Lettice Swan is an Associate of MDA Consulting and took some time out to tell us about her journey into the construction industry. She tells us why she's impressed with the industry's attempts to become more sustainable, and how an interest for wine led her to gain a handy qualification in the subject.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I used to work in construction recruitment, and after a couple of years of speaking to lots of interesting people with exciting jobs, I realised it was the industry I wanted to move into.
I looked at going back to university and doing an MSc in a relevant subject, when one of my clients, Steve Jones the MD of MDA Consulting, mentioned he was looking to take on a Business Development Executive. The more he told me about the role, the more I knew it was the job, and the company, for me. And here I am over five years on!
What gets you excited about your industry?
I know it's a cliché, but honestly, no day is ever the same in construction generally, but even more so in my role looking at new business opportunities. Especially in the current crisis, you feel like you are helping the country get back on its feet. We may not be doctors or nurses, but the economy is so intrinsically linked with construction that each individual's work is giving that a boost.
More generally though, seeing tangible outcomes of your hard work as you walk around town, be that a hotel or a school, for example, is a huge buzz.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
When I started in the construction industry, my MD told me not to put too much pressure on myself to win work, but to talk to anyone and everyone and the work would follow. He couldn't be more spot on!
I can't stress enough how much of a people business construction is; people work with people they know, like and trust and so the more contacts you make and build a strong business relationship with, the more work comes your way. Of course, that work must be delivered to a high level, but in the first instance, it's all about relationships.
What, or who inspires you?
I find working within a fairly small business that invests in its future leaders both hugely inspiring and motivating. Of course, it's nice to get recognition, but knowing I can impact and bring about change within the company, is immensely rewarding. The current Directors are extremely loyal and invested in the business (often with 30+ years of service) but still understand the importance of identifying, nurturing and training the next generation.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
Because I don't have a technical background, I think it's essential for me to keep up with industry news as a way of ensuring I can have robust discussions with the people I meet. Each morning I read the construction bulletins and always keep an eye on Twitter which is surprisingly insightful.
I always enjoy panel debates and seminars (or webinars currently!) where differing opinions on hot topics are thrashed out. I also attend yearly conferences which focus on a specific sector, such as the one put on by the British Council of Offices or the Annual Hotel Conference.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
Just trying to do my job this year has been the biggest challenge of my five-year career!
As mentioned, construction is a people-centric industry, and it's been very tough trying to continue to build my network without the events and conferences I'm used to. I no longer can attend an architect's summer party, meet twenty new people, and have the next month busy following up and having meetings with these contacts. I've had to find new ways to generate work and be exceptionally proactive in finding new ways of "meeting" contacts.
If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?
I'm a strong believer in not wallowing in the past. I wouldn't say I have zero regrets or that I wouldn't have done things differently in some situations, but I'm extremely happy with my career and where I am in my life.
As with the butterfly effect, if I rewound and changed any single detail in my past, the rest could be thrown out of kilter and goodness knows where I'd have ended up! Learn from your mistakes, don't make them again, and appreciate what you have in life.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Invest it in property, specifically development. And, of course, I'd give all the Quantity Surveying and Project Management to MDA Consulting!
How do you switch off after a day at work?I don't mind a 5k run, but I love a glass of wine! So much so that I regularly attend courses and even did a qualification.
Now when I'm wining and dining (often male) clients, I feel confident taking the wine list and making the selection myself.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
Sustainability is becoming more and more important within construction and rightly so. The industry may contribute an awful lot to the economy, but it also contributes an awful lot to our carbon footprint; shockingly construction is responsible for half of all the non-renewables that we use.
It's good to see a lot of the larger businesses seriously driving change and leading by example. There is a long way to go, but even in my short five years in the industry, I'm impressed with how much things are moving in the right direction.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me via LinkedIn:https://www.linkedin.com/in/letticeswan/