Christina Leafe tells Building about south Wales developments, One World Trade Center, and Olympic athletes
What has been your biggest career challenge?
The switch from being a technical expert in all things environmental to being a senior business leader in building design. Ambition drives you to step out of your comfort zone, which is hard enough, but it challenges people’s perception of you and you have to deal with those biases along the way.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
To break the stigma surrounding mental health and stop the alarming statistics on depression and suicide. From high-stakes executives to tough construction workers – mental illness should not have to be kept a secret.
Why did you choose construction as a career?
I started as an environmental consultant trying to put right all the things in construction that were wrong. We have come a long way and have a much better understanding of the social, economic and environmental value that infrastructure brings. And it is that value to people that made me choose this career.
What have you worked on that you’re most proud of?
The Coed Darcy development (pictured below) and others across South Wales that saw former oil and petrochemical sites cleaned up and redeveloped with new homes, schools, hospital and employment opportunities. I’m from South Wales myself and saw first-hand the effects the closure of an industry can have, so I’m proud to have made a difference to the community that made me who I am.
Most helpful advice you were given?
It was from an Olympic athlete to a group of schoolchildren, so not directly to me, but it’s advice I have certainly taken. ”There will be times when you experience setbacks, when something happens and you just want to jack it all in – but you can come back. You just need to learn from it and try again. Don’t let setbacks define the outcome.”
What’s your favourite building?
The Forum in Rome, more precisely the point having walked down the Sacred Road to the Temple of Caesar, where you stand looking at the rostra where Mark Anthony gave his “Friends, Romans, countrymen …” speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral. The connection to these momentous events is palpable. Oh, and the bar on top of the Forum museum is one of my favourite ‘beers with a view’.
What single piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in your profession?
Take every opportunity you can to work on site and in your client’s workspace; you will learn more there than you will working ‘back at the office’.
Who do you most admire in the construction industry?
Those people who are there to the bitter end. Too often it is about those who had the vision at the start or who came along part way through. I admire the finishers of this world, those who last the course to get the job done.
What famous building do you wish you’d worked on?
The One World Trade Center (pictured above). A building of significance and a job to be delivered with humility.
What’s it like being you?
Infuriating and rewarding. Market competition is fierce – you snooze, you lose and when you lose, it is infuriating. But the progress we make and the outcomes we achieve through our people are just brilliant. And that is highly rewarding.
What do you think your best quality is?
I’d like to think empathy. Listening to people, getting to understand what they think and feel.