3 February 2022 | Our Work
Neil Levett, owner of Levett Business Services, reminisces on his time spent in the industry and how he overcame the challenge of being someone who wasn’t from an engineering background to provide a valuable contribution to the highways sector.
Q. What work experience did you have before moving into highways?
A. “I worked in publishing, selling advertising space on consumer magazines and was the senior sales executive on the launch of OK! magazine back in the 1990s. Then in 1995 my father and I bought Highways magazine from the Institution of Civil Engineers and so my career in highways was born.”
Q. What has been your career highlight up to now?
A. “I have been very lucky….. I was fortunate enough, as Publisher, to have been the custodian of Highways Magazine for over 20 years, which was a great honour. We launched the Highways Magazine Excellence Awards in the early 2000s and also ran Seeing is Believing and Traffex the two premier events in the sector at the time. For me though, being elected to the National Council of IHE and the main Board of ITS (UK) meant that even as a non-engineer, my experience and tenure in the industry meant that my peers recognised my personal contribution to the industry. For that I am very grateful.”
Q. What is the main way that today’s highways sector differs from the one you first joined?
A. “When I first joined, the sector was primarily interested in road building and physical products on the network, now we see an industry that is committed to maximising the use of the existing network that we have, to include a myriad of road users – not just motorised ones. We also now live in a “connected world” where technology on a road isn’t just the phasing of traffic lights. It’s a fast paced, technology driven industry that I am delighted to be a part of.”
Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
A. “For me it was the acceptance that somebody who didn’t come from an engineering background could contribute to a discussion around highway related subjects in meetings. That is why the experiential route to engineering registration at IHE was such a gift to me.”
Q. What do you think LCRIG Insight readers would be surprised to learn about you?
A. “When I was 16 years old I worked at Barclays Bank and was held up at gunpoint twice, in armed raids. Once in Shoreditch and the second in Bethnal Green in East London.”
Q. What do you think is the key to accelerating innovation within the roads sector?
A. “Barriers to entry and willingness to trial new products with a departure to DfT standards. The ability to do this means that authorities are able to try things for the greater good rather than being hamstrung by red tape. Funding and evaluation of such trials can mean that this is an onerous task too, so organisations such as LCRIG are vital to syndicate such projects amongst interested parties.”
Q. How different will the sector look in 10 years time?
A. “Wow, what a question……. Well we will have (possibly) electrified carriageways, EVs and charging points at (literally) millions of places in the UK, solar powered roadside furniture all connected to vehicles through 5G. Think though they will be travelling alongside the same bicycles, horses and pedestrians that we have on the network now! What an exciting challenge for the future.”
Q. What is the best way of removing barriers to innovation?
A. “Open mindedness and listening to the road user more. The best customer service company in the world is Disney and they evolve their offering based on the feedback of their customers. For our sector we are the supplier and the customer is the road user so we have to make sure that we provide them with what they want too, not just what is best for us. That will see greater acceptance of innovation on the network, as it will be customer led – not industry driven. Also, I’d refer you back to my answer above about how to accelerate innovation in the sector.”
Below is an update on other innovation initiatives that the LCRIG team have been busy working on over the last few months:
Innovation in Highways
In November 2021, LCRIG published a report entitled ‘Innovation in highways’. The report highlights some interesting findings on the differing approaches between local authorities and the challenges around implementing innovation in highways.
You can access the full report here.
The LCRIG / Steve Berry ‘Think Exceptional’ Innovation fund, supported by WJ Group
Last year the first companies to receive funding as part of the LCRIG / Steve Berry Think Exceptional Innovation Fund were announced.
Connor Specialist Paving (Tac-Grid), Community Models, Fitzpatrick Advisory (DASHA), NY Highways and Liverpool John Moores University have been selected to receive a share of the £150,000 Innovation fund, facilitated by LCRIG. For more information on the Innovation fund, please click here.
Keep up to date on all LCRIG initiatives by subscribing to our weekly e-newsletter, the LCRIG Insight here.