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An interview with Iain Parker, winner of the Building Awards’ Personality of the Year

By Duncan Bullimore, Director, Hays Construction & Property

At the annual Building Awards – the longest running and most prestigious awards for the UK’s construction and property industry - the Personality of the Year award goes to an individual who is able to inspire the industry through strength of character, and who is respected for their passion and drive, as well as business success.

This year, the winner of the prestigious, Hays sponsored award was Iain Parker, Partner at alinea consulting.

Having spent 30 years in the construction industry, Iain has been involved in a number of high-profile schemes across a range of sectors, from small fit-out works through to global HQ buildings for owner occupier organisations, both in the UK and overseas.

Today, Iain is a partner at alinea consulting, one of the most sought-after cost consultancies in the country, and an organisation that is driven by a clear focus on service excellence. He is responsible for their people agenda and also helps to ensure that alinea’s client relationships are the best possible within the industry.

We sat down with Iain to discuss what he thinks it takes to be a good leader, what the future holds for our industry and how he thinks we can overcome some of the major challenges facing us today.

What do you think are the qualities that make a good leader in the industry?

I have certain principles and values which guide me in my career, and these are qualities that I have always felt good leaders espouse.

First, I believe it is important to always be confident. Believe in yourself, and – crucially – believe in your company and the employees within it. Try to help others believe in themselves. It’s important for employees to know that their senior managers have faith in the organisation and trust in their teams’ abilities. It’s easy to be brought down by the stress of the job, but I think a good leader ensures their team always sees them as optimistic and forward-looking. No-one wants to see the boss with their head in their hands!

Secondly, it’s vital that you treat everyone you meet fairly and with respect, whether they are a client, colleague, contractor or competitor. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s just good business sense. Your organisation’s reputation – and your own – is built upon trust and respect.

How do you ensure these values are championed by all senior managers at alinea, as well as in the next generation of its leaders?

A few years ago, we created an inspirational leadership programme for all Partners at alinea. During this course, we agreed the key attributes of an inspirational leader and had these printed on mini-cards. We also added some inspirational quotes and printed these on the back of the cards. All the Partners have them, and when someone is promoted they are given the card too. People keep them on their desks and in their wallets and purses and it helps remind us all of what we should continue to aspire to and how we should behave. 

And what impact do you think these values have on your clients and employees?

When we started alinea in 2013, we knew we wanted a business where we knew everyone’s name, and where our clients received a personalised service with access to our senior leaders, each of whom display the qualities I just mentioned.

Our business success speaks for itself, and we are committed to ensuring that we grow at a rate that doesn’t compromise our service offering to clients.

Internally, we are really pleased that our retention rate stands at 95%. We work hard to keep our people happy, which we do not only do by trying to convey the above qualities in our leadership style, but by seeking to improve our ‘people offering’ every year. We know that keeping great talent isn’t just about money – it’s also about career progression, feeling valued and inspired and a series of other important things.

These are obviously changing political times, which may have economic consequences for all. What do you think are the major challenges facing the industry now and in the future?

It goes without saying that Brexit is currently another term for ‘uncertainty’. No business likes uncertainty, least of all those in property development. I think we are all looking forward to greater clarity on Brexit.

However, in the longer term, there is also the issue of an ageing workforce and skills shortages. In our industry, it seems that more people are retiring than those who are joining to replace them!


I would say that finding candidates with the right skills has been harder in the last couple of years than ever before.
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Also, there is already a lot of buzz around artificial intelligence and robotics, and our industry will be reliant on new technology. To do this, we need to attract the technologically skilled, new generation of talent who will be the leaders of tomorrow. I would say that finding candidates with the right skills has been harder in the last couple of years than ever before.

What do you think lies behind these skills shortages?

I think we need to ask ourselves: “Are young people attracted to the industry?”

The industry isn’t particularly fast paced, and we are also quite fragmented – with many bodies and institutes, so we don’t have a clear and cohesive message that will advocate the benefits of joining the world of construction and property to young talent.


I think we need to ask ourselves: “Are young people attracted to the industry?”
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And what are you doing to tackle this challenge?

alinea engage with schools and universities – such as giving talks, advising on study topics and attending career fairs – to ensure we are promoting our industry to people from a young age. We also work with universities to help students with the transition from education to the workplace. Of course, we also offer work experience and apprenticeship programmes, and have a significant learning and development agenda.

alinea is also committed to diversity and inclusion, which can further help skills shortages. How do you ensure a diverse and inclusive approach to recruitment?

We absolutely believe in diversity and the business benefit this brings. Having a team of people with different backgrounds and different ways of thinking helps create a high performing team.

When we apply this to recruitment, the key for us is to interview as many different people as possible, so you can be sure you always get the best person for the job. We have a very rigorous recruitment process, which includes a lot of testing to ensure candidates have all of the technical skills, and we hold numerous interviews to try to ensure people meet all the markers of our culture and share our values.

I believe that fostering trust amongst people is just as important as having a diverse workforce. We encourage close-knit teams, with employees who trust each other personally and professionally. In my opinion, this trust – in each other and in our abilities – is a big part of why alinea operates so well.

About this author

Duncan joined Hays in 1994, and is now Director of our Construction and Property business in the UK. He provides strategic leadership to a team of over 400 construction and property recruitment consultants, and is responsible for the provision of top construction talent to the building industry across the UK.

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