24 Feb “Spotlight” on Richard Herrington
Richard Herrington, MiCiM’s extremely knowledgeable Managing Director talks about his career highs and lows, how he overcame issues which helped to shape his view on the industry and where he sees it going in the future. Read his thoughts below:
Tell us a bit about your career and what you bring to your role:
I guess the main things that I bring to my role are the benefit of many years’ broad and varied experience in different sectors of the construction industry and providing a calming influence and a voice of reason when others in the team are getting over excited. It still feels rather strange to now be considered the older wise one when I used to be the young feisty one.
I started work as a trainee QS with Costain in 1973 so I am rapidly approaching my half century! With Costain I worked on LA housing, laboratories, factories and office developments and achieved my professional qualifications at 22. I joined Bovis in 1979 and worked on numerous MC and CM projects mainly commercial offices and hospitals. In 1989 I joined a start-up interior fitout company (which has now evolved to become ISG), working on major commercial and corporate HQ fitouts throughout the UK but primarily in central London and at Canary Wharf. My next move in 2003 was to PEL in Birmingham as Commercial Director working on retail fitout and shopfitting throughout the UK and Ireland.
In 2006 I joined MACE as commercial director in the technology business unit which gave me my first exposure to the Data Centre and Mission Critical sector which I have worked in ever since.
In 2016 we established MiCiM to provide a truly client focussed and professional project management and construction delivery service to the Mission Critical sector and 3 years down the line it is really flourishing. Working with a group of like-minded people who are determined to deliver first class projects right first time is really refreshing.
I have spent a lot of my career working in substantial organisations, but I have always found the happiest periods have been when working in smaller companies where there are fewer corporate politics and unnecessary processes. My only regret is that I didn’t make such a move many years earlier.
You have had a long and a highly pressurised career – what would you say are the key strengths you bring to a team?
My career has certainly been long! At certain times it has also been highly pressurised, but most of the time it has been thoroughly enjoyable. I would say my key strength is being able to coach and mentor my team to get the best out of them. I am also a very good listener, fairly calm and considered and tend to weigh up people’s perspectives and the available options before making a decision.
What are the main challenges in the Mission Critical sector?
Most of the clients are very knowledgeable engineers who know exactly what they want, but they are often driven by sales of space to tenants and thus their expectations on programme periods can be unrealistic when the timescales for detailed design, plant procurement and commissioning are factored in. The other main challenge at present relates to capacity which is being driven by massive global demand for data. This will continue to grow exponentially due to AI, video on demand, 5G, social media, autonomous vehicles etc. Contractors, consultants, subcontractors and suppliers are all struggling to find sufficient qualified and experienced engineers to respond to this demand.
What kind of skills does one need to have to enable a career in the Mission Critical sector that spans for 14 years?
As I’m not an engineer the skill that I have had to learn is how to understand ‘engineer speak’! When I first got involved in the Data Centre sector, I sat in meetings listening to people speaking in jargon terms that meant nothing to me, but I soon learned to ask questions and find out what they were talking about. I can now hold my own in all but the most technical discussions, but we have many great engineers in our team who can deal with those.
I have mentioned it before but it is so important to listen carefully not only to what people are saying and how they are saying it, but also to what they are not saying as sometimes key pieces of information are withheld.
Over the course of your career, what would you say was your most challenging project?
Early in my career somebody told me that there are only 10 basic problems in construction and that to some extent they occur on every construction project. Every project will have its technical challenges, but I guess two stick in my mind and unfortunately both for the same reason! I was working for ISG on the fitout of a new HQ for Barings Bank when they went bust thanks to Nick Leeson and sadly with MACE, we were building a new Data Centre for Lehman Bros when they went into administration. At least second time around I knew what to expect and how to deal with the issues, but I’m hoping I don’t experience the same problem again or people will say I am the jinx!
Is there any cutting-edge technology which you are excited about, which will be at the forefront of the industry in the next few years?
Being a bit of a dinosaur, I sometimes struggle to keep up with the speed of advances in technology – I still use a scale rule, dim book and a measuring stick. I remember being excited when the first project that I ever worked on had a fax machine and a desk calculator!
Over the last few years the introduction of BIM and asset tagging has been the major focus and I’m sure that AI will introduce many new tools to drive engineering forward.
We have recently invested in a 3D camera and software system that can make a fully dimensioned 3D digital image of any space which can be used for both design and costing of projects.
Are there any skill/formulae/tech you learned in your formative years you still utilise today?
I learned the traditional QS skills such as taking off, measuring and pricing items of work from drawings and specifications, and I still use those today because I believe it’s the only way to understand the full scope of a project and what it should cost. Sadly, those skills are not as widely used in our industry today where it has more often become a case of negotiating against a budget without understanding what something really costs.
When I first got involved in the Data Centre sector, I learned a number of key metrics about cost per Sq M of white space or cost per Kw of I.T load for different resilience models or tier ratings and types of engineering installation. That basic data has continued to be relevant when adjusted for inflation, but of course new technologies and design trends are constantly evolving.
As you are always heavily involved in the final push to complete a project, what are your coping mechanisms to deal with the pressurised environment you live in?
Nowadays I am a little more removed from the direct pressures faced by our project teams in delivering to tight deadlines, so I try to always be available to help and support them and offer support and guidance when needed. I am still very often hands-on when producing tender proposals which usually run to the wire, so I still feel the pressure.
I always try and switch off other distractions to maintain my focus until the task is completed and being a perfectionist adds to the stress.
What is it that you enjoy about working with the MiCiM team?
They are a great bunch of people most of whom I have known for many years being either handpicked or having worked together in previous lives. Everybody shares the same ethos of being open, honest and collaborative and making sure that we do the best possible job and get it right first time. We always have time for a laugh and some great social interaction, and everyone says that the business has a real family feel.
After a busy working week, what do you do in your down time?
My children are grown up and married and my daughter is expecting our first grandchild in a couple of months so no doubt that will keep us busy. I play badminton a couple of times a week I go to Pilates with my wife which keeps me mobile. I am probably a bit of a geek as I really enjoy making Lego models and doing jigsaw puzzles accompanied by a large glass of Malbec which helps me to switch off. I enjoy taking our dogs for a walk, driving fast cars and eating good food. I have also just started learning to cook proper meals at home which I find really satisfying.