Richard Hall is Managing Director of Faithful+Gould, global project and cost management consultancy. Part of the Atkins Group, Faithful+Gould employs 2000 staff.
Like many of my days, I begin with a call to our director in Singapore. Then it’s a cooked breakfast (I’m trying the Atkins diet – nothing to do with our parent company of the same name!), into the car, Radio 4 on, and arrive at Faithful+Gould’s UK headquarters in Stockton-on-Tees at 8.30. My PA Caron has the week arranged for me, so I start filling up all the gaps she tried to give me. She’s good at keeping me on schedule, but I talk constantly and can never resist grabbing anyone who walks past so I can interrogate them. I always want to know what’s going on, as of now! First thing today is a session with our newly appointed Head of Major Projects, who’s on a fact-finding mission to ensure that we are well positioned to win the next generation of large-scale global projects. With some very big projects already under our belt, we need to make sure they keep coming through. In Faithful+Gould’s part of the business, we look after clients’ money when they build things, and, let’s face it, not many projects look good if they’re over-spent. That’s the root of what we do, although we have a range of complementary consultancy services, all designed to protect clients’ interests. Next, I get together with our HR director. People are what we’re all about. Atkins recruits 400-500 a year, 200 of which are graduates. They cost a fortune to recruit, so once we’ve got them, we want to keep them. The Atkins Group is so diverse, and offers such a vast range of opportunities, I can’t see why anyone would ever want to step outside. I never have! But we can’t be complacent, so this session looked at improving Faithful+Gould’s induction programmes, better mentoring and implementing more family friendly work schedules. Lunch comes and goes while I’m at my desk. Next is one of 20 directors appraisals that I have to get through each year. I’m a plain speaker and my appraisals are painfully honest, but there’s nothing better than giving credit where it’s due. Calls to the US in the afternoon and I finalise my plans to meet our Washington team later in the week. I visit one of our 20 US offices every month. I’m at home in the evening, missing our two Labradors (died recently) and working on tomorrow’s presentation to our new chairman.
Train journey to London and more fiddling with presentation. I go to our London office once a week, and fit in trips to our other 26 UK offices as often as I can. The morning starts with a presentation to Ed Wallis, the new chairman of Atkins. I have to encapsulate the aims of my part of the business, making sure he understands what we do and making sure he likes it. This is one of the highlights of my week, as I get electrified talking about what Faithful & Gould does and our plans for the future. Could have gone on forever. But it has to be succinct, and it goes down well. The afternoon starts with the budget review with Keith Clarke, Atkins chief executive. He trained as an architect, I trained as a quantity surveyor, and that’s not traditionally a match made in heaven. But we’re both very direct, and we get on well. Refreshed by our usual wrangle over targets, I move on to talk to some of our senior London team. We’re involved with the regeneration of London’s Lea Valley (I’m desperate to see the Olympics come to Britain) and I get an update on that. Get feedback from the recent Thames Gateway Regeneration Exhibition, where we gave a seminar on sustainability, something we’re very big on. Quick drink with my daughters, Amy and Sarah, who both live in London, before getting on the train home, in time to indulge my latest passion, American football.
Before breakfast call to Singapore again. We’re very active in Singapore and Hong Kong, and our burgeoning projects in China are the focus for today’s call. At the Stockton office, I start with a video conference with our head of QSE (quality, safety, environment), looking at how to stay innovative in the health and safety arena. It’s not enough to just comply with the legislation. I want maximum protection for all our staff, wherever they are in the world. Then a lengthy call to our new Dubai operation. I’m passionately excited about our work in the Gulf. From time to time I get a pang for the days when I actually did the job on the ground; our role in Dubai is the sort of project I’d have killed for. Our work in the Gulf started with the Burj Al Arab hotel a few years ago. Now we have an office in Dubai, and our biggest project was mobilised in just six weeks: infrastructure for a huge complex of 70 high rise towers, and the construction of 17 of them, together with a residential development of 10,000 units. Finding the right calibre of staff is a headache, but the Atkins Group is very active in the Gulf, so we’re able to draw on their resource and experience as well as our own. Lunch is with the Tees Valley Regeneration Board. I’m a director and it’s very close to my heart. It’s about making my home region a better place to live and work. I’ve always lived on Teesside and I’ve no plans to move. Drop in briefly on a training session for new graduates, to keep in touch and give them a chance to bend my ear. Catch up with our financial director, and set up dates for forthcoming business performance review. Evening at home, getting ready for early flight. I work in a heavily industrialised location, but at the end of the working day I head for Carlton in the beautiful North Yorkshire moors, where we’ve lived in our 1878 farmhouse for 20 years. Bliss.
It’s a 4.30am start. One of the rare occasions when I think living in the South might be a better bet after all. From Teeside, my journey to Washington is via Amsterdam. My laptop stays in its bag when I’m on the plane. I rarely get a stretch of time for just thinking, so I make the most of travelling time. I read over some papers and my iPod keeps me company. I’m trialling a new Blackberry PDA, and I’m not a natural, but it’s brilliant and the perfect solution for me. First stop the hotel, then our office in Alexandria. I’ve been asked to adjudicate on a dispute between a client and a design engineer, so that’s my first task. Gruelling, but the dispute is resolved and everyone is pretty happy. Revived by quick drive around the impressive capital before dinner with colleagues and clients at the Capital Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Kick off with the US Board meeting. We’re the biggest cost consultancy in the US, with a healthy workload, but the downturn in the pharmaceutical industries, where we’ve always been very strong, is a challenge for us. This is a crucial time for independent cost management in the US. It’s not a role the Americans traditionally recognised, but things are changing very fast. Look at the recent Sandra Bullock case – actress builds luxury home, costs spiral out of control, building is unfinished and uninhabitable. Results in costly litigation and no home. The US is waking up to the fact that there’s no need for this to happen. So it’s been as much about selling the concept to the US as selling ourselves. In the afternoon I catch up with progress on the Library of Congress, a prestigious and high-profile project to re-house the world’s largest library and archive collection. Meet with US Government officials to give feedback. I’m in the office until late evening, catching up with paperwork and calls. On my email is the biggest and best surprise of the week, the news that we won a major contract for providing cost management services to a multi national hotel group. And less positively, there’s news of a client who won’t be going ahead at present with plans for a new pharmaceutical facility in the Far East.
I’ve been determined to get into Washington in daylight. Wonderful architecture. Enjoy a good walk round, ending up at the Lincoln Memorial. Amazing to think I’m actually standing where the great Martin Luther King gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Then the cab to the airport. Three hour wait at Amsterdam and I’m exhausted. But it was a good trip and as usual I’m buzzing from spending time with my US colleagues, whose energy and enthusiasm are infectious.
My wife Carol meets me at the airport. She’s training for the Prague marathon, and later tries to persuade me to join her on the first four miles of her training run. Pass on this one today, in favour of more leisurely golf at Thirsk. Back home, I crash out before long, with one eye on the American football. Sadly the Vikings lost.