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Catherine Payne, Commercial Director of Bouygues

Catherine Payne is the Commercial Director of Bouygues and took some time out to talk to us about how she took a path into construction, having wanted to be a stockbroker. Here, she tells us about the importance of her father's guidance in her career - especially when accepting a cup of tea!

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

My father suggested a career as a Quantity Surveyor (I wanted to be a stockbroker). The truth is, though, that I didn't even know what a Quantity Surveyor did until I started my studies at Loughborough University!

I qualified as a QS with sponsorship from Sir Robert McAlpine, and I've progressed through tier one main contractors for the past 15 years; starting as a trainee QS through to a Commercial Director with Bouygues, where I have been for the past 2.5 years. I've always worked hard and had some amazing mentors along the way.

What gets you excited about your industry?

There is no other industry like construction. It brings together such a diverse group of people with such a vast range of skills and qualifications. It moves at such a fast pace; you never stop learning, and there is always the opportunity to develop further as an individual and as a team.

I love that, throughout my career, I've never once had a mundane day at work. I'm always presented with new challenges, and no two projects are ever the same. No one should disregard a career in construction as it's not all muddy boots and damp site cabins. No matter what your skillset, there will always be something that suits, whether it be on the tools, as an engineer, or as a QS just like me.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My father told me: "never accept a cup of tea from someone more senior than yourself".

I'm not sure if I necessarily agree with that anymore, but when I was a trainee, I took that advice and used to go round and offer all the managers and directors cups of tea in the morning. It enabled me to interface with senior people I wouldn't have typically met, and everyone got to know me very quickly. So it was a silly bit of advice many years ago, but it proved very helpful.

I would say to others never refuse advice as you never know which bits you might find useful.

What, or who inspires you?

My father inspires me. He was a Director in the construction industry, and he took enormous pride in what he did and was very successful. Even at the age of 35, I still look for my father's recognition above all else, and he remains my main motivation to continue to push and progress my career.

I also have two young children who I want to grow up to have a strong work ethic and a mindset to achieve whatever they set out to do. I want to set them the best example I can. My 4year old son thinks I'm a 'digger driver' and wants to be just like me when he grows up, even though I can't drive a digger I love it when he says he wants to be just like me.

How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?

It's essential to keep up to speed with news, changes and reforms within the construction industry as it moves at such a pace you cannot be effective at your job if you aren't up to speed.

I catch up with general news and project awards on 'Construction News' but spend more time on detailed articles from the RICS and the CIOB. I find LinkedIn a great source of interesting articles and advice notes from fellow construction professionals. Above all else, though I find networking and meeting with consultants the quickest and easiest way to digest new information.

What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?

As part of a major project in Birmingham, I was the commercial lead for a large concrete frame package which was a challenge from start to finish, and I had regular disagreements with the Sub Contractor.

It was a very complicated package which involved post-tension slabs which I had no experience of, and so it was a very steep learning curve for me. The account ended up in dispute which resulted in a number of adjudications and a mediation.

I worked so hard I would spend over 12 hours a day on-site, go home to see my daughter and then start work again in the evenings. All I can say is that the hard work paid off, sometimes the only way to succeed is to put in 110% effort.

If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?

I used to think I would love to go back and relive my school years. I was badly bullied at secondary school and had a horrible time. But now when I think about it, I wouldn't change a thing as that experience made me the person I am today. I certainly learnt to stand up for myself, which is invaluable in the construction industry.

You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

This is my favourite question to ask my husband after a couple of glasses of wine!

We change our minds all the time, but I think that we would keep working and just buy nice cars and a bigger house and go on lovely holidays. I would probably start up some businesses that my children could take over when they get older.

I would definitely employ a full-time chef too, as I just love my food but can't cook at all!

How do you switch off after a day at work?

I love the gym, if possible I go every day and do group classes of mixed martial arts and weight training. I find exercise completely clears my mind, and it makes such a difference to my mood.

My kids also do a great job of helping me switch off. I love talking about simple things like what they did at school and what they talk about with their friends. They also both have a wicked (and quite rude) sense of humour, and they can have me in fits of laughter for hours.

If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

If I were still based on site, I would be asking for nicer toilets in the site welfare and that the heating could be turned up slightly, so I didn't have to sit at my desk with a blanket on my lap and gloves on!

This will make the guys that used to work with me laugh as I used to have a heater under my desk, and they used to say the office was too warm to work in!? I still love a warm office.

On a serious note, I wish construction was part of the national curriculum for all age groups.

How should people connect with you?

LinkedIn is the best way to get hold of me or connect.

Looking to level-up your leadership skills? Check out our article on the best self-help books for business leaders and entrepreneurs.


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