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Interview: Mark Beard, CIOB president – ‘A journey to a better tomorrow’

3 September 2020 | By Will Mann

Photography: Diane Auckland / Fotohaus

Despite the pressures of covid-19, the Grenfell inquiry and Brexit, new CIOB president Mark Beard urges members and the industry to think positively and embrace the opportunities that lie ahead. By Will Mann.

Like everyone else in construction, the thoughts of Mark Beard have been dominated by covid-19 since March. The chairman of Beard Construction and new CIOB president remains deeply concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the institute’s members and everyone employed in the construction industry – but is hoping to take some positives from a difficult situation.

“For CIOB members and anyone in construction who has been laid off, furloughed or taken a pay cut – it has been a very difficult time and I empathise with what they are going through,” says Beard. 

“These are uncertain times for everyone working in the industry; the ongoing Grenfell inquiry is not painting us in a good light. 

“Conversely, the covid-19 crisis has shown that construction can step up to the mark when required. Working in unison, through the Construction Leadership Council and with government support, we found a way to keep sites going and delivered the new Nightingale hospitals incredibly quickly. 

“We have to look at the positives and find a way forward; we must raise the bar on quality and put professional pride into the industry. Things are not easy at present for many people in construction, but I strongly believe we are on a journey to a better tomorrow.”

Beard on the covid-19 impact:

  • “We’ve noticed a change in how our people deliver over the past four or five months, since the pandemic struck. We’ve had fewer people on site, but given more attention to their wellbeing, leading to a calmer atmosphere, higher individual productivity and higher quality, albeit overall output is slightly down. There are lessons to be learnt there.”

Construction must seek out the highest possible quality

Quality is top of Beard’s agenda in his presidential year, along with changing the industry’s image among younger generations and supporting CIOB CEO Caroline Gumble’s international work. Quality has been a watchword around the institute since the Edinburgh Schools collapse of 2016, and the work of its quality commission, led by past president, Paul Nash, accelerated after Grenfell. Beard is keen to build on this work.

“Getting things right first time is well worth the investment,” he says. “It saves on snagging, which is costly for contractors, demotivating for staff and frustrating for customers. Getting things right first time raises productivity, profitability and raises our reputation with the wide public – also making the industry a more attractive place to work.”

The CIOB’s Code of Quality Management has set out what is required of construction, Beard believes. “We have done the research, looked at the best globally within our own industry, explored how other industries manage quality – and put together the tools,” he says. “Now it is up to the industry to embrace them.”

This will require a culture change, Beard acknowledges, which he is happy to drive forward. “I go back to the 2002 safety conference chaired by John Prescott,” he recalls. “That proved a real step change in attitudes towards health and safety and made industry bosses accept that any fatality was one too many. I want the same to happen with quality.” 

Beard worries that some projects are perceived as “low cost and therefore low quality”. 

“Whether delivering a high-profile project for a prestigious client or a new classroom block for a school, all projects should be delivered to the same underlying quality standards,” he says. “The building’s watertightness, the services, the finishes and much more all need to be right, first time.

“The buildings we deliver affect the lives of everyone who uses them. So, we need to go beyond the bare minimum and seek out the highest possible quality. That is what it means to be a professional and why we should all take pride in our work. In an age of fantastic technological development, the industry is capable of much, much more.

“Quality needs to be a topic that is talked about at all levels of a construction business – from site to boardroom.”

The motivation to address quality stems from Beard’s own industry experience. Beard worked for two significant UK contractors in the early 1980s, followed by a short spell working for Rider Hunt in Sydney, Australia. He became MCIOB in 1988. 

Beard on offsite and quality:

  • “Offsite construction has the potential to enhance quality control, but it’s not the whole answer. We can now manufacture much higher quality buildings compared to the 1950s, with architectural features that make these buildings difficult to differentiate from traditionally built buildings. Many jobs today will be hybrids, with elements of offsite and traditional.”

Beard now heads up the eponymous £160m-a-year turnover property and construction business

High customer satisfaction

Beard now heads up the eponymous £160m-a-year turnover property and construction business. Projects range from heritage projects for Oxford University to schools, healthcare, offices and leisure facilities. The group has offices in Oxford, Guildford, Swindon and Bristol and was named West of England Business of the Year in 2014.

