Leading the way
Campbell Gray, managing director of Faithful+Gould, speaks with Lorraine Bangera about his in-house strategy to maintain a motivated staff. He also highlights the challenges in hiring professionals in the Middle East market and sticking to health and safety codes, even if they are not enforced
“In the last two years Faithful+Gould has gone through an evolution,” says managing director Campbell Gray. The well-established company has turned around from what Gray calls a “bland maroon brand” to one with a fresher look and a clearer mission. The company has been focussed on shifting its overall vision to not only being an integrated project manager but also be the world’s best.
MD for the last three years, Gray is responsible for the strategic growth in the Middle East office, with one of his key duties, the management ofkey clients.
His first experience with the region had been in 1997, when he moved to Dubai for two years to work on then mega project, the Burj Al Arab. In June 2011, he moved back to Dubai to support the then MD in direction strategy, however Gray ended up taking over the business from his predecessor in February 2012. After which he jokingly says that the company has been “highly successful.”
Success, Gray says, is a bit of luck. The timing was key too. He acknowledges that the market had moved and started to pick up after a very quiet market in 2011.
He says: “In many respects the financial crash in the Middle East in 2008, as horrific as it was, reset the dial.”
Gray points out that a lot of clients are now demanding a global approach to integrated project management. He thinks it essential to work with clients closely and with a strategic point of view in order to help them the most. One of things that sets him apart, he says, is how he can see the end game in his head.
“Faithful+Gould has followed a simple strategy of working closely with our clients,” says Gray.
He thinks his past experience of being in the client’s seat has helped him have a well-rounded perspective. He is able to analyse a situation from all perspectives and also has the willingness to understand the clients.
Working with the Faithful+Gould family
The perks of working at Faithful+Gould, according to Gray, are plentiful. Not only does the company encourage talent ability, it also takes several aspects into consideration such as training, family, and flexibility within the job.
As new individuals join the company, Gray says that there is always a potential to grow. “Even though Faithful+Gould has a structured programme, we do have a bit of flexibility.”
When a person joins Faithful+Gould, they could be assured that there is growth strategy in place to ensure they can derive maximum learning experience from their time with the company.
He says that managing the people within the organisation is key to building an A-list company. He considers keeping his employees happy and motivated to be key to have a healthy business. He says: “There are two things I am very passionate about, one is moving people from a job to a career and two is enabling our company to feel like a family.”
“We call it the F&G family,” he adds. “What makes us so unique is that although we are part of a big company we operate like a small and closely knit company.”
Another important feature Gray points out about the company is the importance given to the employees’ families. He says that the company considers family as well as the individual themselves, which he thinks is fairly unique compared to other companies. He says: “We consider if it is the right move for everybody. When the family is happy, the person working for you is happy.
“If we are planning to move an individual from our Los Angeles office to Dubai, there is a lot of room for slip ups.”
He explains that if an individual is moving, it is fairly easy as they start right into the job and meet new people. Whereas when a family is moving, the children have to fit in, the partner has to be comfortable. “We try our best to make sure we could help with school admissions and club memberships to help the family fit into the new environment.”
Challenges in hiring
“One of the key challenges when it comes to hiring in the Middle East, which can be a little frustrating,” says Gray, “is how qualifications count more than ability.”
“It is one major difference between the East and the West,” he admits.
He says that he has come across several senior individuals in the industry who have been working on projects for over 20 years but won’t be accepted because they don’t have a degree.
“Of course there is a minimum requirement when it comes to having the right qualification, but we don’t think it is all about qualification.”
The company has been taking an active role in hiring GCC graduates and help them transition through training programmes.
Gray says: “Even though it is only Saudi Arabia and Oman that concentrate on initiatives like Saudisation and Omanisation, we are very focussed in Qatar and UAE in trying to hire local talent.” Though he admits that it is challenging as they are trying to balance local and western education.
He observes that most individuals stay with the company for around three years. He says: “We are conscious that some of these individuals are going to be high net worth individuals who will only be around for two or three years. That then changes the approach of the individual when it comes to commitment. Three years is quite common, but it depends on the individual.”
In terms of structure, something that sets Faithful+Gould apart from other companies is that it has less people one site. Gray says: “In a typical site there would be 40 junior professionals but we have 15 senior professionals. The fee structure would be the same, but it would distributed differently among our professionals. We tend to employ more senior people than junior because we like believe in quality over quantity.”
Overcoming health and safety issues
Another key concern in the regional construction industry is taking the right health and safety measures. Gray says that the region is improving, however there is still a lot to do.
He says: “It is more challenging in Saudi Arabia and has been in Qatar, although Qatar is improving.” He also acknowledges that the UAE, Kuwait and Oman seem to be taking the Western approach to health and safety.
The region has been under the radar when it comes to health and safety codes, and even though the death tolls have been plenty compared to the US or Singapore. Gray thinks that it is not as bad as people make it out to be, and could be improved. He says: “There are bound to be issues when you have major projects and huge amount of labour who are largely unskilled.”
In Faithful+Gould, every member of the staff in a project management role has the right to shut down a site if they think it is unsafe. Gray says that this does bother the clients but either way it is fundamental to the company’s strategy. “Clients don’t necessarily like it or support it. We have been taken off projects because of it but it’s the right thing to do.”
He says that it is definitely hard to deal with, and it is not necessarily local firms who are causing a problem, there are international firms with regional offices who also do the same.
He adds: “It is definitely a challenge but if we and some of our peers don’t start doing it then it could be tough to change later.”
He says that there have been clients who have understood, especially as the world is changing its approach to safety. “Sometimes it helps give clients credibility for future projects.”
Gray gives an example of an unfortunate incident with a project his company was working on with a local developer, and the client was the project manager. “There were two deaths,” he says. “And we leaned in to support the client in this difficult time even though we had nothing to do with it.”
“What we are trying to do,” Gray explains, “is develop this concept of corporate responsibility.” He explains that what companies should intend to do is genuinely put the client’s needs first, instead of just blindly following a contract. Not only does this increase the potential for future projects with the client, but it also builds mutual trust and confidence which is essential for a positive work relationship.
In the particular situation he talks about, the client later requested the Faithful+Gould team to write them a health and safety procedures and processes not only for its projects but also the minimum requirements for its consultants and contractors.
He adds: “You have to be proactive. You can’t just preach to people you got to show it.”
The man behind the team
Gray has worked with the company for 20 years, and says that the only reason he has stuck around for so long is because of the number of opportunities offered by the group. One of his favourite opportunities during his time with F+G has been the opportunity to move to different countries.
He admits that a lot of people have asked him why he has been in this company for so long. He jokes that he questions himself on a daily basis. “A lot of it was around variety and to a large degree flexibility offered by the company.”
He says: “You should be able to do what you want to do, and as long as you can make money, people would want to stay.”
When it comes to being successful as an individual. Gray says that there is always a bit of luck but equally there is a need to being flexible and adaptable himself. “I have had the flexibility with going anywhere the company wants me to go.”
He adds: “When I moved to Dubai in 1997 to work on the Burj Al Arab project, I didn’t even know how much my salary was. That is something graduates need to learn: it is about the projects and the experience you get working on them more than anything else.”
Advice is one thing, but when it comes to life lessons learned in the industry, Gray has only two observations, which have no doubt influenced everything. As he concludes: “My past experience has taught me: I am never done or finished. I can always improve and do better. Also I can’t sit still.”