Q&A with Julian Lovell

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Julian Lovell BSc (Hons), FGS, PTLLS
Managing Director, Equipe Group and S M Associates

I obtained a 2:1 Honours degree in Applied Geology from Plymouth Polytechnic in 1990 and immediately started my geotechnical career as an Assistant Engineering Geologist for Soil Mechanics Associates. I was ‘head hunted’ (well that’s what I like to call it) by the contracting division and over the following 15 years steadily progressed to Board level. In 2008, when the company became part of a much larger organisation and lost its focus I decided to leave and set up Equipe which has now been established for nearly ten years. I have always been keen to help promote and move the industry forward and so have also been involved with the AGS and BDA for over 15 years now.

What or who inspired you to join the geotechnical industry?
The reality is that I fell into geotechnics as my geology course at Plymouth was more aimed at the petroleum industry. So whilst many of my peers became mud loggers offshore I wanted to stay on terra firma and so had to weigh up joining Soil Mechanics, a ground investigation company or the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency). However, once at Soil Mechanics I was continually inspired as I was surrounded and supported by people who were simply just good at their job and cared about doing the job right. I am lucky that some of them are still around for advice now but alas not all.

What does a typical day entail?
Where do I start? I can honestly say that no one day is the same. The first decision I have to make is to what office or site should I go that day. I always have to weigh up the practicalities of sorting out technical and commercial aspects of our work with the day to day role of overseeing and keeping my companies solvent and operational. This clearly is very varied and each day can include aspects from tendering for work, paying suppliers, chasing payments, speaking to trainers, logging, mentoring and strategic decisions. Oh, and somewhere I have to fit in my work for AGS.

Are there any projects which you’re particularly proud to have been a part of?
I have been lucky enough to have been involved in many interesting geotechnical projects including Sellafield Deep Repository where we cored to 2km as well as numerous logistically and technically challenging projects including M1, M25, M3 & M4 Widening projects, GCHQ, Kings Cross, Rugby Remodelling to name a few. I am also particularly proud of what Equipe has achieved in the last ten years especially the training courses, innovative products and Geotechnica.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role?
My aim for the last 10 years has been to assist where I can to move the industry forward whether through training, promotion or innovation. I often feel that most of the industry is slow to change but often through no fault of its own it is strapped by the procurement of work by lowest price and not quality. This massively restricts innovation and provides no incentive to invest whether that be in equipment or people. The challenges at business level are to develop products and deliver services which break the mould and at a higher level to help elevate the industry so that procurers recognise its value.

What AGS Working Group(s) are you a Member of and what are your current focuses?
I have been involved in the Safety Working Group and the focus is always to develop and maintain succinct industry related guidance which is both pragmatic and compliant. This is often a challenge as most occupational safety and health regulations require a level of interpretation to relate them to our workplace and activities. Representing a specialist industry which is often on the fringes of construction adds another level of complexity and we sometimes fall foul of interpretations which work on large sites but not for our specialist and often transient operations.

I am also a current member of the Business Practice Working Group, Executive Committee, and Senate where all aspects of the association are discussed, healthily debated and agreed. The current focus is to improve the marketing and visibility of all of the good things the AGS does and would like to do more of moving forward.

What do you enjoy most about being an AGS Member?
I really enjoy networking and working with other like-minded people who want to make a difference. I also like the fact that the committees and working groups are inclusive and want a representation across the sectors and specialisms. It is not a club or an old boys network, it is a trade association which tries very hard to represent the industry and deliver tangible benefits.

What do you find beneficial about being an AGS Member?
The quality of both the safety and commercial guidance is very useful. The collaboration with other associations and bodies means that members can have reliance that the information which AGS produces is up to date and at the forefront.

Why do you feel the AGS is important to the industry?
The AGS is the only body which actively represents the best interests of both the geotechnical and geoenvironmental sectors and addresses both commercial and technical issues. It is the only body which includes consultants, contractors and clients across these sectors. The AGS is also the largest contributor to industry guidance and Standards which helps these to become workable documents and not detrimental to UK practice.

What changes would you like to see implemented in the geotechnical industry?
I would like to see a better understanding and compliance to the British Standards as I believe that this will improve the efficiency and quality of what we do as an industry. Whilst we have Class 1 samples being specified using sampling techniques which will not achieve them and laboratory tests being scheduled on inappropriate samples there is room for improvement.

This Q&A was featured in the March/April 2018 issue of the AGS Magazine, which can be viewed here.