Meet the new President of the OB Club, Professor Martin Snaith OBE (53–63), who was voted in at the AGM on Saturday 3rd July.
Tell us a bit about your career.
After a gap year spent largely in South Africa and Switzerland I went to Trinity College, Dublin (TCD) from which I graduated in 1968 with an Engineering degree, another de rigeur one in Arts and a year later with a research Masters. I followed that with three years Doctoral work at Nottingham and those eight years of academic training with a period of “real” work for the Ministry of Works, Kenya. This showed me the practical side of Engineering and the very real problems faced by the then newly independent countries such as a lack of indigenous professional staff and the beginnings of corruption and its corrosive effect on nearly everything.
My time there was socially superb and the trout fishing in the Aberdares great fun. After turning down a very interesting job with a contractor in South Africa, I went back to TCD as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and therefrom onto Queens Belfast as a Lecturer. All of this had set me up for a Senior Lectureship at Birmingham funded by British Aid, specifically to develop a highway engineering skills base in Developing Counties – which I did over around twenty years (including short courses in various countries, a major MSc programme at Birmingham and a satellite MSc programme in the newly independent Zimbabwe. This, together with the creation of a strong research team specialising in the problems we encountered overseas, was a most fulfilling and fascinating academic period of my life. In addition, I collaborated with a British consultant to find and solve various road asset management problems encountered overseas. This led to the development of the road management system called BSM, which one World Bank wag called ‘The British School of Motoring’ and has most recently been implemented in Gambia after its first use in Thailand well over thirty years ago.
I retired from full-time academic work at the University around twenty years ago as Pro-Vice Chancellor with a number of ideas I wished to pursue. Foremost were two things: the further development and marketing, for the World Bank, of their standard economic model for road analysis, HDM-4, used now by all major donors together with a consortium of consultants and research agencies. Secondly, with the Northern Ireland (NI) and New Zealand Road Authorities help, and the latter’s groundwork, a capital valuation system for road networks based on condition rather than time since construction, the latter clearly daft when some of our roads in England are Roman and even pre-Roman. This is now in long-term use in NI and being introduced as a pilot for Developing Countries in China under World Bank funding. I fear my career continues, not least as the last project is still underway.
What hobbies keep you entertained in your spare time?
I was tempted to say “huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’” but the fact is I do not hunt although I used to ride notably in Phoenix Park when at TCD. Fishing, I started in my twenties in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and has been a great relaxation both at home and in those countries, notably in Africa and Australasia which have trout, and visit largely associated with my work- albeit with spectacular lack of success. Shooting, I started young, with a .410 and built up from there, and shot until quite recently, mostly in Northern Ireland, with a lovely shoot near the Giants Causeway and snipe on the bogs of Co Londonderry with my wife’s family most Christmases – huge fun with stories to tell.
We both still ski, Corona permitting, and are very lucky in that our ‘children’ and their families share our passion, and we have a number of friends in France who also ski – making it great fun.
Share an interesting fact about yourself.
I am a frustrated pilot having stupidly declined being taught to fly by my father and now putting Private Pilot License (PPL) training off ‘until next year’…yet again.
Why did you decide to get involved with the school again?
Unusually for us, I attended an OB Dinner largely as it was the last year of Phillip Evans’ time as Head Master and I wished to recognise the good work he had done nationally in relation to mathematics education, to prepare Engineering students when they moved on to University. The dinner was presided over by Roy Gamblin, who was a contemporary of mine and approached me to ask if I would work with him and the OB Office to further enhance the relationship between the Club and School. All stakeholders will be aware that the cornerstone of this is the creation of the all-stakeholder-embracing Bedford School Association which has developed so well, initially under Richard Garrett’s guidance and now that of Hugh Maltby together with a willing Club, at all levels, aided by its superb office staff headed by Gina Worboys, and both HMs since Phillip left.
What excites you about the future of the OB Club?
In part, the above which I believe has taken the best of both the existing OB Club and School morays and developed from there an even more purposeful club and agenda over and above the traditional and excellent ‘Fun, Fellowship and Friendship’ phrase, which was and is true, but is building upon this to allow the Club and School to be more symbiotic. I would hope that during my time as President, we can widen that symbiosis to include activities and assistance to even more OBs (young and not so young), including our members overseas, thereby fostering both institutions and a far wider breadth of activities for ‘young’ OBs.
What’s your fondest memory from your time at the school?
I suspect for many from such schools at that time, the trite answer would be ‘Leaving’. For me, as I basked in the post-school relative freedom to control one’s own life, there was a realisation, despite my appalling ‘Advanced Levels’, that such an all-embracing knee-jerk reaction would not be strictly justified. I gained a huge amount of experience on how to deal with people and understand how to cope in a wide variety of situations – vital in ‘real life’. Also, the various activities I undertook gave me an entrée, which I had not expected, to another totally different sporting area. I was, through my gymnastic experience, added to general sporting life with rugby – crowned in my case by, not the First XV, but rather the seconds – able at TCD to develop my talent at high hurdling where I ended up as captain of Athletics and a ‘University Pink’ gained in part by representing Ireland at my chosen University sport. The moral is that even when you did not at the time expect it, the experience gained could well be, and frequently is, hugely helpful.
What life advice would you give our recent leavers?
To recent leavers and, as implied from the above, make the most of what you have experienced at the school and forget the tiresome bits. Most importantly, look for areas in which you can exploit not only what you have gained from your experiences at Bedford, but also, take advantage of the extensive network (which you are now a part of) of OBs both within the UK and around the world. They have contacts geographically and professionally to help you obtain that vital initial work experience, allied to professional advice ‘get an effective and enjoyable working life going’- and there onwards to a successful career. Do please use the ever-widening range of opportunities, such as Eagle Connect, being offered by the Club and its members to help in this.