The Founder of award-winning Super Structures Associates, Derek Mason, knows
all about determination and ambition – qualities he learned as much on the field of
athletics as he did behind the drawing board.
Derek Mason was just 13 when the over-bearing sports coach at his secondary school
in Bothasig just outside of Cape Town told him he would never be a successful
Underweight but overcome with a fierce desire to prove the large Afrikaans teacher
wrong, Derek decided to ignore the negative and unwanted advice and – with a
single-mindedness which was to be the hallmark of his professional life – he
embarked on a training plan.
Two years later he had become the school champion having broken every middle
distance school record in his age group. Two years after that he did the same again
and smashed the remaining records as a senior student and then went on to race in
some of the toughest marathons on the planet including the Two Oceans Marathon
race, a 35-mile ultra-marathon run along the coast of South Africa between the
Indian Ocean and the Atlantic.
His best time was a hugely impressive four hours and 22 minutes. He finished in the
top seven per cent of the field. He is now a member of the Blue Number Club, which
is awarded when a runner successfully completes ten Two Oceans marathons.
Members are given a number for life. Derek’s is 2892.
Derek says athletic challenges are just like those in business – all a question of mind
over matter. If he doesn’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
When Derek ran the iconic South African coastline race for the 13th time, he did so
in honour of his parents – both of whom had died within a fortnight of each other
earlier that year. He pinned their photos to his running vest – an act born of love and
gratitude for the way they had raised him and a measure of how much their values
still imbue the way he and his family live.
“I had a very tough upbringing. My parents did the best they could but
we did not get pocket money, visits to the cinema or anything like that. But I had a strong will to
succeed at everything I did and that helped me fulfil my ambitions,” he said.
Derek showed an aptitude for maths, sciences and drawing – then paid his way
through Technical College with a series of part-time jobs. He finished with an
average mark of over 80 per cent in Civil Engineering, and third in the country.
His college qualification meant he could study structural engineering at university by
winning a bursary and in his third and fourth year finished in the top ten of forty
students, regularly making the Dean’s Merit List and winning academic prizes. Then
he went on to study for a Masters.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I worked day and night seven days a
week – my wife was a great support during those times. It was worth it in the end. I
now have thirty-three letters after my name – and those are the most important.
“I learned very early on that with self belief you can achieve great things. Running is
like business. You have to set targets and break the goals down into smaller
milestones. Events like Parkrun help you gauge your fitness. They are like little
affirmations that spur you on to success,” he said.
Derek left South Africa in 1998 and he joined Waterman’s in London, the first person
at associate level to be employed under contract. He joined Jan Bobrowksi, the
Twickenham-based structural engineering practice, specialising in Sports and
Leisure where he worked on the Sandown Race Course and Ipswich Town’s North
Stand. Later he worked on the Cheltenham Race Course and then achieved a career
highlight with managing the Independent Technical Review for the London 2012
Olympic Stadium and published a book on this in 2017, called “Will It Stand Up?”
He started his own business eight years ago in the summer house of his home
before setting up a Twickenham-based office a year later. He has now moved to
bigger premises close to Twickenham Green where he operates with a close,
carefully selected team.
“I have always moved outside of my comfort zone….as that is where you get growth.
If you don’t push yourself then you can’t achieve your potential.
“Visualization is a very valuable tool. Your mind can do the work – you can picture
yourself in your mind’s eye achieving some great goal and your body does not know
what is real and not real, so this helps you achieve success. Major athletes use this
technique in their training and preparation.”