BDP’s new chief executive is optimistic about the future and how the next generation can shape the industry. He has collected too much mid-century furniture and is apparently a pretty good hairdresser

Nick Fairham

Nick Fairham replaced John McManus as chief executive of BDP on 1 July, 2021

Why did you choose construction as a career?

I wanted to work where I could be analytical, creative and part of a team – and see tangible outcomes from my work. Fortunately, I found an industry whose outcomes have a profound effect on people and the planet – it is now more of a vocation than a career.

What have you worked on that you’re most proud of?

Award-winning buildings at Mulberry Park and Southmead Hospital give a sense of pride, however the design and delivery of the Nightingale hospitals showed a spirit of collaboration and purpose that I think will stay with all who were a part of it.

What has been your biggest career challenge to date?

Taking the chief executive position on BDP’s 60th anniversary is a challenge that I am relishing. As we move into new ways of working I am looking forward to investing in the ideas of our increasingly global network of studios.

Their collective creativity is now unconstrained by place and allows a diverse and responsive approach to addressing the challenges of the modern world.

If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

A genuine recognition of value above cost. There are some great initiatives around which exemplify this approach, such as the Construction Playbook. As an industry we need to work out how we can move equitably towards these goals.

Most helpful advice you were given?

Don’t think of what you are going to say next when you are listening.

What single piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in your profession?

Be passionate about your work, have a clear narrative which demonstrates your values and you will find colleagues and clients who share these and will soon become collaborators.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

The next generation of leaders coming through – they are challenging the whole industry to think differently, making change happen and have seen the opportunity the current situation offers.

The next few years will see significant change as they vote with their feet. The most progressive organisations will be the ones that thrive and drive a more sustainable approach to the construction industry.


The Pantheon in Rome: a celebration of place, presence and geometry

What is your favourite building in the world?

The best buildings embrace their place, engage people and draw on innovative thinking. One which captures all of these qualities is the Pantheon in Rome - a celebration of place, presence and geometry.

Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?

I try not to look back at a missed opportunity, so my motivation for wanting to work on a building would be driven by being a part of the pioneering spirit of a project. The Lloyd’s Building was one of those that inspired me to be an architect, so that would have been a great project to have been a part of.

Lloyds shutterstock 132230399

Seeing Richard Rogers’s Lloyd’s Building helped to inspire Nick to become an architect

Which famous building do you most dislike?

It’s more a typology that I dislike – buildings designed which are devoid of reference to place, focused on CGI heroism and most likely without the architect having ever visited the site. I’m sure readers can think of an example!

What’s it like being you?

One of the things that I enjoy about architecture is the opportunity to explore large-scale concept and celebrate the detail in parallel. My time management follows a similar line of being strategic, thinking creatively but taking the time to celebrate the small successes that we achieve both at work and at home.

What do you think your best quality is?

I’m an optimist and try to leave no stone unturned to find a way to make good ideas work.

What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?

It has taken a while to think of an answer to this, so perhaps indecision? In other people dishonesty is a deal breaker. I choose to be around open and collaborative people. 

Do you have a life philosophy?

Lead by example, keep a free mind and challenge preconception. Be supportive and respectful.

Name three things that you like

Good company, being outdoors and music.

Tell us about a secret skill we don’t know you have

I discovered during lockdown that I’m a pretty good hairdresser (hopefully my sons weren’t just humouring me).

What is your most-prized possession?

I’m a big fan of mid-century furniture and have more chairs than a home needs – each one has a story and purpose, so it’s difficult to be specific.

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl for productivity, early bird for creativity.

What is your favourite food?

One of my favourite pastimes is preparing food for friends and family – it can often take a whole day to buy and prepare a meal.

I like food to be seasonal and of the place – fish and chips in Padstow would be high on the list.

What would your superpower be?

To be able to stretch time – for obvious reasons!

Nick Fairham