T&T’s chief digital officer served in the Welsh Guards, played professional rugby and has had dinner with the Queen

Why did you choose construction as a career?

I think it found me! After the military [an officer in the Welsh Guards], I worked at Aon helping risk manage and insure major infrastructure assets. That set a course where I went on to work on infrastructure investment deal-design, performance improvement of infrastructure programmes, helping clients embed smart and increasingly autonomous technologies.

Nathan Marsh 2021

Now, in my current role as chief digital officer at Turner & Townsend, I am bringing all of that experience together into a business that is putting huge energy into driving industry transformation.

What has been your biggest career challenge to date?

My transition out of the military into civilian life. I was an Army officer for seven years and served on operations worldwide, as well as in the aftermath of 9/11. The training and ways of logically processing complex challenges have all been very helpful since. The military makes you achieve a lot with minimal resources, which teaches you how to get the best out of yourself and your teams, and how leadership is both a duty and a service.

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

I have spent my career in infrastructure and construction with a focus on helping to get the industry better at digital. We have made great progress, but we need more consistent approaches and to boost the scale and pace of adoption of digital tools.

From greater productivity and certainty of outcomes to building skills and improving energy efficiency, digital is a catalyst for so much positive change. If construction is going to fulfil its potential as an engine for growth that can also help address regional inequalities and meet our net zero targets, then accelerating digital adoption is an absolute must.

What have you worked on that you are most proud of?

I worked on the implementation of the smart ticketing roll-out for Greater Manchester – part of a process of modernisation, unification and simplification of the region’s transport systems which continues to this day. We had to manage the competing desires of a large number of different transport operators all wanting a smart ticketing system… but all wanting their own to be the one that others adopt.

It was a brilliant programme as it contained infrastructure, financing, digital and customers, and it transformed how people travel around Greater Manchester. Every time I see a digital scanner or tap-in post, I am reminded of what we achieved.

Most helpful advice you were given?

Keep having fun and being positive. Construction and infrastructure are serious industries, delivering major national and international projects that change lives. Doing this right, delivering digitally and maintaining focus on outcomes is complicated. Against all the seriousness it is essential to keep enjoying what you do and getting the best out of people, every single day.

What is your favourite building in the world?

St Pauls Cathedral

Source: shutterstock.com

Favourite building…

St Paul’s Cathedral. An inspiring blend of architecture, scale, detail, design, quality and purpose. It continues to be a benchmark for what a building can do for visitors, users and the local area, as well as being exquisitely beautiful. It is also easily visible from Turner & Townsend’s London office!

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

Be curious and thrive on asking why. Not only does it show proactivity and help you build your interest, knowledge, and specialisms – you will also find you are helping others reflect on plans and justify decisions.

By contrast, those established in the profession need to be patient and understanding – always willing to answer those questions and listen to their teams.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Committee. He is just really cool! He really gets digital and is an inspiring and passionate figure in the industry.

He has achieved so much and enabled others to achieve a huge amount too. We should all be a little bit more “Sir John”.

What famous building do you wish you had worked on?

The Gherkin. It was very much a digital building, with the massive influence of computer-aided design right through to its self-regulated building controls. It changed the way City real estate was designed and delivered for the better (look how many recent buildings emulate its design) and brought about a step-change in modern construction.

Which famous building do you most dislike?

I am struggling to pick one that I would single out – as I’ve said, I always try and look for the positives. 

John Armitt

Really cool: Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission

What is it like being you?

Pretty full on, but also rewarding as I am very proud of what I do and have people around me that I love and cherish.

What do you think your best quality is?

I am an optimist, and I try hard to use that to motivate and inspire those around me. They say optimism is infectious, so I hope mine rubs off!

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

Impatience, I have to remind myself to take time.

Do you have a life philosophy?

Be kind – you don’t know what others have gone through, or are going through when you are with them.

Name three things that you like

Sailing – I am hugely enthusiastic and happy when on board, though technically very inadequate!

The peace, calm and quiet of the countryside.

Trying a glass of organic wine from a producer with a personal story to share.

What’s a secret skill we don’t know you have?

I spent three years as a professional rugby union player [with Birmingham Moseley and London Welsh].

Large number of yachts sailing in the annual Round the Island Race

Source: shutterstock.com

What’s your most prized possession?

In the spirit of the recent Jubilee, I will choose a seating plan I was given from a rather special Royal dinner in June 1999. While stationed at Windsor Castle, I was invited to dinner with the whole Royal family where I was unexpectedly one of only three or four non-family members present. We were outnumbered by the Royal family, and it was a very special evening especially getting to watch the Queen Mother very subtly feed her corgis digestive biscuits!

Early bird or night owl?

Night owl.

What’s your favourite food?

Home-cooked food with carefully and responsibly sourced ingredients.

What would your superpower be?

The power to make people pause and consider if they have been as inclusive, kind and considerate as they possibly can be. Especially when making a decision that could inadvertently leave someone out or hurt their feelings.

Nathan Marsh is chief digital officer at Turner & Townsend