Role: Director and Quantum Expert
Office location: London
Joined the team: July 2016
I returned to the UK from the Middle East in 2016 and, having interviewed for a number of different organisations, met with Duncan. He had some radical ideas for my career and a relaxed but can-do approach to business. Having previously worked for very rigid, corporate organisations, I was excited and refreshed by the shift in mindset. I only need to look at my own development in the past few years to know that my decision to join Base was the best decision I could have made. One of Base’s key strengths is its ability to deliver in an informal and people-oriented culture, and the preservation of that culture is one of my key priorities.
What were you doing previously?
In the years prior to joining Base, I worked in the UK, UAE, Africa and Saudi Arabia on commercial appointments, construction claims and expert work. I was fortunate enough to work on many different types of construction project at every level of the supply chain, alongside some highly talented people, and faced a wide variety of challenges in these roles.
What do you feel you bring to Base? What would you consider to be your area of expertise?
My experience with high value, overseas projects is important, as it relates to much of Base’s workload. However, I believe the most valuable thing I bring to the team is a leadership principle called ‘extreme ownership’. This means that I strive to do whatever I need to do to ensure that we deliver to the highest standard, without fail or excuses. I’m happy to take blame externally, hold people to account internally and share the praise equally. It is this continuous striving for the highest standards and uncompromising approach to our work which has helped to carve out our reputation as high calibre construction quantum experts. I think that as we grow more and more into this mindset as a team, we are going to get better and better.
What are your career aspirations for the future?
There are some things I want to achieve in my career, but they are not things that I would commit to paper. What I want now is not what I wanted 5 years ago, and it will probably not be what I want in 5 years’ time. I just set down the principles I am going to adhere to – keep my feet on the ground, remain accessible to people within my team so that we can all move forward together, and stay invested in the quality, detail and attentiveness needed to keep progressing in my career.
How do you see the industry changing in the future?
Technological advancements are going to play a huge role in shaping the future of the industry. Already, the things I learnt just 10 years ago are being replaced with AI. Our quantity surveying team are investing heavily in technology which will allow us to operate more efficiently when it comes to measurement and change control. One of the fundamental aspects of my role is interpreting data, and I am excited for when we start looking at disruption and productivity based claims by digitally modelling on-site movements and productivity; using AI to help interpret massive data sets. I think the key will be recruiting people who have the skills to harness the synergies between technology and construction.
Do you have an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
Almost a decade ago, I moved to Saudi Arabia not knowing where I was going to live, who I was going to be working with and with little idea of the projects I was going to be involved in. I was on my own in a country and culture that was completely new to me and I was working on a megaproject far bigger than anything I’d done before. I grew so much as a person in that year. It was sink or swim, and I was determined not to come home too soon no matter how hard it became. That first year taught me how to overcome some difficult challenges and stretched me in many ways. I think the personal growth I gained from that experience has had a huge impact in shaping my career and attitude to life – you reap what you sow, I guess.
What is your biggest non-career-based accomplishment and why was it important to you?
I competed on a bodybuilding stage twice in 2018. I wasn’t sure I could do it alongside my job and facing the daily challenge of tackling both was particularly testing when I was deep into my diet, but it turned out to be one of the most successful years of my career so far. It is totally different to any other sport I’ve competed in before. It took a lot out of me, but it gave me confidence to keep going even when I couldn’t see the end.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made or challenge you’ve faced in your career so far, and what did you learn from it?
The first time I was cross-examined was tough. Once on the stand, you’re completely alone. There’s little chance to re-word things or review it again the next morning and, for that reason, there is a big jump between writing a report and being cross-examined on it. It is serious, demanding, and unforgiving. You cannot ever fully prepare yourself for that experience – the more you do it the more comfortable it becomes, but the more you also realise you can improve. I don’t think the concern of “being caught out” is ever going to go away – if anything it keeps me sharp and engaged in the detail – but the learning process from every report I write and every cross examination I go through is incredibly valuable for improving my thinking, and the strength of my analysis.
If you were provided with a soapbox to give a speech on any industry-related topic, what would it be and why?
When I joined the construction industry in 2006, it was a bit of a second tier industry for graduates – the top graduates were going into law, medicine, finance and other industries that were not only paying much more, but offering more glamorous and promising career paths. And maybe this was for good reason – to me, construction in the UK has always felt a way behind some other industries – it is widely known that there is a huge gender imbalance, but it also seems as if there is a widespread age based hierarchy, lack of flexible working arrangements, long hours and limited interest in the wellbeing of employees.
If other industries are offering these things, then the very best and brightest minds are going to be dissuaded from entering the construction industry.
Yet, construction provides a hugely significant contribution to GDP, we tackle some of the biggest and most complex problems in the world and from the house you live in, to the train you take to work, to the airports you pass through for your holidays, the impact construction has on day to day life cannot be underestimated. There are some great things about the industry too, and there is a dynamism to the ever changing nature of the sites that we work on – when train stations and airports start to function, when shopping centres are packed with shoppers at Christmas and when new roads ease congestion, there is great satisfaction in knowing you were involved.
In my view, the construction industry still suffers in this respect. We need to look at how we can attract and retain a diverse range of highly talented younger people. I think this starts by establishing closer links between the industry and academia to provide more up to date and relevant education and greater exposure to the industry through work placements for undergraduates and secondary school students. We also need to break “tradition” so that we can find ways to compete with other industries in terms of flexibility, rewards and employee wellbeing.
What would your biggest piece of advice be to those starting in the industry today?
Focus on who your mentors are – they are some of your best assets. Choose the people you try to emulate based on their characteristics as well as their achievements and capability.
The construction industry can be hostile to both women and young people. Progression has always felt quite age limited. Coming into the industry young, it can be uninspiring to feel that you cannot advance or that your progression is determined more by time than merit. The career steps I have made have been focused on getting what I wanted, but having mentors to give great advice has been key – particularly after some major setbacks. This is why I say choose your mentors based on their characteristics.
Bodybuilding, golf, yoga, reading and the great outdoors. Very little time for anything else.
What motivates you?
I grew up with two older brothers. For the first 15 years of my life, I was slower, weaker, and knew what clothes I was going to be wearing for the next 5 years! As I got older, I began to catch up and I don’t think I ever stopped trying to catch up.
How would your family and friends describe you?
Hard on myself. I think that is the curse of always looking forward and not back. You always think you are in last place.
What would you be doing if you had taken a different career path?
A professional athlete, no doubt. I would play sport every day. I don’t mind what sport, as long as it’s competitive.