People of Constructing Excellence share their stories

Constructing Excellence

May marks the National Share a Story Month and as part of this, we want to shine a light on some stories from our brilliant Constructing Excellence family! This storytelling campaign aims to break down the myths around careers in the construction industry and, nonetheless, help people connect and relate to one another, establishing stronger relationships.

People are at the core of Constructing Excellence, and we hope their stories will inspire you, move you and put a smile on your face!

Alison Nicholl, Head of Constructing Excellence

Constructing Excellence

I joined a small intelligent buildings consultancy after university. My role was in market research, but the other half of the company focussed on market development for intelligent and green buildings. I quickly realised my passion was for driving change and innovation and changed roles to manage the INTEGER project. I got to work on live demonstration and pilot projects, in the UK and overseas, capturing and communicating best practice and learning points.

I joined BRE to manage the Knowledge Transfer Network for the Built Environment where my role was to help innovative companies find connections and access funding to make their ideas a technical and commercial success. I got to work with so many amazing innovators. The brilliant thing about the built environment is the scale of the opportunity for innovative solutions to make a real difference.

My role at Constructing Excellence allows me to work with fantastic organisations and individuals who are committed to driving forward and transforming the construction industry. My energy comes from pushing forward and challenging the status quo, finding ways to innovate and do things better. I think it’s important to find out what truly motivates and drives you.

Andrew Carpenter, Chief Executive Structural Timber Association

Constructing Excellence

Having joined the UK construction industry straight from school in 1977, with building material giant CRH, it was 21 years later that I really found my calling. Sir John Egan’s ‘Rethinking Construction’ report had recently been released and I was sitting in a conference listening to Zara Lamont, seconded from Carillion at the time to be the Chief Executive of the Construction Best Practice Programme. It was her passion for collaborative working that sold me on the principles of Constructing Excellence and is something that has positively affected the rest of my career. From being an out and out ‘salesman’ I’ve transformed into somebody passionately interested in the change agenda especially when it comes to how it can positively affect people’s lives both within the sector and end-users. I feel privileged to be able to now practice what I preach in my capacity as Chief Executive of the Structural Timber Association as well as supporting others to do the same in my capacity as Chief Executive of both CESW and CE Midlands. It changed a job into a career and a career into a lifetime passion!

Phil Wilbraham, Co-chair of Constructing Excellence

Constructing Excellence

Working collaboratively with a broad range of colleagues has always been for me the most productive and fun way to get things done! There are many examples of this throughout my career but one that stands out recently is the team that came together to create Project 13. Everyone was committed to creating a ‘better way to work in the construction industry’ and the output was really valuable and thought-provoking. Moreover, the Project 13 community is going from strength to strength.

Dr Robert Illes, Lead Researcher at Construction Innovation Hub

Constructing Excellence

I first worked on sites way back during school holidays for a local contractor. I did everything from general labouring to eventually being entrusted to put up shelves, skirting, do painting and even erect partition walls. The money was welcomed; the experience invaluable. I learnt some great trade skills. Importantly, I also learnt how not only to survive, but thrive in the ‘culture’ – by working hard, ‘having a go’, and laughing at myself when at the brunt of the odd practical joke (e.g. ubiquitous left-handed screwdriver or spirit level bubble).

I’ve since been a teacher, academic, engineer and am now a researcher in the construction industry. My experience ‘on the tools’ helps me remain grounded and to put myself in the position of construction workers when thinking about new schemes and initiatives.

Lydia McGuinness, Assistant Site Manager at Henry Boot Construction Limited

Constructing Excellence

I am currently working on a construction project that is in the centre of my home town. When I told my mum about the building I am refurbishing, she told me that it used to be a bar, and it was in that bar where she told all her friends and family that she was pregnant with me. Twenty-three years later, I am working in that building every day, where my mother once stood pregnant with me and transforming it into a beautiful space, where many more families and friends can talk, laugh and share good news.

