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Profile: Bill Curtin

A profile of Bill Curtin, the entrepreneur who inspired the AJ/Curtins Inspiring Graduate Prize

Expelled from school at the age of 14, Bill Curtin’s career did not have the most auspicious start. Yet through intelligence, hard work and old-fashioned gumption he built an engineering empire that endures long after his death in 1997.

Curtin started work as a ‘chain lad’ on a building site but soon landed a desk job at engineers Sir Frederick Snow and Partners. Following the war, during which he flew reconnaissance missions to France in preparation for D-Day, Curtin began lecturing at Brixton College of London (latterly London South Bank University). With a taste for shaping young minds, he later headed up to Liverpool to continue lecturing at Liverpool John Moore’s.

In 1960, Curtin left academia and began his own practice, WG Curtin & Partners from his back bedroom in suburban Liverpool. Still passionate about education, Curtin believed fervently in the value young people could bring to a business. As WG Curtin & Partners (now Curtins) grew, Curtin sought his employees from two places: firstly he handpicked top university graduates and secondly he held a one-man recruitment drive at the youth centres of Toxteth, one of Liverpool’s most deprived areas.

Even after his death, Curtin’s reputation resonates far beyond Liverpool,which he made his home, and where the head office of Curtins is located to this day. He is remembered for saving the city’s Albert Dock (pictured) from demolition and it is now one of the largest tourist attractions in the North of England.

His contribution to his chosen profession was particularly significant, authoring The Structural Masonry Designers’ Manual and The Structural Foundation Designers’ Manual and, of course, setting up the leading independent engineering consultancy in the UK.

He was, above all, a man of action: mountain climbing and sports cars were his main enthusiasms away from work and family. Curtins CEO Rob Melling sums him up thus: ‘It was hard to miss Bill’s beaming grin, framed by his signature beard, his red braces and his bow tie as he strutted down Rodney Street, the consultants’ quarter of Liverpool.’  

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