The firm’s managing director of development on balancing creativity with rigorous discipline, how the industry can improve its recruitment and her best-ever day as a Bradford City supporter 

Lisa master headshot

Lisa has over 25 years’ experience as a development and construction leader at Arup, Laing O’Rourke and Lendlease. She is now managing director, development, at EcoWorld London

Why did you choose construction as a career?

People connect to a career for all sorts of reasons, which I think is useful to remember in our industry as we strive towards a more diverse entry pool. For some people it is what their mum or dad did; for others, it’s a random series of events that lead to that choice.

For me, it was the latter. I was lucky to have a very encouraging head teacher, who was very supportive of me and clear that I was either heading towards science or engineering. I was introduced to WISE – Women In Science and Engineering – who held weekend sessions at Bradford University, showcasing all types of engineering. It’s thanks to the civil engineers I met there that I chose our industry as they seemed like they enjoyed what they did the most – so I went with that!

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

Its diversity. It’s an obvious choice, but it also links to my passion, which is sustainability. Having a broader, more diverse view point and a wealth of perspectives is what drives forward innovation – targeting that will lead to us to creating more sustainable outcomes for our communities and for our future.

I think one of the places we need to look harder is the way we recruit in the industry. We could learn a lot from sectors such as pharma, where they have much better representation, including at senior level.

What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?

When I was 12 years old, my dad gave me a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People along with a highlighter. A couple of decades later its messages really resonated and I have found that what it taught me about how people work – and how to get things done – has been critical to success.


Name your favourite building in the world?

The Sydney Opera House. It’s my favourite building not just because it’s an iconic, beautiful piece of architecture, but because it has been an omnipresent part of my own career.

I started out with Arup, and the opera house is such an integral part of the Arup journey, representing the coming together of architecture and engineering. It remained a feature of my career when I moved to Lendlease, who were part of the construction team.

Those principles of creating a great building to augment a great place inspired me when I was just starting out and continue to now.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

Anna Stewart, who was CEO at Laing O’Rourke. She was brilliant to work with and a fantastic role model. Whip smart, hard-hitting, and very down to earth, she had a great leadership style and always got results. I was very sad to hear of her passing in 2017.

Anna Stewart

Anna Stewart joined Laing Construction as a trainee in 1982 and rose to become commercial director. She became chief executive of Laing O’Rourke in 2013

What is it like being you (and doing your job)?

Development is hard. It’s a complex, challenging environment that requires a blend of creativity and rigorous discipline. Underpinning both is motivating people to get the best out of themselves and what they do, and approaching it all with a positive, can-do attitude.

My job involves striking the right balance, pushing the creativity envelope, ensuring checks and balances are in place while pulling all the positive threads through on the people side. I am fortunate to work with a team of people that share that same approach. As developers we don’t have all the answers, so working in partnership with all our extended teams helps to provide better outcomes for all.

Do you have a life philosophy?

“Don’t meet trouble halfway” and “a problem shared is a problem halved” – from a wellbeing perspective, embracing those two things can guide anyone through. They have always helped to keep me resilient and balanced.

Bradford City FC

Source: Shutterstock

Lisa is a lifelong Bradford City supporter

What do you think your best quality is?

My fairness. It’s my top value, which I seek to address in all areas. A lot of people describe me as “firm but fair” – I think fairness buys you the right to be firm when necessary!

What is your most prized possession?

My ticket from 24 January, 2015, for the FA Cup match between Chelsea and Bradford, which I keep in my notebook. As a lifelong Bradford City fan, it was a spectacular moment of the underdog winning (2-4) and makes me smile remembering it. The ticket is my conduit to a very happy memory.

What would your superpower be?

I would like to save the world from climate change through carbon capture. And maybe be able to turn the carbon into diamonds, so we can get something nice from it…