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‘I wish I knew that it would genuinely be attitude, not aptitude, which would ultimately define my altitude’

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Building a company is a difficult task. Whether starting their own or growing an established business, these leaders have made a name for themselves as some of the best of the best. So, what makes business leaders tick and what are they aiming to achieve when all is said and done? We spoke to Paul Hamer, CEO of Sir Robert McAlpine, about his journey in business.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

The most difficult challenge I have faced on both a personal and business level was in a previous role at a UK-based global consultancy which was a publicly listed company. I joined as COO with an intent to determine a path to growth but, within a number of months, I uncovered several issues which threatened the survival of the business. The then CEO & chairman left, and I was promoted to CEO – never having been a CEO before or worked in a Plc…

The business was close to administration so we needed to move fast. I recruited a new team and over the next three years, we re-shaped the financial structure of the business, via a debt-for-equity transaction followed by a successful capital raise, and created a high-value consulting proposition which would drive growth and new shareholder value. The restructuring was significant with over 3,000 people made redundant, 85 offices closed and a total streamlining of operations.

This was a very dark and difficult time for the business, but we survived and went on to prosper. What did I learn? You have to surround yourself with good people who you have complete faith and trust in as there is not time for doubt. When placed in a new environment, my motto is to fail fast and learn faster and above all trust your instincts – your gut is rarely wrong in these situations.

Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started out?

As a young and impressionable 16-year-old who had just left school and started a career as an apprentice draughtsman, I wish I knew that it would genuinely be attitude, not aptitude, which would ultimately define my altitude. When starting out, the top of an organisation seems so far away, and it is almost impossible to map a way to the top. So, for me, it was always about being my best possible self each day. I volunteered for new roles and took on additional responsibilities as I saw these as an opportunity to showcase my talent whilst learning new skills and insights.

Of course, formal qualifications go hand-in-hand with experience, but lady luck will always play a part in your career and, therefore, if you keep putting yourself in the right places, your turn will come. As a CEO, I always take time to meet and talk with our people to ensure I instil a genuine belief in them that they can be whatever they want to be and that I, and SRM, will be there to support them with each step.

Did you always want to be a business leader or did the desire develop over time?

When growing up, I developed a keen interest in engineering and project management as I used to spend some of the summer with my father at work. I loved technical design and even had a drawing board in my bedroom! I had engineering in my blood and followed this career path working in the chemical, nuclear and oil and gas sectors before turning back to construction.

Whilst I loved my roles in engineering, I was frustrated that I only got to see part of the overall picture, so I set out to move from project management into business management, which also involved returning to studies to attain an MSc. It was clear to me that I had a real passion and desire to drive change which required me to be in a position where I could lead rather than follow and this fuelled me to attain my first CEO role in 2009 at 40 years old. The privilege of leading an organisation affords me the opportunity to create real, long-lasting change and benefit for our clients, stakeholders and, most importantly, our people.

What is your top tip for other business leaders?

As a leader who has worked across several sectors, the most common themes for me personally relate to people and leadership. My success has been underpinned by recruiting great people and building powerful and high-performing teams. This requires a leader to be fastidious about their people and their performance and one should never compromise in this area.

From a leadership perspective, my top tip would be to ensure that you are always comfortable in your own skin – do not try to be who you are not as this image will soon become a burden that you will not wish to shoulder. My other personal tip is that values-led leadership gets you to the finish line quicker whilst ensuring that it is done in line with your business vision and ethics (the How is just as important as the What).

What are your plans for the future?

From a business perspective, I am currently in the midst of driving a strategic transformation process in Sir Robert McAlpine entitled Evolving SRM. The strategy seeks to adapt our focus and operating model to create a future-proofed SRM which will leverage its proud heritage to pivot to a tech-led construction integrator.

It will also provide a solid and sustainable plan which will set the business on the right course for the next 150 years. In addition, I am involved in a number of initiatives which seek to further influence the industry through flexible working, addressing mental health and male suicide alongside diversity and equality issues, all of which will make our sector a more appealing choice for future talent.

What would you like your legacy to be?

I have two very clear themes for my personal legacy. The first is linked to making a transformational shift in the UK construction industry. The sector, despite several high-profile events (such as the collapse of Carillion) still primarily operates as a commoditised market where value is almost always secondary to price and work is awarded on inputs rather than measured outputs. My hope, supported by the work

I am involved in the Construction Productivity Taskforce, which is to create a collaborative and aligned market where expertise is valued, projects are delivered by integrated teams and the industry is judged on its outputs, all of which will help to drive UK productivity.

My second theme is to ensure that ‘Everyone is Welcome’ in the sector no matter their race, gender, or age. The industry requires new talent and therefore needs to be flexible, and inclusive and showcase its vast array of careers and amazing projects. I started my career as an apprentice, and I want to give the same opportunity and support to anyone who has the passion and desire to be successful within the sector.

What makes a great leader?

Great leaders have many differing attributes and can use these to achieve success in so many ways. My own personal view is that all the great and inspirational leaders I have worked with have tremendous energy and passion as well as a clear and compelling vision which is delivered with absolute integrity and trust. People follow people and so to lead successfully, you need to energise and compel those around you.

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