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In Conversation with…. Neil Triggs, Head of Technical at Bellrock.

In Conversation With…

Caroline Kingsley

This week I chatted I with Neil Triggs about his career to date and his thoughts around the workplace, post pandemic.

Neil and I first met back in 2000, where he was in fact my boss! We were both Surveyors at the time, based in Leeds, working for EC Harris, which subsequently became Arcadis.

Bellrock are a forward thinking organisation, whereby working remotely is nothing new to them.

Describe your role with Bellrock;

My official title is ‘Head of Technical ‘. It’s operationally and commercially leading on all technical consultancy services provided by the Technical & Real Estate Division of Bellrock.

Bellrock acquired several technical and real estate consultancy businesses over the last 3-5 years to strengthen its overall offer to the market. The strategic aim over the last 18 months has been to integrate those businesses into a Divisional offering, whilst retaining some of the brands that remain recognised and differentiating to the market. Within this, we’ve integrated the acquired companies into ‘Business Units’, based around service lines, to ensure our service delivery represents best practice to our clients and markets.

The Business Units cover; Project Management, Asset Surveys, Building Consultancy, Fire Consultancy, M&E design and Compliance Services.

This covers a ‘big patch’ of around 250+ clients and c. £13 million budgeted revenue. The acquired businesses have some great people, so my focus is on growing our new Project Management and Building Consultancy service lines whilst providing operational and commercial oversight across all Business Units.

Day to day, I’m a mix of; service deliverer, business developer, accountant, commercial manager, recruiter, problem solver and agony aunt!

What have been your career highlights so far?

Far too many (he says laughing)!

Making it to Partner within EC Harris (Arcadis) and operating at that level for 13 years. It was a big step up from being largely a deliverer of Building Consultancy Services through my Povall Flood & Wilson days and ‘rounded’ me considerably as a person in developing a broader understanding of business and people, and being accountable for large teams, services and revenues.

More latterly, being the UK Director of Building Consultancy and Safety Management at WYG was a rewarding challenge in essentially taking an embryonic team and growing it, based on my own thinking and approach. Working across different sectors also strengthened my exposure to different clients and ways of working.

Whilst the second half of my career has focussed on broadening skill sets around business management, people and sales, I’m proud of my roots in Building Consultancy and the platform it created. Taking on responsibility for leading restoration work of the Leeds Kirkgate Market buildings over 25 years ago was my springboard. Did I really run a £6 million project (at 1990 prices) a year after qualifying, aged 25! How many firms would now allow their newly qualified surveyor a free reign on stuff like that? A massively steep learning curve and 3 years of stress, but immensely rewarding.

Starting a building consultancy framework with a large UK Institutional Investor in 1993, I worked on, then managed and eventually led this framework. It was retained for 20 years and became a bedrock of my workload, significantly expanding my property, commercial and business knowledge. It also led to enduring relationships with the client that I valued on a professional and personal level.

Why did you join Bellrock?

An old friend who I hadn’t seen for over 10 years! He’d sold his company to Bellrock and had been asked to stay on and be Managing Director of the new Technical and Real Estate Division. “Did I want to sign up and help him develop and grow the Division”. The challenge was compelling and would provide fulfilment if we could make it work. It represented a pooling of 60 years-experience between us to essentially set up a new division and make it happen over a 3-5 year period. An opportunity to bring together my 25 years partnership/corporate experience and his successful business owner experience and collectively ‘make a difference’. We’d also worked together for several years in the 1990’s, so a “re-forming of the band” so to speak. It’s been the best 18 months of my career…

Bellrock is unique; a blend of core Workplace and Compliance (FM) services, aligned engineering services, technical and real estate consultancy services and a market leading software business (Concerto). The Concerto platform is used by Bellrock operationally and by local authorities, health and commercial sector clients across the UK to run and manage estates and property assets. Whilst I’m not a great fan of acronyms, our IDEA (Integrated Digital Estates Assets) model, run through Concerto, is ahead of the game. Adoption by clients enables them to transform how they operate their estates and businesses through the intelligent and analytical use of data. This drives significant cost, operational and strategic benefits.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A Concorde Pilot! From a young age I was transfixed by this amazing and futuristic looking plane. At primary school I did a painting of it that was put on the reception wall and from aged 7, that was my overriding goal….. I don’t know what happened!

