Rider Levett Bucknall CEO: ‘Understand what value means to employees’
Andrew Reynolds was appointed chief executive of RLB’s UK practice in November 2019
New Rider Levett Bucknall CEO Andrew Reynolds says a motivated workforce, armed with skills for a rapidly changing construction industry, is key to the consultant’s future. Neil Gerrard spoke to him. Tom campbell.
Independently owned consultant Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) is dreaming big under the leadership of newly installed chief executive Andrew Reynolds.
Reynolds took the helm of the company late last year, at the same time that RLB announced it wanted to grow turnover to £150m over the next 10 years.
It has made a promising start. Profit at the firm more than doubled for the year to 30 April 2019, at £7.3m, while turnover rose to £81.7m, from £58.7m the year before.
Perhaps it all has something to do with RLB’s official company purpose, which is: “Have fun, feel valued, and make money, forever.” Reynolds admits that it sounds rather “fluffy” but there is a very serious intent behind it.
“For us, as a business that is 100% employee-owned, it means that it is very important that our employees feel that they are working in an environment where they are enjoying what they are doing and feeling valued, that they are being well rewarded,
and they can see their career growing in the long term.
Andy Reynolds CV
1996: Graduated from University of Salford with a BSc (Hons) degree in Quantity Surveying; joined Gardiner & Theobald as a graduate surveyor
2001: Joined RLB as a senior surveyor
2005-6: Appointed UK head of retail
2008: Role extended to oversee the European business
2010: Oversaw the project, cost and health & safety management for the overlay element of London Olympics 2012
2014: Appointed to the RLB UK board of directors
2015: Appointed to the RLB global board of directors
2019: Appointed chief executive of RLB’s UK practice
“We really need to understand what value means to them. We believe that’s the starting point from which to build a great workforce,” he says.
Reynolds certainly seems to be a good example of the approach. Although only recently appointed chief executive, he has been with the business for 19 years. And in fact, more than 20% of the people working in the business have been employed by RLB for more than 10 years.
Nonetheless, Reynolds sees significant change on the horizon, not just in the way that the company operates as it grows, but also in the make-up of the workforce.
The skills that RLB needs are shifting as construction embraces its digital future, and Reynolds asserts that the main focus is currently on BIM and analytics. Its non-network digital team – those people not working within normal IT functions – is now more than 20 people, and RLB has just appointed its first chief digital officer in Matt Sharp.
“An organisation like ours accumulates a huge wealth of data that we generate on behalf of our customers. And the challenge for a business like ours is how do we leverage that global dataset and turn it into intelligence for our clients? And how do we make sure that we have the skills that enable that to be done? So, we’ve certainly seen a bit of a shift in skills,” Reynolds says.
Similarly RLB is placing an increased emphasis on offsite construction, which ties into its commitments to sustainability and social value.
“For us, offsite manufacture is about making ethical, balanced decisions for our clients that can marry the uniqueness of offsite with the client need. And I think we are now starting to see some really good case studies that come with offsite,” says Reynolds.
He admits that the UK is something of a latecomer to the offsite party and puts that down to a range of complex factors, including the client briefing process, the design and planning and procurement processes, as well as the maturity of supply chain.
“There’s a whole series of things that I think need a slightly different approach when you consider offsite. As we know, the industry suffers from fragmentation and to get the right skillset brought to each project with the relevant skills in this subject is always a challenge,” he says.
“But I think we will start to see skills move from the site to the manufacturing process and it will become more plug and play. So we see our skills shifting to offsite procurement and offsite contract management.”
Hand in hand with offsite goes sustainability, and RLB is currently in the process of moving its whole environmental approach to align with the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals.
“We see that as a really strong framework from which to adopt a common language and a common set of objectives for the world to address what is the biggest issue that faces us in modern times,” says Reynolds.
Andy Reynolds on…
…quality and professionalism
“The very DNA of our business is built around professional qualification. The route through skills in our business is degree-level education and on to an organisation such as CIOB, RICS, APM. We encourage everyone to have a professional qualification. And importantly, what backs that up is the ethical standards that go with that qualification.”
“Leadership isn’t about
being in charge but is about taking care of those in your charge. Unfortunately, it’s a phrase that’s been in the press for a very sad reason recently but I’ve always found that being kind has always been a core ethic. If you encourage, give freedom and listen, I generally find that people shine.”
“Traditionally, Europe for RLB was a series of alliances with independent organisations. What has changed for us is that we’re now finding that our clients want to still contract with RLB from the UK as a lead. So for the first time we are registering businesses in Europe to enable us to continue our work with our clients and to contract in a slightly different way.”
Repurpose and reuse
In practical terms, that means reducing RLB’s own environmental impact, as well as changing how it advises clients. A key area there is looking at opportunities to repurpose or reuse buildings, rather than advising clients to rebuild them completely.
“We’ve seen some great case studies from clients now where they are truly embracing this and some very good results are being achieved,” says Reynolds. Finally, there is the standalone environmental advice and services that RLB can offer to its clients to help them make better decisions.
As far as RLB’s own progress on reducing its environmental impact is concerned, the outbreak of coronavirus is already putting some of the methods the company plans to use – for example, reduced business travel – to the test.
“It’s a behavioural issue, as much as a policy issue,” says Reynolds. “We have put extensive plans for coronavirus in place like any business and it is testing our core beliefs. As an example, I am a global director within RLB and we only meet three times a year as a global board. We were due to have a meeting in Shanghai in February and we cancelled it and decided to do it on Skype. It actually worked really well. And it made us question whether we should just meet twice a year face to face.
“Sometimes there are these odd moments of positive challenge that get us to rethink how we approach things.”
Another major area where RLB is having a rethink is on diversity and inclusion (D&I). The company has introduced a D&I steering and implementation group in a bid to boost the number of women and ethnic minorities within its business.
By 2024, the business aims for 40% of all its staff to be female across its offices, with 20% of senior positions filled by women by 2022. In 2019, 30% of the workforce was female. Meanwhile, it aims for all of its
offices to be within 10% of their local ethnicity mix by 2022.
To help achieve that, the company has put thought into making its recruitment process as inclusive as possible, with all staff who undertake recruitment undergoing D&I training on areas like unconscious bias, as well as making recruitment panels more reflective of the workforce.
“There is a lot of work going on in this area, and ultimately, I think it is about how we celebrate people professionally and personally. One of the key challenges for D&I is to give everyone the appropriate level of voice and to make sure that voice is heard,” says Reynolds.
While some of the challenges that RLB faces as it continues on its path to doubling in size may be novel, Reynolds concludes by citing the tried and trusted advice that his father gave to him as he set out on his career.
“On my first day of work, at the age of 17, he told me: ‘Never overlook the small details, treat everybody equally, and finally – it’s a small industry so always build relationships very positively.’ Those are three things that I have lived by.”