fan of John Buchan and reading Sick Heart River for the third time. My music tastes are varied from James Taylor to Runrig and U2 and, having recently returned from holiday in Nashville, I am getting more into some of the great contemporary country music coming out of there.