What does it mean to you to have this role of project director entrusted to you?
I don’t think about it too much. I suppose the role has come to me as a result of twenty eight years of experience in the construction sector having worked in many locations from Russia to the Far East, Central America, Europe and now Africa. I have worked on major infrastructure projects in challenging locations and I guess the company is relying on me to make well thought out commercial decisions for the business using my experience.
How do you strike a balance between your engineering skills, business skills and interpersonal skills?
My career path has grown in the past 28 years. I have progressed through the ranks holding various roles– site engineer, section engineer, senior engineer, site manager, project manager, and then regional manager and director for an international business working from Central America. You have to learn pretty quickly when you are running a business because the skills of an engineer are pretty technical but when running a business you need to have people management skills as well as the ability to read a balance sheet. I studied at post graduate level later in my career in order to understand the financial and management side of things and executing them in practice has given me the ability to work at a senior level. The first time I was placed into such a position was in Central America where I was running three business units and the learning curve was very steep. I initially struggled to understand the dynamics of the businesses as they were very different, each with its own pricing structure and cost base, but the experience gained was invaluable.
What would you like to achieve by the time you move on from your position as Project Director of Parsons Brinckerhoff?
The project I am working on is a mega project in Africa and as a business unit, this brings in several hundred million rand in revenue per annum, which contributes considerably to the turnover of the company. As a result it is pivotal to our South African operations. The first thing in terms of legacy I would like to leave is to make sure that our good safety record for the 180 staff who work for us on the project is maintained. Secondly, I would like to see that by the time we finish the project, we have developed people and seen them progress to a point where they can take on more responsibility within the business. I would also like to see that we have satisfied our client’s demands and have added value. And finally, it is important that we have met our commercial targets.
How has the company fared in terms of its business growth objectives?
In the past two years we have surpassed our targets in terms of revenue and market share.
How would people describe you as a leader and manager?
They would probably describe me as quite direct. I call a spade a spade. However, I believe I am quite fair. I observe an open door policy where people are free to come see me assuming they have a good reason for doing so. I support others when needed and I am also not afraid to have the difficult discussions with staff and contractors when needed.
How would you say WSP is maintaining ethics and integrity?
It is pushed at a very high level. We have an open policy in terms of whistle blowing which I think is imperative in running a business. You cannot have a situation where staff are afraid to raise an issue. We have an independent whistle blowing line that can help people report anything anonymously from which we can then conduct investigations if required. We conduct our business with ethics and integrity at the forefront of our minds; it is what the business stands for.
How do you participate in mentorship?
A great thing we have done during my term as project director is to take certain disabled learners from a college in Limpopo and absorbed them into our team. They come from a previously disadvantaged community and have been trained on the job for the last 12 months. You wouldn’t believe the progress they have made. These are young people in their twenties that we place in different departments and set up for a future career path.
How does the company contribute to the community?
We have got involved with an organisation called Teach SA. They arrange for teachers who we pay as full time staff and place into under-priviledged schools thereby improving their matriculation pass rates. We are also building an orphanage about 40 kilometres from where our project is located. We are paying for the entire construction and of course as such, we have appointed the architect and the contractor who is executing the project.
How is the business doing with respect to meeting its transformation objectives?
We take this as seriously as our key client and we are showing progress in this area. We increased our equity candidates by 9% last year and reduced our foreign national employees by 11%.
How do you ensure that you are contributing in quality customer service?
This starts with the kind of people we employ. We seek out, experienced qualified professionals both in terms of university education and professional certification. The next step is to challenge these people to be good professionals. We have a knowledge transfer aspect to our work whereby our staff pass on their knowledge and experience to our clients up and coming employees. This aspect of our service is also measurable and demonstrable. We aim to leave behind a competent team that can occupy management positions and be deployed elsewhere within our client’s business once we depart.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
There are so many frustrations during the day. If I take these home with me, they will probably keep me awake at night. But it is not just here, in many roles that I have occupied in my career, I have learnt to switch off when I leave work. Many issues concern me from operational matters to staff concerns. Experience has taught me to compartmentalize matters so that they don’t consume me outside the work environment.
What are the highs and lows of your working career?
There have been a number of highs. The first is the aforementioned directorship where I was managing three businesses for a Civil Engineering, Dredging and Quarrying company in Central America. Another high was when I was working in the UK, between 2007-2012 when I was appointed as a director of Balfour Beatty Construction which was the largest construction company in the country. A low was the last recession in the UK which really hurt our business. Within my current employ, I cannot pick out a particular low. We have done well in terms of both business performance and safety and our client relationships remain very good.
How does your company take part in developing within the professions to which they belong?
Most of our professionals are certified by various chartered institutes and professional bodies. Continuous Professional Development (CPD) also takes many forms including the obvious one which is training. We also give people experience and try and ensure that they develop on the job. All our key people get involved in such matters. Personally I am a Chartered Construction Manager and professional Project Manager and I too keep my CPD records up to date with my professional bodies on a regular basis, thus keeping my registration active. We undertake a similar process with all our people.
What awards has the company won?
Globally we have won several accolades. In South Africa, in recent times, we received an award from the American Institute of Engineering in 2015, for engineering excellence with regard to our Building information modelling (BIM) capability and one of our major clients last year presented us with an award for two consecutive years without a lost time injury. A member of my team also won the manager of the year award recently as a result of being part of an integrated management team with our major client.