The director leading the firm’s southern operations believes in listening before speaking and learning from mistakes. He designed his first house aged 14 and enjoys rugby and sailing
Why did you choose construction as a career?
Construction chose me really as I was born into a family where my father had his own quantity surveying and design practice. From the age of 9, I was starting to take an interest and, during the school holidays, got to observe his work first-hand.
At 14 I designed my first private residence for one of his clients using old-fashioned tracing paper and Indian ink – it was such a buzz for me to be part of. When the design successfully went through planning, that was when I knew I wanted to work in construction management one day.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
It really meant a lot to me when I achieved my first director-level promotion. It was a significant moment in my career and a way for me to reach even more incredible business management opportunities, including where I am today: a board director of Stepnell Ltd, a board director of Step Energy Ltd, as well as a regional director for Stepnell’s operations in the south of England – growing its offices in Poole, Southampton, Wantage and Bristol.
We have had particular success working with different local authorities, such as a decarbonisation scheme for Dorset County Council. We have ambitions to continue building our presence and scope as a leading complete construction partner in the south of England.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career to date?
Progressing from project management into contract management was a challenge. You move from being able to know the nuts and bolts of a particular project to a senior management position looking after several projects instead of one.
You are juggling lots of competing priorities and have to learn to let project managers make the majority of decisions instead.
I try to persuade and give guidance to teams on site but everything is different in the context of the specific project. Being able to relinquish the daily decision making and trusting your colleagues to deliver is an important asset to have.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
We need to educate people and change their understanding of what best value looks like, as it does not mean the lowest price. Value cannot solely be measured in this way and can sometimes end up costing more down the line.
It is essential that materials procured and other project decisions are considered from a whole lifecycle value perspective, especially as energy and material costs force budgets to tighten.
What is the most helpful advice that you have been given?
“You get out what you put in” has been a piece of advice that I have taken and tried to apply throughout my career. Working in construction is a lifestyle choice and the extra work is often needed to achieve the desired outcomes, both on projects and your career development.
Another piece of advice I like to live by is to expect the unexpected and always think about the “what ifs”.
Name your favourite building in the world?
The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is a remarkable building. I am fascinated not just by the design and time that has gone into the build across three centuries, but also the city planning that complements the site.
Which famous building do you most dislike?
Infamous in the area where I am from is the former IMAX cinema in Bournemouth. It was a prime example of poor town planning that did not consider the area’s demand for its use. It remained closed for more than 10 years and the original good views were never fully restored after being demolished.
Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?
I would jump at the opportunity to work on the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona as it is a building I am in awe of.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in your profession?
Use your two ears and one mouth in this proportion, to listen more and talk less. There is always a lot to learn and, by not always being the loudest in the room, you can observe and take more in. It is important to listen and consider. Then discuss options with project partners collaboratively to get the best project outcomes.
Who do you most admire in the construction industry?
I had the privilege to work with a deputy CEO called Paul Abson. He would always listen and was a great mentor to guide me. He encouraged me to always be humble and helped to teach me the best ways to avoid and resolve problems
What is it like being you (and doing your job)?
I am not scared of putting in a lot of hard miles and am fortunate enough to have helped build a great regional team at Stepnell around me. In our industry, there are always going to be pinch points and challenges to navigate at certain times, so it is important for me to be a supportive figure for members of the team – to learn from and be a good leader.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Learn from historic successes and even your past mistakes, but whatever you do always make sure to look forward. Learning from previous experiences will put you in the best position going forward in your decision making.
What do you think your best quality is?
I am a good listener and always try to understand other people’s perspective before offering my input.
What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?
I am not a loud person, so people who are a bit larger than life are not always my cup of tea. I do feel though that all personality types have something to bring to the table, so I would never say I dislike this trait.
You have got to take the best out of people and have a balance of personalities in the team. I don’t mind a bit of a clash in personalities as it can challenge people in the room and ultimately opinions differ. So some conflict is normal.
Name three things that you like
Rugby, sailing and family time. I am a keen rugby player and, living on the south coast, I try to sail when I can. It is great to have the sea on your doorstep and you can leave all your work on the side when getting out on the water.
I also have a lot of respect for people who recognise that family time is very precious.
Tell us about a secret skill that we don’t know you have
I have competed in a few sailing regattas in Ireland, which not everyone knows about.
What is your most prized possession?
My immediate family. We all come to work to improve the lives of our family – and I work hard to achieve that.
Early bird or night owl?
I tend to do both! I am in the office early after dropping my daughter off at the bus stop – the youngest of my three children – but I lean towards being a night owl. We have a fantastic, agile working policy at Stepnell which enables me to flexible when I have to be, although my wife would not agree!
What is your favourite food?
I love lobster and take good advantage of this living on the coast in Bournemouth where it is abundantly available.
What would your superpower be?
Being in multiple places at the same time to see all our projects.
Stepnell is a family-owned construction company that has been operating for more than 155 years and prides itself on being a complete construction partner. It operates a three-region model, including East Midlands (Nottingham), Midlands (Rugby) and Southern (Wantage, Poole, Southampton and Bristol). To find out more, visit www.stepnell.co.uk,