In some respects, I was able to live my dream ‘in a fashion’; in the early 1990’s, I was lucky enough to go on one of the chartered UK sub sonic pleasure flights, from Leeds Bradford Airport to London. I accompanied my Grandma on her 80th Birthday treat, and we had a memorable day. The highlight was the take-off; zero to 230mph in 12 seconds!! Essentially, Concorde was a fighter jet that carried 100 passengers.

What advice would you give to your younger-self?

‘That you are as good as anyone else, but life is a complex game based on perception’.

As you get older you realise that how your life evolves depends as much about how you are perceived as how you view yourself and your abilities. The world has changed significantly over the last 30 years, where we’ve moved from being somewhat narrow focussed technical and professional experts to living in a 24/7 world where everything is in the here and now. Jobs have become more about managing people, deadlines, programmes and working to results and outputs, rather than detailed technical outputs of the previous professional generations.

Best business advice you have ever been given?

I admired Richard Clare, my Chairman at EC Harris. One thing he said early on when meeting him was, “be interested and interesting”. I think that sums up life quite well.

Another piece of advice that resonated and builds from the previous text is, “there is no reality, only perception”. Perhaps a bit deep but very true; your reality is shaped by others perception of you and vice versa. Taking this a step further you might say; “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”. So, to change anything, you must change first as this will impact others perception of you and how you view life (hopefully in a positive way!)

Biggest personal change for you post pandemic?

Over the last year, I’ve transitioned from nearly 30 years of being based in larger corporate offices to being ‘mobile’; working from home, client’s offices, shared business space etc. So, in some ways, I’ve adapted from what I’ve been used to for decades.

I think the approach to business development will change as this often relies on developing personal relationships through face to face contact. People also form first impressions of someone from the first 2 minutes through body language. How this is going to work without handshakes will be interesting and challenging.

There will also be challenges around people development and retention, that has been vastly under-estimated and not really considered yet. Personally speaking, I’m a social person and need to interact with others on a regular basis (being a hermit is not for me!). I think most people need this and in a work context, younger people need interaction for professional development. I’m also a firm believer that in work, your aspirations, development and fulfilment is determined by the immediate group in which you work and your manager. The social impact shouldn’t be under-estimated. Technology has a big part to play but it isn’t the be all and end all.

I think the pandemic, certainly in the short term, will reinforce the home working side and having virtual rather than face to face meetings. I’m hopeful and optimistic that by early 2021, we’ll see some sort of ‘new normal’ that represents 85% of ‘old normal’.

What will the world of work look like after the crisis is over?

Defining a crisis end will be interesting as the media inference is that life will remain much changed until a vaccine comes along then everything will somehow return to normal

again. I don’t see it, as the world wide lock downs have caused economic devastation that will dwarf that of the statistical impact of the virus in terms of infection and deaths, versus the many normal virus’s that exist, kill millions each year and are accepted (flu, malaria etc.).

From a work perspective, I think the much vaunted ‘work/life balance’ now has actual meaning as people have been able to trial it without realising! So, we’ll see a continuation of more home working, possibly greater efficiencies created by technology (TEAMS, Zoom) and the time saved by not commuting. We will work in a more socially isolated world where we rely on technology ever more (oh, for a decent broadband connection!).

The biggest issues will be that of social interaction and mental health. There’s also the matter of the millions of square feet of office space out there and what happens to cities and urban areas if demand falls off a cliff in the next 5 years. There’s also all the support and leisure industries that depend on offices (sandwich shops, coffee shops, gyms, bars and restaurants). Some big issues, that workplaces and society at large need to grasp. However, humans are immensely resourceful and adaptable and I’m sure the world in 2025 will be different but better than now.