Julie Wood is a Director and Leader of Major Complex Projects for Arup. She talks to The Industry Leaders about the challenges she faced early in her career, and why it's vital to "shout early" if you find a problem.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I very nearly didn't. I wanted to take technical drawing and metalwork at school, but those were not topics for girls at that time. I discovered that I could become an apprentice engineering technician. I started with a firm in Teesside, doing a day-release BTECH in Civil Engineering.
I loved it, within weeks I was producing drawings for structures in South America. Progressing through a degree and chartership, I was often the 'odd one out' on-site; being a fan of Middlesbrough Football club and, of course, being female. Sometimes people were surprised at what I could do.
What kind of work does your role involve?
I am a Director of Arup, and a leader of Large Complex Capital Works projects. A Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Managers. I lead large (700 people) multi-disciplinary design teams. I also advise clients from the very start of projects, covering benefits, procurement, risk, and value and troubleshooting projects. Within Arup, I am responsible for growing more leaders of large projects and knowledge sharing across large projects.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The opportunity to shape a better world and to harness the intellect in teams so we can develop long-term solutions for clients. To develop solutions to difficult problems and use less precious resources to deliver sustainable outcomes.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Compete in what you are good at and what you enjoy. At the time, I was putting myself up against some of the best engineering designers in the world. I didn't like the advice at the time - which probably means it was well-targeted. I took stock, and my strengths are definitely around leadership, strategy, dealing with complex situations, and delivery. Once I understood that about myself, I progressed formally and more importantly enjoyed my work even more.
What, or who inspires you?
There are aspects of many people that inspire me. It ranges from great sporting legends, business people, musicians, scientists and individuals I come across in my working life. From a holistic perspective, it would have to be Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the range of work he successfully delivered and his ability and interest to deal at both a macro and micro level.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
That's quite a challenge - there is so much information out there. I enjoy news programmes, most construction journals and magazines, and reading The Economist to give a global perspective. I also enjoy networking events and can't wait for us to attend these in-person again, rather than on-line.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
In construction, and given I deliver complex projects, many have challenges from time to time! A particularly challenging one was when I had to broker a solution between a consultant and client when the consultant made an error.
I was the Client representative. I considered that the consultant had been brave to raise the error, even though it would have emerged later. The client was 'after blood'. We worked together to solve the situation, and by doing this, the problem was overcome. My message to people is 'shout early' if you find a problem.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
My son is trying to make it as a poet at the moment, and that is a difficult path - so I would set him up so that he had no financial worries. I'd also help my daughter to purchase more of the flat she is part-owner of.
I adore music so an upgrade to our stereo would also be in order!
I'm a good photographer, so a Leica with a range of lenses would be a must, too.
A few holidays would also be on the list, of course with the camera!!
How do you switch off after a day at work?
Pre-Covid I used my commute (1.5 hours) as the start of my switch off. I have had to modify that now, so I read for 30 minutes, and listen to some music with my partner whilst we chat.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
That we achieve zero-carbon.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
Isobel Myers Briggs. Gifts Differing. I was exposed to this in my late 20s, and it really helped me understand people, different styles, and be able to flex my own style.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me via LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/julielwood.