Jack Cook, Estimator at F. Parkinson Ltd

Constructing Excellence

When I left school at 16, everyone at school told me I was wrong to do an apprenticeship in joinery. After completing an apprenticeship, higher-level qualifications, and internal training plans, I am now successfully working as a construction estimator working at the same company I started my apprenticeship with. This then shows how undervalued the apprenticeship route is, and more needs to be done at schools to highlight to people what you can achieve just from doing an apprenticeship. At the end of the day, I am one of many people who has now got an amazing career that started from doing an apprenticeship!

Laura Santry, Assistant Project Manager Communications, Construction Innovation Hub

Constructing Excellence

I’ve always been fascinated by the ways in which we connect to the spaces around us – how significant buildings can shape the direction of our lives. Supporting the mission to transform construction allows me to contribute to the future of a thriving built environment that can be enjoyed by generations to come.


Alexander Small, BIM & Digital Platforms Manager, Tata Steel

Constructing Excellence

I started my construction career as a new grad in ARUP’s Cardiff office as a structural engineer. It was back in the mid-90s (showing my age) when there was significantly more office socialising both on the projects you were working on or as part of your group. I was very lucky to work with a fantastic group of people who took the phrase work hard play hard very seriously! We’d pop to the pub for lunch most Fridays, and a big group of us going to the pub after work on a Friday and carrying on was almost a religion.

I remember we had a temporary secretary in our structures group for a few months. She had no prior construction experience and, despite many explanations, she couldn’t quite understand what we all did (this is pretty common to be fair). One Friday morning, following a Christmas night out, she came in looking very ashen-faced. When I asked her if she was ok, she looked at me and said: “On my drive in this morning, I was sat at a set of traffic lights and looked up at this huge tower being buffeted by the wind and the rain. I thought to myself; I wonder how they make sure none of these buildings fall down when the wind really blows. Then it hit me, that’s what you lot do! The lives of people sat at their desks is dependent on people like you getting that right. Like you. That’s scary.”

It might have been a little harsh, but it really brought home both the importance of what we do and the value of checking one’s work!

Cat Griffith-Williams, CEO, Constructing Excellence Wales

Constructing Excellence

Since the beginning of my career, I always knew the change agenda and leadership were core personal drivers. My role in the MOD established the emergent leader within, and since then, there have been many bends in the river. All of which seek change for a better outcome. I have driven transformation through the pharmaceutical sector and, as a postgraduate in public health, created and operated large campaigns for people affected by Stroke and campaigning for the Protection for Rural Wales. All of which demonstrated strong communications acumen.

I had my first encounters with the construction sector whilst directing the Welsh office for Grayling, one of the UK’s communications agencies, where I was responsible for its overall strategy. I oversaw public affairs, strategic partnerships and stakeholder relations, liaising with Welsh Government, BT, European Commission, Land Securities, St David’s 2 and CITB. It has led me on the path to becoming Head of Wales for the Building Engineering Services Association, where I quickly learnt about the integral role a robust and skilled supply chain play in our built environment. As the new leader of CE Wales, I am proud to be a part of a movement that aligns with my core drivers. It acts as the conveyor of best-practice for our members, key organisations and business in Wales.

I am always encouraged by the number of great people and organisations I meet who share the same values and principles. One thing I would say to anyone embarking on a career in construction is to embrace the bends in the river as whatever your core skills, there is a place for them in the sector.

Phil Henry, Built Environment Development Director, Genuit Group

Constructing Excellence

I didn’t know how my career would end up when I joined an SME engineering company 44 years ago in the summer of 1977. My original career plan has changed from structural engineering and drawn me into water engineering, MMC and the Built Environment. Reflecting on my journey so far, I have been very fortunate to have met and worked with a wide range of talented people within the construction sector across the UK & overseas.

I’m privileged to be involved in the design stage of some of the water-related projects for the London 2012 games venues. In addition, I’ve been fortunate enough to work and help support various talented people at Genuit and within the wider sector.

Having a diverse workforce is something that I’m pushing forward. I believe in collaborative working, and blending the next generation’s enthusiasm with the older generations experience is the key to a great partnership. I am still learning every day from this industry and its inspiring people. I hope to play a part in the continuous support of the next generation for as long as possible.