The industry strategist at Autodesk has been running large-scale construction projects since his mid-20s – but he is still scared of heights. He wishes the industry would do more to appeal to the next generation


Matt’s favourite building, seen from across the Millennium Bridge

Why did you choose construction as a career? 

I stumbled into it! I studied computing and management at university because I have always been interested in how businesses operate and how technology works. However, throughout my studies it became clear that I wanted to work in a role that allowed me to solve problems.

My group of friends at university were all studying construction management courses and their courses appealed more to me than the stuff I was doing. After university, I applied to a number of contractors and one of them took a chance on me due to the unique skill-set I apparently had. So, from here I embarked on what was known as a non-cognate programme with Wilmott Dixon – essentially, I converted the skills I had and applied them to a chartered building course.

Matt Keen

Matt is a senior industry strategist at Autodesk, focusing on construction. He previously worked for Willmott Dixon

What has been your biggest career challenge to date?

I have been fortunate to work with some of the leading contractors across Europe and the United States, helping them with their digital transformation programmes. A big challenge I have faced with that in my career is trying to do large-scale change management programmes when I am not directly part of the company and team. 

In my previous career in construction, I was given a lot of responsibility at quite an early age. I am a big fan of learning by doing and I was given the opportunity to run large-scale construction projects in my early to mid-20s, which came with its own challenges.

I was dealing with people who were more experienced than me and older than me with specific views on how things should be done. So I had to hold my own and learning how to navigate this was both challenging and rewarding.

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

I am particularly proud of is the work I have done on Autodesk’s forward-looking construction strategy. Not many people are given the opportunity to try and influence the direction of an organisation like ours and I get to lead on it. It is not easy to work out what the vision should be – including the areas of the market we should address, the countries we should focus on and how we pivot the day-to-day work of our people to address this, so I feel very lucky to be involved with this work.

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

It would be the perception of the industry. There is a lot of negativity towards how projects are delivered late and unfortunately over budget. The industry has a lot of issues too which are well-documented from lagging productivity to high rates of stress and mental health struggles.

Despite all of this, I believe this is one of the most innovative and interesting industries you can work in. Unfortunately, I don’t feel that we appeal to younger generations, and they don’t understand what a varied and lengthy career awaits them within the construction industry, so I would love to see this change.

We have got some really fantastic projects across the UK and Europe that offer young people the opportunity to solve problems, use technology, work with cross-cultural collaborative teams, test new ways of working and ultimately deliver for the good of society. We need to do more to make sure they know what a career in construction can offer them.

Name your favourite building in the world?

St Paul’s Cathedral. Obviously, it’s a stunning building and has been an icon in the centre of London for so long, but it has also withstood a lot including the bombing in World War II!

Sir Christopher Wren was more than just an architect – he was a master builder. He took accountability and responsibility for not just the design but also the entire construction process. I love the concept of that. Ensuring a better connection between design and construction is still something we are advocating for in the industry today.


Having worked only on low-rise buildings, Matt wishes he could have been involved in the construction of the Empire State Building

Which famous building do you wish you had worked on?

I am fascinated by skyscrapers even though I am scared of heights. They are amazing feats of engineering… So I would say the construction of a building like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or the Empire State Building in New York back in the day.

In my construction career, I worked on low-rise residential and commercial projects and didn’t work on anything above four stories, which suited my fear of heights. But I would have loved to have learnt more about what was involved in the construction of high-rise buildings.

Which famous building do you most dislike?

I am not a huge fan of the Southbank Centre in London. When you look at some of the historic buildings that line the River Thames, it just doesn’t seem to fit in with its surroundings very well.

Who do you most admire in the construction industry?

Alison Watson, the chief executive of a company called Class of Your Own. She set out to change the curriculum in schools to include construction. What she has done to change the perception of the industry and encourage future talent into the industry is nothing short of amazing – and very beneficial.

What is it like being you?

Manic! I have got a very young family, with two daughters who are four and six. We are just in the final phases of completing a house build. We have been in and out of home schooling over the past year due to the covid-19 pandemic, and working with colleagues in Europe, Australia and the US means working all hours.

The lines between work, life and home can become somewhat blurred. So I would say my life is very manic at the moment. I hope it won’t be like this forever.

What do you think your best quality is?

How I openly collaborate with others. I think the way I focus on getting the best outcome for everybody involved is my best quality. I am not a fan of office politics as I feel it gets in the way of positive progress.

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

When you work remotely or in a disparate team, you do not always get the opportunity to bounce ideas off people, so I have to test my assumptions quite regularly. It is easy to jump to conclusions and I have learnt to ask more questions.

The trait I dislike most in others is rudeness. Common curtesy is so important to me – manners cost nothing, and they show a base-line level of respect for others!

Do you have a life philosophy?

“How you live your days is how you live your life.” I love this saying because I believe that, while you can plan for the future and have big dreams, if you are not doing things you enjoy on a daily basis and building in those important habits like exercise, rest and spending time with your family, then you will never get to achieve your goals.

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

I’m pretty good at building Lego – I probably should have grown out of it by now!

What is your most prized possession?

My barbecue – I actually have two! It’s not just the cooking I enjoy, it’s the enjoyment I get from hosting and spending quality time with family and friends while eating great food.

Early bird or night owl?

Naturally I’m an early bird but, with my job being a global role, I have to be both! My manager is in the US and I have a direct report in Australia, so over the years I have learnt how to flex my working patterns to match both if needed.

What is your favourite food?

I love Asian and Indian food but you can’t beat a really good steak with béarnaise sauce, chips and creamed spinach!

What would your superpower be?

I would like the power to shape shift! When I look at how much variety I have had in my career and the types of projects I’ve been involved in, my ability to adapt and change has been important and has provided me with lots of opportunities.