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Recruiter focus: Perkins+Will’s Andrew Mowat on what a COO really does

Marcus Taylor, managing director of construction recruitment agency, Taylor Sterling, talks to Andrew Mowat, operations director of Perkins+Will, about his plans for the firm’s future work

Andrew Mowat, Perkins +Will.
Andrew Mowat, Perkins +Will.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your new role at Perkins+Will?

I have recently taken over as operations director, which is a new full-time role for the Dubai office.

The aim of this new position is to take someone from the construction industry who knows how the industry works, and striking a balance between the financial side and the operations side to give people the freedom to do their design work, and also keep it within the corporate parameters. This will allow us to oversee what people do and how they spend their budgets.

Why is it important for a company like Perkins+Will to have an operations director in the office?

I think to answer that question, you need to define what an operations director is. When I took the role on, I had to actually search online for a definition. Clearly, different firms have different roles assigned to what they call an operations director or chief operating office. So for the sake of this particular role as operations director, the most important element of my job will be to ensure that a clear and predefined path is followed in terms of budgets and resources, and to ultimately achieve the goals of both the managing director and the company.

What can you tell us about the managing director’s vision?

Roger Wilson, Perkins+Will’s managing director for the Middle East, has a very clear vision. He wants to have a more collaborative studio, engaging as many different teams within the business as possible for one project, and to be winning master and urban planning projects. One of the great things about Perkins+Will is that we work as a global organisation.

So, if we have a requirement for a project in Saudi Arabia and we know the Chicago office has just completed a similar project, we pull in the experts from Chicago. With more than 20 Perkins+Will offices around the world, it’s a huge pot of skills to have the privilege of pulling from. We all work together as one large team and it’s satisfying to now be working as part of one truly symbiotic organisation.

Perkins+Will has a good reputation for managing its human capital. What can you tell us about how your staff is allocated across projects?

One of Perkins+Will’s aims is to balance workloads with the number of employees we have in our studio, rather than the other way around. We also have the advantage of being a global firm, so we can borrow people from other offices. This also means other offices around the globe can use expertise from Dubai if required. We have that flexibility in the marketplace, which gives us options when it comes to managing projects.

Why did you join Perkins+Will? Was it the job that attracted you or was it more about the company culture?

It’s a bit of both. While I was interviewing for the operations director role at Perkins+Will, I met with Roger and he outlined his vision for the firm. He told me he wanted to focus more on working with clients and expanding the business, and less on the day-to-day aspects. He said the operations director would take on those elements of his existing role, enabling him to execute his vision. I then spoke with Phil Harrison, who’s our chief executive officer. He joined the business in 1993, and was able to share more knowledge about the Perkins+Will philosophy of workplaces and communities, which is something that attracted me. In the Dubai office, we’ve got a vibrant collection of staff, and it’s nice to see different cultures from all over the world working together.

The last 18 months have been a challenge for the market – how has Perkins+Will performed?

There is a bit more growth in the market this year, but 2017 was a tough year for all. Perkins+Will has consolidated its situation and we’re looking to expand again.

As operations director, what can Perkins+Will expect to see from you?

Our US support team is known for having a good corporate environment, and I want to bring elements of that to the Dubai office. We will take the US model and develop it internationally. There are five Perkins+Will international offices and Roger wants us all to work together as one unified team. I also want to give Roger and the management team more freedom to go out, win work, and develop designs while I worry about the finances of the job.

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Construction Week - Issue 745
Jun 30, 2019