An accomplished leader in the global drilling industry, it may come as a surprise to you that John Beswick (MSc Engineering Geology 1972) was initially destined for a career in the RAF.

With an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from another university, John kickstarted his career by designing docks, harbours and bridges around the world.

However, one thing led to another. Eight years into working life as a civil engineer, John enrolled at Imperial as a mature student to pursue a growing interest in geology and foundations.

Graduating from Imperial then opened up a world of opportunities in the fields of geotechnical engineering, geothermal research and the global drilling industry, which John continues to provide expertise in today. 

John celebrated his 80th birthday in 2021, but is yet to fully retire. He can be found on LinkedIn here

Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?

I learnt about geology, hydrogeology, rock mechanics, seismology, soil mechanics, geophysics, and photointerpretation. This was an extension of my first degree in civil engineering and eight years of work experience after graduation.

The lectures and fieldwork helped me to understand much about the earth sciences, which would become the foundation of my future career. They also helped me to further develop my questioning approach and work from first principles to find a solution.

Outside of studies I was involved in playing squash and a small debating group.

Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?

My tutor, Dr Michael De Freitas was very helpful. In addition I was particularly inspired by Dr Evert Hoek (rock mechanics) and Nicholas Ambraseys (seismology).

What is your fondest memory of your time here?

I was lucky to live in Falmouth Hall and that was an interesting place to be with many friends and close to College.

I really enjoyed some of the lectures, some stick out by Dr Hoek who taught me a great deal about rock mechanics and earth stress, which has been so useful in later life.

What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?

Not an easy question. I used to enjoy going to the library to research things that I wanted to know more about.

Tell us a bit about the work you’re doing now, and your journey to this point.

I graduated as a civil engineer from Loughborough University in 1963. The experience was more about doing sport than expecting to be educated, but I did well there.

My first job involved designing docks and harbours around the world then building bridges, and I became a Chartered Engineer in 1967. Whilst building bridges on the M1 motorway in Yorkshire, I was fascinated by the illicit bell pit coal mines dug during the depression that were causing us so many problems with bridge foundations. This led to more of an interest in geology and foundations.

After Imperial, I spent eight years managing major geotechnical investigation operations and projects, spanning offices in the UK, Ireland, Australia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In 1980 I was invited to serve as Deputy Director for a geothermal research programme in Cornwall by the Camborne School of Mines, where I spent the next five years seconded by my company. That work included deep drilling three wells in granite. The Managing Director of the drilling company, which was Canadian, asked me in 1985 to replace him as he wanted to go back to Canada. I spent the next 21 years as Managing Director with that company drilling oil, gas and geothermal wells in ten countries across Europe.

During that time, I was Chairman of the IADC Government Affairs Committee, with a staff officer in Washington DC. I was also asked to design and drill a 6600m deep well in granite in a meteorite impact crater in central Sweden by the Swedish State Power Beard to investigate Thomas Gold’s theory of abiogenic methane.

During that period I also spent ten years as  a project manager for a major investigation programme, exploring potential sites for a geological disposal facility for radioactive waste at Sellafield and Dounreay, and involvement in the German Continental Deep Drilling Programme. I visited the USSR in 1991 as a guest of the Minister of Geology and spent some time at the Kola Superdeep Borehole, where the deepest borehole was drilled to over 12 km.

When I ‘retired’ in 2007, the owners of a small family company in Derbyshire that primarily drilled water wells asked me to join them to help develop the company. The company now operates in eight countries and provides specialist drilling and associated services to the oil, gas, gas storage, geothermal, mining, geoscience and water industries. The company recently drilled the deepest onshore well in the UK for a geothermal project in Cornwall - 5200m. In 2022 the company was honoured with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade.

Aside from my professional work, I have been developing the concept of deep borehole disposal of high-level radioactive waste for some 35 years, more recently with colleagues from the University of Sheffield. I have carried out studies for SKB, the Swedish radioactive waste agency, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority here in the UK and the US Department of Energy in association with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This work has resulted in a number of technical papers. One paper was awarded the George Stephenson Medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

How has what you learnt at Imperial helped you in your career so far?

My postgraduate studies at Imperial were key to understanding more about geology and rock mechanics, or what we refer to these days as geomechanics. This is key in exploring the earth and developing its resources.

What have been your career highlights and lowlights?

Highlights include developing multidisciplinary teams for particular projects in various parts of the world, each with different challenges and achieving high quality results including helping to develop a multiservice capability in Vietnam with the state oil company.

Lowlights includes dealing with endless bureaucracy, corruption and difficult political regimes.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

Checking emails, working on specific projects, advising project teams, developing the company strategy and pioneering new challenges.

What are your plans for the future?

I am 80 now so I will probably retire from day-to-day work in a year or so, but I’ll be available if anyone wants any help.

What would be your advice for current students?

Use the first ten years of your career to get as much and different experience as you can before you decide the way that you want to go for the rest of your career. You cannot accelerate experience.

What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?

Imperial gave me that extra momentum in my career that has served me well, for which I thank all those that taught and helped me as a mature student.

What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?

Simply some of the best.

Do you have a favourite quote or saying?

Never give up.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

This was not my first choice of career. When I was at school, I was destined to join the RAF on a permanent commission. Unfortunately, in the end my eyesight would not allow me to fly. I like to say I reached for the stars but discovered the earth. It has not been a bad alternative career.