“How do we make resilience real?” is the question we asked Elaine Lewis, Managing Director, Cadventure.
In this short interview, Elaine shares with us how she entered the world of construction unintentionally, and how she has since been running one of Europe’s most successful software sales companies for digital design, engineering and construction.
Did you always plan to work in the construction industry? Did you have a calling and a dedicated career path or perhaps you stumbled into it?
I definitely stumbled into the construction industry. Upon graduating in Economics, my early career was in Advertising. After three years I want back to study for my MBA before I moved into Database Marketing. I worked with Consumer Durables manufacturers – crunching numbers and helping them understand their client base to be able market to them individually through direct mail.
When did you join Cadventure?
Cadventure was started in 1989 by my husband Paul, after he left Intergraph Corporation. His passion was to help architects and engineers to embrace technology as they continued to move from drawing boards to computers, from tape drives to hard drives, and eventually from massive servers to PCs. When our family arrived, it was easier to work in the family business rather than corporate life, and to juggle paperwork and administration, alongside raising our girls (who often refer to Cadventure as the third child!).
What role did you undertake upon joining? And, if different, what is your role now?
My first job followed a comment: “please could you help out with a bit of filing and credit control?” Paul is the entrepreneur and set the tone and direction of the company to provide software and services to architects and engineers. However, once I had a grip of our finance and administration, and knew more about the business operationally, I started attending conferences with Paul and gradually took over the relationships with some of our clients and vendors.
As our business grew, and our team, all matters of HR, policy and process fell to me. As Paul diversified into 3D Technology and 3D printing, we agreed that I would look after our Digital Build team and vendor relationships. I took over the role of Managing Director in 2013.
Thinking about the Construction Industry at large, what do you believe has been the biggest change in the past 10 years?
The 2016 BIM mandate has been the biggest catalyst for change to allow our clients to learn how to truly collaborate. Getting ready for the BIM mandate meant a slow build-up of awareness, education and understanding. Whilst many are still on the first rungs of the ladder, I believe we are no longer paying lip service to the value of collaboration and going digital. We now need to spend the next few years sharing our collective knowledge to make BIM and going digital business as usual.
Tell us about how coronavirus has impacted upon Cadventure?
Like everyone over the course of 2020, this has been a time for accelerated digital transformation. We have had to pivot our business to be more effective online to run in this new world we find ourselves in. As an example, we reviewed all our marketing activity to consolidate everything that was done manually or on disparate systems into a unified platform.
This has helped streamline our enquiry to cash processes to take out the kinks, the need for double-handling or double-entry of information, exposing and reducing potential bottlenecks. We now have better quality of information, faster responses, and reduced administration – freeing up time to for us work more closely with our clients.
At the start of the pandemic, we developed our online training capabilities and set up our Tech Skills workouts – a programme of weekly training sessions for clients and prospects to keep them in touch and engaged, in some cases, perhaps even especially, when some of our contacts were furloughed.
This enabled clients to become comfortable with the online learning experience. As a result, we are very busy with online training delivery and have extended our reach to deliver training globally.
Together, these activities have increased visibility and improved communication both externally and internally allowing the team to have greater transparency, autonomy, and agility.
The key to this has been daily Teams calls across the company which we started to keep us all in touch and has turned in to some of the most valuable and collaborative minutes of the day.
What new measures of personal resilience have you put in place?
I have increased my focus on consistency of thought, word and deed.
I would like to say, I have enjoyed a better diet, taken more exercise and achieved a better work/life balance – which is true to some degree but is always “work in progress”.
Far more important has been looking for the silver linings in this situation; both in terms of the business, but also spending better quality time in one place with family, which reminds us why we are doing all of this.
As a management team, looking after our staff has always been of primary importance. Now, more than ever we look at individual requirements to ensure they can learn, be productive, contribute, be effective and feel valued whilst looking after their wellbeing both for themselves and their families.
What do you predict for the future of the construction industry over the next 12 months in regard to bouncing back from the coronavirus outbreak?
Over the next twelve months, at a macro level, changes in the employment market, particularly in the leisure, travel, and hospitality sector, inevitably Brexit, and our significant UK budget deficit are going to impact the cost of finance and confidence about continued investment in construction. However, this is hopefully balanced with the Government’s commitment to invest in infrastructure and harmonising investment between the North and the Midlands with the South of England.
As a micro level, those with choice and flexibility may choose to exercise this. perhaps to move out of cities to achieve a blend of working from the office with working from home. This will have an impact on the cost of housing and the requirements of the transport. It may reduce the requirement for expensive office accommodation in cities.
Having experienced previous economic cycles, my expectation is that whilst some construction firms will suffer and potentially collapse, new enterprises and new entrepreneurs will emerge as we enter the next phase of growth. So, in summary, a difficult 12 months ahead, but with hard work, investment in people, confidence and resilience, light is at the end of the tunnel.
Elaine 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 Elaine and how to position your business to successfully defeat coronavirus, watch a recording of the panel debate.