In the second of our series of discussions with Place North West's readers, Heather Butler meets Melanie Fox, business development manager for independent property and construction consultancy Rider Levett Bucknall based at Exchange Quay in Salford.
Where are we?
Portland Street in Manchester city centre. I'm from Bolton so this is my home city, but this specific location is close to my heart because it's where Transport for Greater Manchester is based. My granddad, Joe Clarke OBE, was chairman of its forerunner, the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive and was instrumental in bringing the Metrolink to Manchester. He was always very low-key about what he was doing and I didn't understand the enormity of it at the time, even when John Prescott rang the house to speak to him. He was still working on the Metrolink project when he died aged 80 and my grandmother was invited to open one of the new phases with Princess Anne. There's a tram named after him and it was fantastic the first time I saw it with my dad, we always look out for it when we're in town.
What do you do?
Talking and listening. I have to know what's happening across the company, whether for public sector or university clients, developers or private portfolio holders, to understand what more we could be doing for those clients or where else we could use those skills. I'm helping to put people in touch with each other, QSs, project managers, asset advisors. It has been compared to dating, or rather setting up blind dates. That's probably oversimplifying but I do bring people together, whether it's to give a new perspective on a project with an existing customer or introducing a prospective or new client to what we have to offer.
What's on your desk?
I don't have one actually, we hot desk. You find a spare workstation and log into the phone system and retrieve your little cabinet. It took a bit of getting used and it forces you to be tidier, but actually it's great because it means you can talk to someone different every day. You can engage with different teams and people will chat and bounce ideas off each other.
At the moment I'm working on a customer relationship management project designed to ensure a five star service for clients. There's a lot of competition in the market and the smallest thing can be your differentiator, and our staff are our best ambassadors. It's a company-wide strategy and we have 350 staff in the UK so it's a big project.
Why did you choose this industry?
I came in from the business side rather than an engineering or construction background. I came out of Manchester Uni with a sport and business management degree looking for a marketing-related role with a big firm that offered opportunities to grow, and applied to Alfred McAlpine. They had a good reputation and I was drawn to construction as it's a sector where you can be involved with a project from start to finish and see the end result of something you're involved with at the beginning.
How did you get started?
My first role was as a bid writer helping to put together proposals. I learned an enormous amount about the company, the schemes and projects they were working on and the construction industry as a whole. It was an exciting time and if you showed willing and enthusiasm they would engage with you and you could rise quite quickly. I did two years in bids before moving to the marketing side for another six years and developed relationships in the industry.
How come you're here?
The poacher turned game keeper about five years ago when I went from the contractor side to consultant, it means I understand the issues on both sides. RLB is a very forward-thinking company and has won all sorts of employee awards, I think partly due to its non-hierarchical structure. You could have the chief exec sitting at the desk next to a building surveyor or could just pick up the phone to the chairman, as I've done many times, which is useful for staff and beneficial for clients. Our regional offices are experts in their area but we've national and international offices we can bring in if needed, who've worked on some amazing projects like the Sydney Olympic stadium, the Kia Oval and Melbourne Cricket ground.
What was a job well done?
I take great satisfaction in creating new business relationships and opportunities for RLB, creating the introduction that leads to genuine benefit for a new client by aligning our practitioners and their skills, with an understanding of the client's needs. We're currently undertaking a lot of estate rationalisation, making real cost savings for clients by making their property portfolios work much harder. Take the Charity Commission and DEFRA, there's huge satisfaction in helping them.
And the tougher times?
Adapting to working in the difficult trading environment of recent years has been hard but it reinforced just how important relationships are to doing business. Although we're still in unprecedented times, we can take heart from two things. Historically, growth starts in the South before spreading through the rest of the country, so let's take the buoyant market in the South as a positive note. Also, Manchester is a great place to be, it's creative, resourceful, determined and proactive, and those are the qualities that are needed right now.
Being the very best I can be has always been my goal so I really just want to continue to do the best job I can for RLB and primarily our clients, pushing forward our 5 Star Customer Service.