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Exciting times ahead at Turner & Townsend

Turner & Townsend’s appointment of two new managing directors - for its UK business and infrastructure division - is a further signal of intent for a company that’s going places. Andy Walker visited their London office to catch up with both of them. 

It’s not often you get to interview two people with new roles where one has replaced the other, but that’s exactly what I did when I visited Turner & Townsend’s London offices to speak to new UK managing director Patricia Moore and David Whysall, who has replaced her as managing director of the firm’s UK infrastructure business.

I started by asking Moore how her new role will differ from her old job. “The span is different; I’m now sitting across everything that we do in all our markets in the UK,” she tells me. That includes our real estate business, which is a comparative size to the infrastructure business and also our natural resources business, which is a huge part of our global empire and most of our global natural resources clients are headquartered in the UK. So, there’s new sectors for me to get more involved with than I have been before.”

Moore’s new role also sees her promoted to Turner & Townsend’s executive board. “As a truly global consultancy - a partnership with around 90 partners across the world - we operate as one global business, so I have a wider holistic remit there too. And the UK has a massive influence in the global company because it is 50% of the global business,” she says.

Given the size of the UK operation, Moore is sure to play an influential role on the global board. So, how did she feel when she got her new role? 

“A bit of trepidation and a bit of excitement, but also, I could see the opportunity to grow and develop,” says Moore. “Also, I think that when you progress as a woman in the industry you get this sense of responsibility around taking those big opportunities because so many women need to see that path. I struggled to get my head round this for years because I never needed to see the path or see those role models, but I realised through the mentoring I do and through the many discussions I have had with many of our women, that they need to see that path. It’s really important to most women actually,” she says.”

Both Moore and Whysall have risen through the ranks to assume leading roles at Turner & Townsend, with Whysall progressing from playing a key role in Constructing Excellence’s junior arm, Generation 4 Change. Clearly the firm believes in developing people and promoting them quickly to leadership positions.

“As soon as I joined Turner & Townsend I felt as though I was home,” Moore says. “The big thing that always got me was the complete breadth of opportunity and the meritocracy of the organisation. You didn’t have to speak with the right plummy accent, you didn’t have to have come from the right school. It was really about what was in your head and what was in your heart and how much you wanted it,” she says.

Moore (pictured above) has been with the company for 19 years and has seen some changes in that time? “Phenomenal changes; in our business and in the workplace,” Moore says. “The most exciting change is that everyone wants women in our industry now and it’s a fantastic time to be a woman. Celebrating diversity and bringing on women in the business is really important,” she says.

Turning to David Whysall, what was his response when he got the role as managing director of the UK infrastructure business? “Excitement. I’ve been with Turner & Townsend for 14 years and the growth of the business means that I don’t think I’ve ever had a role for more than two or three years. So, there’s always a new challenge, new major programmes, new things to lead, new teams. 

“Without doubt this is the most exciting point the business has ever been at. You are connecting with a very buoyant infrastructure market and we have positioned ourselves at the heart of that. Since the infrastructure business was set up we have seen it grow from a smallish business to one with around 1,000 people. The potential ahead is huge,” Whysall says.

With politicians seeing infrastructure as central to improving growth and prosperity, it’s clearly an attractive time to be involved in infrastructure. “Infrastructure has never been in vogue like it is today in terms of the economic benefits it brings,” says Whysall. “We also need to stress more the social purpose of infrastructure - the ability to drive social change and mobility in the areas that infrastructure affects is really exciting,” he says.

I ask about their respective key priorities in their new roles.

“One of the things that makes us quite unique is the diversity of our offering, geography and reach,” says Moore. “One of my key aims is to use those collective opportunities and strengths. One of the things that drives our culture and our behaviours is our ‘one business’ philosophy and it’s a massive differentiator for us in the market,” says Moore.

“Clients are interested in people who are doing things a bit different. Cross fertilisation of experience is important. We know that if there is a downturn then we are better placed to deal with it than many of our competitors because of the diversity of our offering and our markets,” Moore says.

“There are three priority areas,” says Whysall (pictured above). “What we do and getting better at what we do technically. The second is to have the best people working for us and the third is to remain relevant in the marketplace by innovating and shaping client thinking and thinking about the long term and how they operate their assets, fund them and see a path forward,” he says.

One thing that strikes you about Turner & Townsend is their commitment to corporate social responsibility. “This has a hugely unifying impact for our people,” says Moore. “We raised £150,000 last year for Action for Children as out charity partner and we have a schools programme and encourage our people to go into primary and secondary schools and drive aspiration and inspiration in underprivileged children. Getting people engaged in those activities is part of who we are as a company,” she says.

The firm is also active in several industry bodies, institutions and associations and plays its part in industry improvement organisations. “It is another key pillar of our corporate social responsibility and we are increasingly conscious of our responsibilities in that area,” says Moore. “Involvement in industry organisations is very much part of what we do and who we are,” she says.

As a business with 17 offices across the UK and a wide geographical spread, how important is the devolution agenda to the firm and what effect is it having on the business? “Very important,” says Whysall. “There’s a real recognition from the devolved bodies that great infrastructure will be the key to future economic growth and social stability. In the north west, the West Midlands and in Bristol where they have those devolved powers right, you are seeing some positive movement forward,” he says.

“It’s broader than just devolution, it’s about that whole decentralisation agenda,” Moore adds. “We have local connections in our regions and one of the great things about Turner & Townsend is that we have a truly national business that is regionalised, so we are in a great position to respond. We have great relationships with our local authorities and the new combined authorities and we are embracing that,” she says.

It’s clear that Turner & Townsend is very well positioned to take advantage of a fast-evolving business and political landscape and in Moore and Whysall they have people in charge with the experience, skills and enthusiasm to grow the business further and make an even greater impact than they already have.