Employ kind people and let them be kind

Phil Horsley

Managing Director, Geomarine 

How did your education at Northumbria University and your qualification in Building Studies influence your career path in the construction industry?

It was seminal. I didn’t know anyone who had been to university until a mate’s brother went as a mature student. Having left school five years before, I had the site experience to get on the HND.

How did your BSc in Construction Management from Nottingham Trent University, with its emphasis on sustainability, technology, and management shape your approach to your work in the construction industry?

I did the BSc as a correspondence course whilst climbing the ladder with tier 1 UK contractor Tilbury Douglas. Academically, I didn’t learn a huge amount more than I had while doing the HND and don’t recall much emphasis on sustainability, which was in its infancy back then. The degree was the catalyst for my going overseas.

Your experience as a Project Manager at Tilbury Douglas Construction Ltd in the Midlands led to you managing multi-million-pound construction projects What influenced you the most during that time?

The people and the systems; Tilbury Douglas were a great employer. I got to work in all departments. It is where I got to grips with large-scale project management. I have been fortunate to work with some amazing managers, leaders and mentors throughout my career.

What were some of the key challenges and learning experiences you encountered while working as a Project Manager at CGT Contractor & Developers in the Bahamas?

Culture shock would be selling it short. It was a culture explosion. We used directly employed, semi-skilled labour, many of whom came from the ghetto. It was borderline lawless, we lived in gated communities and running sites could be daunting. Having come from a labouring background and a relatively rough city and, not least, being younger, I took it in my stride and enjoyed the ex-pat lifestyle. If I could turn the clock back, I would be a little more culturally sensitive. At the time, my attitude was that I was there to get a job done, which I regret now. I could have got a lot more out of it.

We always try to ensure that a primary school student’s first impression of an engineer is that they are a she. It is imperative to break down stigmas at an early age. Gender is a non-issue at management level at Geomarine.

What motivated your move to Jersey in 2003 and how did your role with Dandara influence your career trajectory?

I met my wife in the Bahamas. She had lived in Jersey for ten years prior to moving there. We came to see some of her friends here and I loved it straight away. Dandara gave me my first local opportunity. They had a direct-labour/self-delivery model for much of their work, which I vastly prefer. My career changed in that I shifted focus to staying in Jersey, which is a different path to managing projects of ever-increasing size.

You went on to work for Camerons and then, fourteen years ago, their sister company Geomarine, where you remain as Managing Director. How has the industry changed over the years and thus impacted both your career and the construction industry as a whole.

I’d clarify that the move to Geomarine, being civil engineering as opposed to construction, was me deliberately leaving the construction industry. Quality and risk are dealt with very differently. Geomarine controls more of the process by having engineers and geologists with design capacity, as well as direct labour and owned plant. I have always got out of bed to produce a quality product, work in a team and have a bit of a laugh. I loved the construction industry, but for large-scale projects, it has lost its way on the first two, which makes it no fun.

You have a keen interest in education and social mobility and are on the Board of Governors at Haute Valley. Are there specific initiatives or programs that you have implemented, or supported at Haute Vallee Secondary School and La Passerelle to enhance educational opportunities and promote social mobility for students?

There are some great schemes to support, such as Primary Engineer. We provide work placements for academic and non-academic students, a bursary and apprenticeships. We go to as many careers and school events as we can find out about. We’ve done prison talks to male and female inmates, we’re involved with charities such as Caring Cooks and Brighter Futures, and generally just spend a lot of time understanding local issues. There are no short-cuts. I am passionate about social mobility. It is too large a subject to do any justice to here other than to call out to anyone reading this to get in touch if they are similarly interested or know of someone who needs a hand up.

I have always got out of bed to produce a quality product, work in a team and have a bit of a laugh.

How do you integrate employee skill development and wellbeing initiatives at your company and what impact have you observed these efforts having on overall productivity?

Skills development: As with all things Geomarine, we strip it down to what is needed and what works, and then get on with it. Whilst we check in with regular PDRs, we are constantly talking to everyone in the team about what they need to get where they want to be. This then becomes iterative alongside what the long-term company needs are.

Wellbeing (cheese alarm…) is dealt with by genuinely caring about everyone in the team. I am fortunate to work with a board and fellow shareholders who are happy to put ethical considerations alongside, and often above, commercial ones. One of our first actions on purchasing the company last year was to extend private medical insurance to all employees; it is still standard elsewhere in the sector that white-collar workers get such benefits and blue-collar do not, which has always rankled. We have long embraced OH, counselling, gym membership and the easy stuff, as well as pension provision for all, but back to my original point, nothing can touch just genuinely caring; employ kind people (most are) and let them be kind. The productivity benefits are so obvious we don’t try and measure them, we have no intention of doing anything other than improving in this area anyway.

You are hugely supportive of encouraging females into male-dominated industries. What strategies or initiatives do you think should be implemented to encourage females to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated fields like engineering?

Concentrate on the pipeline. It's imperative we continue to get into schools. We always try to ensure that a primary school student’s first impression of an engineer is that they are a she. It is imperative to break down stigmas at an early age. Gender is a non-issue at management level at Geomarine. We are more concerned with less obvious or more challenging underrepresentation, as well as the physicality still required for more operational roles. Improving that will make the trades more attractive to a wider cross section of the community, as well as being safer.  

What motivated you to become actively involved in the IoD Jersey Branch, particularly in roles such as serving on the Industry Sub-Committee and volunteering as a mentor on the Mentoring Scheme?

In relation to the Sub-Committee, Alex made me, I’m a bit scared of her. I also enjoy representing engineering and the more practical industries.

I love the mentoring scheme. I have met some fabulous folk who I have kept in touch with afterwards; as the cliché goes, we have learnt from each other.