‘Transforming unloved buildings’ is at the centre of Beech Construction’s philosophy, and Andrew Cordwell is the man in charge. He charts his career from Apprentice to Boss and explains why Alex Ferguson inspires him.
What does your role include?
I am a managing director at Beech Construction and I head our design and build team of 85 people.
I have overall responsibility for Beech Construction’s portfolio of projects, and implement company policy and any changes to it.
What is it the company does?
We transform unloved buildings in Manchester city centre into environmentally sustainable and efficiently designed apartments. We have more recently started a ‘new build’ venture, which we feel will help regenerate other beautiful prime locations in our city.
Beech Construction is Beech Holdings' in-house leading design and construction company and deals with the design and build of all our apartment complexes.
Our teams are involved with every aspect of the development (assisting the development team with the initial purchase, designing, budgeting and project management), before handing the keys over to Manchester Apartments, our lettings team.
From the very start, we made the decision to bring everything in-house, which means greater control over our vision.
We therefore employ our own architects, building surveyors, quantity surveyors, mechanical and electrical engineers, furniture and interior designers.
This has allowed our processes to be smoother as the communication amongst our experienced team got better.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I Joined DGP, an multi discipline engineering consultancy when I was 17 years old as an apprentice. This gave me a first insight into being part of a business, working closely with others as part of a team which relies on you and taking ownership for any mistakes. This apprenticeship helped me become more assertive and self-confident.
I do think apprentices have a head start over those who go to university. On top of learning important soft skills in the work place, this enables young talent to be better off financially instead of starting their career in debt.
At Beech, we heavily invest in apprentices and have already shaped several talented people, who we know will become an integral part of our business. Clearly, more companies should do the same.
DGP ended up offering me a position as a Building Services Engineer working on numerous telecoms, pharmaceutical and residential projects.
I then focused my remaining time there as a true Mechanical Engineer, working on numerous nuclear facilities across the UK. In a nutshell, I was involved in all aspects of mechanical design; coordination of design teams and contractors; production and management of 3D modelling, calculations and site surveys.
In the meantime, I enrolled myself onto a part-time Mechanical Engineering degree course where I gained first class honours.
In retrospective, I owe a lot to DGP and learned from my managers. I was lucky enough to work under some of the best professionals in the industry, which I think has influenced my management style.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I have always been a big Manchester United fan and one of my biggest inspirations in terms of leadership is Sir Alex Ferguson. His approach to leadership is very much: ‘see it, say it, learn and move on’.
From experience, leading a team with so many different personalities who work hard towards tight deadlines involves some mistakes being made along the way. I think a good leader can identify how performance can be improved, say it openly to the team without emitting personal judgement, learn from mistakes and move on.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
I have had to learn how to keep a calm and collected approach to stressful situations. With the amount of work we do, coupled with high expectations from everyone around us, it is easy to take the smallest mistake personally. It has taken me a long time to be able to take a step back and be assertive enough to make the good decisions very quickly.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
The best way to alleviate stress in a high-pressured environment is exercise. It may not sound like a big secret anymore, but pushing yourself physically as much as you do mentally in your day to day job helps you get a clear head.
Also, in times of doubt, I always remember a great quote by Henry Ford, which goes: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Head Chef in a fancy Michelin Star restaurant. I remember falling in love with food as a boy while walking around Paris, getting excited by everything I could see, smell and taste. I ended up doing something different, but I do retain the excitement I did then, in my current career.
When I think about it, being a Head Chef or an MD require the same skillset. A lot of discipline is required in both careers. This goes along with some business flair, a ‘pinch’ of creativity and the ability to make decisions quickly while keeping a cool head. The most important thing of course is the ability to manage and motivate a team full of different personalities to consistently give their all on a day to day basis.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
Clear communication and discipline are key to what we do. Identify your mistakes, learn from them and move on. We have no time to ever feel sorry for ourselves or take things personally.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
Doing everything to the highest possible standards and always delivering to the best of our ability has earned us a lot of respect in the industry. We work hard to become bigger, better and bolder and I can truly see us become an institution in the Northern Powerhouse and the rest of the country in the next five years.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Every single aspiring business leader should have a check list:
- Find what you are good at
- Be passionate about what you do
- Listen to experts around you and learn from them
- Ultimately, always listen to your gut instinct
- Never be afraid to make mistakes, but learn from them
- Be ambitious: if you don’t believe in what you do, no one else will