Blueprint for building success

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 October, 2010, 12:00am

Keith Griffiths is chairman of the global board of Aedas, the world's second-largest architectural firm, and also chairs the company's Middle East and Asia business. He studied architecture at St John's College, Cambridge University in Britain, and has spent more than 25 years of his professional career in Hong Kong. Griffiths has led the development of many prestigious projects around the world, including designing the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link in West Kowloon, the Elements mall in Kowloon and the 350,000 sqft retail and residential development of The Landmark Mall in Chongqing. In his own office, Griffiths brings to life the concept of learning on the job with a highly fluid and innovative training style designed to empower his staff. He talks to Liana Cafolla.

What is the most difficult aspect of your job, and how do you deal with it?

The most enjoyable aspect is design. The most difficult is people. If the staff are comfortable and happy, then their delivery and their product is good.

The building process is incredibly expensive and complex, done over a period of years. Spending is huge. The opportunities for loss of trust are massive and, as professionals, we must maintain that high level of trust the clients have in us, and the confidence of our teams that they can deliver. These are the difficult areas - keeping this balance and high level of professionalism and service means keeping staff happy, trained and invigorated.

Describe your leadership style

We're a people company. We don't have any value except our intellectual value. So it's important that a consistent standard is set. It's crucial that people coming in feel the company cares.

How do you motivate your staff?

We give ownership to local people. They have shares, and they share the profits of the company. We encourage them to take more shares and to open other offices. We say, anywhere you want to go and open an office, we'll support you. We [also] have a very clear, professional structure.

Can you describe your training process?

I have team leaders who have 15 years' experience and, below them, three or four deputies who have five to 10 years' experience, and below them you have architects with less than five years' experience and so on. A typical team might be 20 to 30 people. Our teams are very flexible. They only exist as long as the project exists. All these people come together and they create that product. By creating that product, they all improve [and] increase their level of professionalism and expertise. By migrating to the next series of projects, they take that increased expertise and move it on into the next project. What happens then is that people have a clear career and training path. They can see the process going on around them. We carry a huge amount of expertise into a job, but we also learn.

What's the critical lesson you've learned as a leader?

How to communicate effectively and well, precisely and consistently. I don't think I'm the greatest communicator in the world and that's something I've had to focus on very hard. I'm a good communicator about my designs. It's easy to communicate something you have enthusiasm for. It's less easy to communicate about the more humdrum aspects, though they may not be humdrum to others. What I try to do is to see the advantage in everything, no matter what there is. In the 2008 [global financial] collapse, [I thought] there must be something good, and yes, there [were] people out on the street to be hired.

How would you describe yourself?

I've always been an intuitive optimist, one of the most dangerous varieties. And intuition's good if you're leading a company, but you need to have other steady hands to pull you back occasionally. One of the most important things about being a leader is to have a team, to trust the team, to build a good team.


Like his staff, Griffiths shares a desk in an open-plan office

He is director of the Asian Youth Orchestra and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

He believes an old Welsh saying: 'He who would be a leader must be a bridge'