Career Conversations with Alan Gravatt
Ellie and Head of Strategic Asset Management (SAM), Alan Gravatt, who took over in September 2019 had a chat about his role, career life and the future.
How are you finding the new job so far Alan?
Alan Gravatt: It’s good; stressful, all over the place! I was given three main objectives this year; meet the budget, stabilise the team and to make it my own. What I have done is teased out more detail. I meet with Stuart once a week, and we’re making sure we talk to investors to find out what they like about us and having the opportunity to see what the team and services might be in future. Some of it is long term thinking but most of it is getting through 2019 and gaining some ideas on what’s going to happen going forward.
More recently I’ve been working with (Finance Director) Donna McCormack on the budget for next year and beyond. It’s been interesting to spend time with her and she has some great ideas, not only in finance, also business development. Setting challenging targets is good but they must be tempered with realism.
You inherited a large team. How do you make it work?
Probably the way I always have, I was brought in I believe as the heart and soul of the team and I’ve continued down that route. I’ve not changed my approach really; I’ve tried to understand where people’s strengths are. I line managed three of them already and now that’s four directly and then indirectly the rest of them. It’s an open book policy as far as I’m concerned, they can come to me. I haven’t changed anything dramatically; all I’ve probably done is take a softer approach.
What are your main focuses as a team now?
Making sure that the quality of what we do is stabilised. Some of the processes that are set up, such as QA are followed by everyone. And client engagement, find out what is going to delight them, using Stuart Yeatman’s words, he does like to delight clients. Also, we’re very open and honest about what we’ve done well, or badly in the past and not scared to say to Paul and Stuart if there’s something we need to unravel, we put it out on the table and resolve it.
What is your career background?
I started life as a Consultant in 2000. I did used to work as an assistant studio manager in the Slade School of Fine Art. Then I went travelling and then university later in life. In some ways I wish I’d carried on travelling and never came back, but I had to take something seriously somewhere down the line. In 2000 I took a three-month opportunity at a building surveying company working for an insurance company they were doing building audits for. Three months turned into six years. Then that company was bought by BRE, I spent a couple of years there. Had it not been for the M25, I’d probably still be there, driving from Essex to Watford every day. Moved onto Nifes, which was an engineering company, did a lot of work with the NHS, and then was made redundant having done some work on business development when they had a restructure. Worked for myself for a few months and then moved into WSP, which was the last place before here. 20 years of consultancy from three months of just a fill in job. I look back and wonder how it happened, I was supposed to be a landscape architect, that is what I trained as for five years.
Do you ever use that in your work?
I use some of the stuff I learned in university to inform what I do. My presenting and artistic bent, the softer side of things probably comes from what I learnt there. It’s not the typical journey of coming into consultancy, the design side is still untapped.
What’s your ideal future for SAM?
Growth in the right areas and focus on what people want to do in the team. I love the development outside PFI. There’s still a lot more work to tap into in our market but it’s about making sure we get the basics right, but we also do the new things that we haven’t even considered doing yet. Strategic Asset Management as a name. I don’t know if that’s the right name. I like it and it rolls off the tongue but does it come with historic baggage of what we may or may not have done in the past and does it accurately tell the story of what we do today and what we want to do. A joined-up consultancy business is an additional service, that helps the rest of HCP to deliver a better service in its entirety. The pockets of different consultancy services from different places, SAM was developed from nothing, it’s nice to see them working together, we’re doing more joined up projects. I’d like to see one big department with different streams.
That makes sense with your open approach as well. So, just going to throw this one out there. What would you most like people to know about you?
An interesting question… I used to be fixated on people liking me and I think that gets you a certain way in life. But perhaps the reason why I feel like I haven’t developed as quickly as I might have done is that people didn’t take me seriously enough in the past because of that. I was a bit of a joker and life and soul of the party, which is great, but it might not get you taken seriously in the business environment. I’d like people to take me seriously but realise that I am approachable, and I want to be that person who can make a difference.
I have always been someone who would rather keep work and personal life separate as much as I can. It can be hard to because you can’t help but take stuff sometimes. I have different personas in those areas even though they do overlap.
Have you got any advice for people coming into the Consultancy at HCP?
I think there are misconceptions about what Consultancy does and the focus within the business of moving it forward. People may perceive that to be at the expense of what we do 90% of the time as a business.
It’s the balancing act between the two. I’d like for people within the business to see a bit more of what we do. We’re not trying to take work from them, we’re not changing the way HCP is, it’s an extra stream which could be a benefit to them. In the future it could be an opportunity for current staff to join us. Some people have taken us up on it, coming into SAM from the Operational side, finance people have come to our open day. People who can add value on the modelling side. Our team are mostly technical, they can drive a spreadsheet, but finance would have useful skills to bring across. I’d like to see cross fertilisation between bit of the consultancy, we have people who have come from a PM background in SAM who would like to do more PM work and shouldn’t be precluded from it. I’d advise people to explore it.
The second thing is to be open. Don’t just do lifecycle or PM, expose yourself to the whole of consultancy, what you like about it and what you can add to it. And the last thing… be careful what you wish for.
Dark finish… I like it! Thanks Alan.
Interview by Ellie Rowland-Callanan