Ahead of what is predicted to be a ground-breaking virtual event on construction, covid and what next, we spoke with one of our industry leading panellists, Beth Revell, Director of The Blue Iris Partnership, on her experiences over the past 12 months, career history and how the construction industry as a whole has evolved in response to the coronavirus pandemic during 2020.

Beth will be taking part in the debate with four other AEC specialists on how to make resilience real, on Thursday 28 January.

What was your very (very) first job?

I worked in the café in the Living Department store in Stevenage – cooking and serving the £1.79 five piece cooked breakfast, for £2.20 an hour. And I can still rustle up a mean cooked breakfast for a crowd of people!

Did you always plan a career in the construction industry?

I had no idea about careers in construction growing up or while studying. I studied A level history, business studies and design technology. I enjoyed business and technology but didn’t know what to do with it. The careers advice I received from the brown corduroy suited careers advisor at my school was to become a DT teacher. I ignored that and randomly picked a “design management” degree from the UCAS catalogue and headed off to the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. It wasn’t until after I graduated and secured a job as a studio assistant in an interior design and architecture practice that I discovered all the possibilities of a career in construction and as such my career really begun.

Tell us about The Blue Iris Partnership?

Myself and Stephen Hall started The Blue Iris Partnership in January 2020, and it has been the most interesting, amazing and challenging year. Looking back, we had no idea of the challenges we were about to encounter, or indeed, how the world was about to change.

At Companies House I’m listed as a Director – but being (for now) a two person business I am also head of marketing, business development, secretary, IT support, project manager, credit control, bid coach, consultant, advisor, website designer and tea maker!

Setting up and running your own business, everyday you turn your hand to something new – while working with clients and delivering projects. I simply love it.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently working with a busy London Hospital on a number of projects to provide separate hot and cold pathways and staff facilities in a live 24/7 A&E department in response to the covid pandemic.

It is fast paced, challenging and we get to work with inspiring NHS staff. Alongside that I am working with a brilliant school who are starting the journey of building a new large junior school and will be moving out of a listed former stately home.

The ethos of our business is that project management skills are transferable across the industry not just delivering projects for traditional clients, we are also providing commercial support for a sub-contractor entering into an NEC agreement with a tier one contractor for new leisure facilities and providing bid coaching services to a well known contractor. As a business we specialise in the health, leisure and education sectors so it is fantastic ten months in to have projects in all these areas.

Thinking about the Construction Industry at large, what do you believe has been the biggest change in the past 10 years?

Without a doubt the skills shortage, finding enough people with the right skills and experience to deliver projects. Being able to offer competitive salaries in a market when fees are being driven down. The model is unsustainable for big business.

Given our current situation with the coronavirus crisis worldwide, how has this impacted on your business?

Well, a global plague two months into launching our business wasn’t in our original business plan, but we’ve seen it as an opportunity. We’ve kept working throughout and in the quiet times it has allowed us to reflect on the type of business we want to be and how we can infuse our ideas and ideology into everything we do. The use of video calling has given us the opportunity to speak with so many more people then we ever would have managed out of lockdown, enabling us to find opportunity, share ideas and grow our partnerships.

What new measures of resilience have you put in place?

We believe that the construction industry is changing, and the traditional ways of clients designing and buying buildings – alongside how they are priced – is evolving. The lines are blurring. This includes BIM, contractors being involved from project inception, and feasibility and MMC. We are The Blue Iris Partnership and the Partnership bit is key to our resilience. We form partnerships with clients, designers, contractors, sub-contractors and other consultancies. Our skills are transferable across the industry and project lifecycle, and might not be needed for the whole of a project, providing advice at key milestones or using our experience to help when the situation calls for it. We are small and agile to respond, dip in and out to meet clients’ needs.

Personal resilience underpins your ability to have resilience at work. 2020 has had huge personal challenges. It would have been easy to bury myself with work to paper over the cracks, but that it not sustainable. Both Stephen and I want to grow a business that supports its leaders and people as individuals, and provides the time and flexible working to enable everyone to give the best to their careers, while not losing sight of what is important or yourself.

You need to be able to step away, give the time to your family, get out on your bike or just enjoy (probably too many in my case) nice glasses of wine. Give yourself a break and your work will benefit too – work should be like a bank: you can take out what you put in – with interest! 

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I’ve been truly fortunate to work for and with some very wise and inspirational people, so that is a tough question. Being advised to read Shonda Rhimes “Year of Yes” is very much up there. If life offers you an opportunity, always say yes, even if it scares you.

Beth joined Digital Node Director, Rebecca De Cicco and a panel of other global AEC industry specialists for a discussion on resilience and business leadership on Thursday 28 January. To hear more from Beth and how to position your business to successfully defeat coronavirus, watch a recording of the panel debate.