From graduate to director in ten years: reflections on my career at Barratt

William joined the first graduate programme run by Barratt and, aged 33, is one of the group’s youngest directors. He reflects on his progress.
Ultimately, what helps you to progress is delivering on what you have promised.

I joined the inaugural Barratt graduate scheme in 2007 and, at 33, I am now one of the youngest directors in the group. Barratt has been fantastic for me. The company very much encourages talent and I have had a core group of directors and more senior colleagues who have supported me up the ladder. At the same time, I’ve made sure that I follow through on what I say I will do. Ultimately, what helps you to progress is delivering on what you have promised.

From student to surveyor

When I graduated I had no idea what I wanted to do and returned home. I’d always been interested in houses and this was developed further when I found work with a landscape gardener. After I temped for a trade union and went travelling for a few months, I applied for the Barratt graduate scheme. It was the only one I applied to.

My graduate scheme was structured so that in the first year I rotated around different departments, including finance, construction, sales, technical and land buying, and only specialised in the second year. Barratt’s current ASPIRE graduate scheme does the same.

The range of rotations helped me to choose my specialism. I originally thought I’d go into construction management, but I found the commercial management (or quantity surveying) aspects of projects more interesting. In commercial management, you are responsible for the commercial performance of the project and the procurement of materials and trades.

Progression in a recession

In 2008 the recession hit. Being involved with the commercial aspects of projects while we were under tight financial constraints actually benefited me: I learned strong negotiation skills and, due to changes in the workforce, was given responsibility for running my own projects earlier than I might have been otherwise.

Eighteen months into my graduate scheme, I was in charge of the commercial aspects of the development of an old football field. I did feel a bit out of my depth at times and I made mistakes, but I learned from them.

When moving from surveyor to commercial manager you stop being responsible for the day-to-day running of projects, instead focusing on the people management of the department, ensuring everyone is working effectively. I found being commercial manager a bit challenging because I missed the opportunity to get directly involved with the decision making on projects, so I was pleased when I was appointed to the more operational role of commercial director.

I’ve been fortunate with the promotion opportunities that have come my way. I was made commercial manager when my predecessor left the department and that happened again when I was made a director. However, you need to make sure you are in the right place at the right time so that you are the person chosen for these positions. Barratt encourages in-house promotions and, because of my background of working through the ranks, I am very supportive of trainees joining my team.

Directing projects and managing people

As a commercial director, I’m responsible for the financial performance of the division but, being on the board of directors, I am also involved in all operational aspects of the business. This includes whether we meet our performance targets. Within the commercial function, I ensure that we procure on time and within budget, that we accurately report the financial positions of our sites and flag up any issues. These days, most of my time is spent in the office, attending meetings, overseeing reports and starting off new projects, but I visit sites each week to undertake quality checks.

I currently oversee a team of 21 quantity surveyors, buyers, bid managers and administrators. I have two trainees in my team and, as their mentor, I will sit down with them once a week to review their progress and development. As a manager, I would say that I’m a listener and a collaborator but also that I make the decisions necessary: it is important to me that there is mutual respect with people from all areas of the business. Progressing and achieving your ambitions is about supporting the goals of others as well as your own. Construction is all about creating partnerships, internally and externally, and these are critical as you progress.

Interview insights and tips

I have been involved with the interviews and assessment centres for our graduate schemes. My biggest tip is to make sure you research us before the interview; a surprising number of graduates don’t know who our biggest competitors are. Extend your research beyond our website, too. It’s impressive if you understand the business performance but also look at the innovative ideas and constraints impacting on the construction industry. Use interviews to ask us questions, too. When you attend the assessment centre bring a notebook to make notes and ensure you read any instructions carefully.

Making your mark

My career progression has been quite rapid, but I wouldn’t advise you set a timeline for your career progression. I didn’t. You’ll know, I think, when you are ready for the next step: you’ll be confident in your role, performing well but not complacent.

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