Construction lays firm foundations
A 25-year veteran of the Leighton Group, Hamish Tyrwhitt, managing director of Leighton Asia, is responsible for one of the fastest-growing segments of the company. A graduate of the University of Western Australia in Perth, where he studied civil engineering, Tyrwhitt moved to Asia in 1989. Through his different roles with the company, including project manager, he worked on a range of construction projects in New Zealand, Malaysia, Laos and Thailand before moving to Hong Kong and taking up his present role as managing director in 2007. Married with five sons, Tyrwhitt is passionate about his work and a strong advocate of employee recognition and teamwork. He attributes the one-day notice he was given to leave Australia to take over a construction project in Borneo as a significant factor in defining his career. He talks to Chris Davis.
What are your daily duties?
I wake up each morning to the beep, beep of my BlackBerry. I travel extensively, spending about 20 hours a week on an airplane, so the first thing I need to do each morning is recalibrate where I am. A typical day is all about hectic schedules and full of change. I can be in happy, angry, motivating, problem-solving and hiring modes all in one day. I am responsible for the management, strategic direction and leadership of more than 20 major projects across Asia, ranging from Mongolia to Guam.
Why did you decide to go into the construction sector?
Raised as an expatriate child, I have always enjoyed the outdoors, particularly the building and construction industry, so I did not want a job that was desk-bound. I also wanted to have the ability to work in different locations. I considered a couple of options, but my career took the direction it has when I won a scholarship to study a civil engineering degree at the University of Western Australia in Perth. I joined the company as a graduate and have been with the group ever since.
What have you found the most difficult aspects?
In the construction industry, different challenges occur all the time. The key is to select the right people who can overcome challenges. If you find a person does not fit in a position, it is vital to deal with the situation promptly. To overcome challenges, good team managers should never be afraid to employ people as good as, or better, than they are.
How can a big multinational encourage independent thinking and creativity?
The key is employing the right people and empowering and supporting them. We do not have a matrix system, so people have the power and autonomy to perform against pre-agreed key performance indicators and expectations. We closely review these processes to make sure we stay on the right track.
How do you unwind and deal with day-to-day pressures?
Work and my social life tend to be a bit of a blur because many of my work colleagues are also my close friends. I enjoy cycling and I like to spend time in the gym, but most of all I like spending time with my family. If I could rebalance anything, it would be to spend more time with my family. However, the commitments of work mean that I do have to spend a lot of time travelling.
What have you learned from your time in Asia?
You must respect the diversity and culture, and appreciate that doing business varies in different parts of Asia. Learning and listening make you a more tolerant person.
What should young people focus on if they want to succeed in this profession?
Seize opportunities. If you have an aspiration, follow that target but also be prepared to take side paths to achieve your goal. Be confident but do not allow yourself to be over-promoted. Also, take responsibility for your own career and be prepared to make sacrifices.
Tyrwhitt matches career aspirations, leadership and civil engineering skills to work on projects that make a difference to communities
Links love of travel and adventurous spirit to long-term career development
Believes that being confident and willing to take responsibility are key to achieving career goals