After a successful foray in the restaurant industry, Rob Barratt is going back to where it all began for him: construction. His leadership story revolves around his roots in the UK, taking the leap to Asia, and aiming to disrupt one of the biggest industries on earth.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
After leaving college in the UK, I was offered a sponsorship to complete a Batchelor's degree in Quantity Surveying. Roll forward 18 years, and this path has taken me to work on construction sites in the UK, Australia, Macau, Singapore and latterly Hong Kong.
During my time in Hong Kong, I also founded and sold a successful business, and the experience was transformative. I'm now combining my background in construction with experience of solving business problems to create another startup, this time a business to help contractors find and outsource work to experienced professionals while saving money in the process.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The construction industry is one of the biggest employers in the world and accounts for 11% of the world's GDP. Unfortunately, it's also an industry that lags behind so many others in terms of productivity. But this is where a huge opportunity lies!
Suppose we can improve the way we do things in construction, posting better productivity figures at every stage of a project. In that case, everyone stands to win: safety numbers will improve, businesses will be healthier, and our built environment will be better constructed.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I'm not sure it's advice necessarily, but it's a maxim I've tried to live by:
"the cream always rises to the top".
I think it's a brilliant mindset to get into before undertaking any task or project. It's also been helpful to me when experiencing those tougher days at the office!
What, or who inspires you?
My parents and my sister have been consistently huge sources of inspiration for me. Seeing how they've faced challenges with grace and good humour has been a priceless example.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
One of the perks of my job is that I have to stay up to date with new developments and changes in the construction and energy industries, which is always interesting!
I find there are not many better ways of doing this than reading the latest industry articles and opinion pieces, receiving daily email updates from various news websites, and talking to people within the industry.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
Every construction project has its unique challenges but, so far, the 'winner' would be when a very large Asian contractor appointed me as Commercial Manager on a hotel and casino resort project in Macau.
I was 26, and it was my first real management position, which came with a huge amount of challenges. Luckily I had some fantastic mentors above me who could see the effort I was putting in, and they gave me great support. It paid off as the project finished with a very successful financial outcome for the business!
Outside of construction, it would have to be creating, founding, running and then selling a successful restaurant brand in Hong Kong - which may have the most competitive F&B market on earth!
If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?
I don't think I would do much differently, as the path I've taken has taken me to live in fantastic places like Hong Kong and meet inspirational people (my partner chief among them!). But, if I had to choose one thing, I guess I would have liked to have experienced University life in America. I would have bought into the sports and community side of things and who knows where that could have led!
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I'd invest some, so I never need to think about 'making' money again, and I'd take care of family and friends.
With what was left over, I'd drive straight to the airport with my partner and choose a flight from the departures board. Once we got bored there, we'd go to the next place that sounded fun, then rinse and repeat.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I like to exercise, be that at the gym or by playing team sports.
I love football and find the release of being on the pitch with your mates tough to beat! I also watch probably far too many Japanese reality TV shows for my own good.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
My wish would be for those in stakeholder and senior management positions to take stock before rushing ahead with projects that are almost certain to end with the usual time and cost overruns.
So many of the problems I see on construction sites around the world are avoidable. But these mistakes are made because of pressures around time and money. If we can find a way to plan and design our projects more accurately, everybody wins.
I think it starts with looking at every element of the supply chain - both internal and external - and considering whether your business is prepared to do things better.
How should people connect with you?
You can connect with me via LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/robertbarratt.