The firm’s approach to quality includes its own individual ‘Prompt and Faultless Delivery’ ethos that has run for over 10 years, with strict targets of on-time delivery, zero defects and high customer satisfaction. Beard has also placed high emphasis on staff development and supply chain management.

“Quality is not just about the end product; quality is about a way of working,” Beard believes. “Having a safe and well-organised site is also closely linked to delivering good quality. We look after our staff and make sure our supply chain is similarly well looked after and paid on time.”

Beard thinks quality is linked closely to his secondary theme, which is “taking a hard look at how we are seen and heard by the younger generation”. 

“People join an industry because of what the industry does,” he observes. “And every day, what we do reflects on the reputation of construction. But too many young people never join the industry after taking built environment related courses. People want to join industries that look after its own employees and produces excellent products – and we can be one of these industries.

“We need to create an atmosphere, a look and feel that draws in the younger generation. The baby boom generation will not be around forever and we as an industry, and as an institute, we are in a fight for the next generation.”

Beard on BIM and younger generations:

  • “At Beard, we have put in place a pretty robust IT infrastructure; we find the younger people who join the business bring energy and ideas to help develop our digital processes. Career development used to be about older people passing on skills and knowledge, now it’s two way. Younger people have a key role to play in shaping the industry.”

Mark Beard: “People join an industry because of what the industry does”

CIOB’s compelling vision

As part of his presidency, Beard launched at this year’s virtual CIOB Members’ Forum an initiative called the CIOB 2030 Visionary Project, which aims to change how construction is perceived – and is urging members to take part.

“The CIOB must challenge preconceived ideas, set a compelling vision for our industry that considers new skills, new processes and develop strategies around emerging technologies,” he says. “This will ensure the CIOB stays at the vanguard of construction in a future that reflects the global needs of the next wave of talent.

“Through this vision we will identify future scenarios in our built environment, understand their impact and pursue changes in the CIOB that mean younger people will find the institute more inclusive and attractive.”

The other theme of Beard’s presidency will be global. He is “desperately sad” that covid-19 has prevented him from visiting international hubs, though he hopes travel restrictions may ease by the second half of his term. In the meantime, Beard has attended virtual meetings with the South Africa, Ghana, Singapore and Oceania hubs, with others planned for the coming months.

“Videoconferencing has actually helped these hubs engage virtually with their fellow members more than they previously did,” he notes. 

Beard sees the CIOB’s international network as having a two-way benefit. “On the one hand, the UK is strong in areas such as BIM, quality and safety, and we can spread this good practice abroad,” he explains. “But in many areas of the world, they are ahead of us and we can learn from them.

“Hong Kong has built the fastest high-rise project on record by using modern approaches to construction, but they can learn from our quality management approaches. Australia leads the world in approaches to social procurement and in its health and safety standards. China is going through transformation with new digital tools and offsite construction. The CIOB can both learn and influence the Chinese construction industry.”

Beard on ethics:

  • “The CIOB has high ethical standards; It is important to show that you can run a business and make a profit while upholding high ethical standards – ethics and profitability go together.”

Beard on CIOB’s international reach:

  • “CIOB membership is an internationally recognised qualification and that is still incredibly important to people who want to have a global career, not restricted to just one country.”

Build, build, build

Beard believes the “pressures and opportunities” facing the industry are greater now than they have been for several decades. 

“The outcome from the Grenfell inquiry and the related quality issues will be horrible, and there is the Building Safety Bill shortly going through parliament,” he says. “There will be a diminishing flow of immigrant labour, other Brexit-related issues, and the challenges posed by the covid-19 pandemic. 

“But against that, the prime minister is saying ‘build, build, build’, there is a healthy long-term work pipeline, growing adoption of digital and offsite construction processes. 

“So, do we embrace these challenges in a positive mindset, or do we go back to a ‘race to the bottom’, delivering poor quality work? The people and companies that do not may fall by the wayside, but many will embrace new ways of working and thrive.”

Mark Beard: CV

  • Chairman / chief executive of Beard since 1999
  • Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building
  • Chartered Environmentalist
  • Oxfordshire Businessman of the Year in 2004 
  • Member of Construction Manager Magazine Editorial Advisory Board 
  • Member of Henley Business School Advisory Board 
  • Patron of Alexander Devine Hospice 
  • Founder of Beard Charitable Foundation 
  • High Sheriff in Nomination for Oxfordshire for Shrieval year commencing April 2022
  • Keen real tennis player and a playing member of the MCC for the last 30 years

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