Michael Smith is the MD of Corniche Construction based in Crawley, West Sussex. He has been a leader within construction for over thirty years and Corniche is the proof of that track record. He is also a Trustee with the CIOB. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
An Interview with Mike Smith
CMM: Thank you, Mike, for agreeing to be interviewed on this new Construction platform. Let’s start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and Corniche.
MIKE: The best way to describe myself is ‘interesting’ I’ve had a varied and fulfilling life, lots of twists and turns, many life experiences and still learning – which one should read as ‘getting it wrong’
Corniche is my other life that keeps a roof over my family’s head. I started it far too many years ago when I was in my early 20’s and I hope it will be on-going when I’ve finished – a legacy for the industry and the team I have around me. I fell into construction through my father who ran a successful commercial decorating company but branched out. My last proper job before Corniche was as a QS for a small Construction Company. The day I joined them I predicted they would go bust. I left after 9 months to set up Corniche; 18 months later they went spectacularly bust. My Co-director is my brother who is 14 years younger than me. He went through the trades route and I like to think that when he came to stay and came to work with me as a lad, somehow that influenced him to the industry. We have several ‘families’ within the Company.
CMM: Mike what motivates you from day to day while working within the Construction Industry?
MIKE: I think it’s fair to say I love art and buildings – which is art in the environment. I did think about becoming as Architect as I was good at Technical Drawing – did it at A Level (Rot-ring Pens and Parallel motion before CAD) but I’m not good at art. I enjoy the skilled tradesmen the banter, learning from them and they from me. My passion is trying to do the job to the best of my ability and meeting or exceeding my client’s expectations. Construction is never dull and you either make it a vocation or you fall by the wayside and jump from job to job. I’ve only ever had three employers before Corniche. I love the company of others and through the CIOB have a great bunch of mates.
CMM: What are some of the challenges you face on a daily basis while developing the business?
MIKE: Maintaining all the balls in the air. Every day, in fact, every minute has fresh challenges. Keeping staff/colleague happy and motivated, keeping clients happy. Being truthful and open is always the way forward. I do some consulting work as well and it teaches me a lot seeing what other people and companies do and try to get away with. The other issue is communication and information exchange. Call me old fashioned but I remember building 14 flats from 10 drawings. These days for a modest job of say £0.5m we can get in excess of 100 drawings. Change management is difficult to monitor.
CMM: Have you tried any of the new technologies that are set to change the way we work on a building site?
MIKE: Simple answer yes and no. In terms of materials and techniques that go with them yes. I am still sceptical of some. As we work on varied projects from new build to refurb/renovation we are constantly getting new products specified which do not always follow tried and trusted methods. In terms of IT, we are trailing various bits of soft and hardware which are working. The latest thing we are trialling is a site diary app and I am trying to get Skype and conference calls in place rather than meetings – saves on travel and time.
CMM: I realise that this is a hot topic at the moment. What is your view on retention payments and client payment terms?
MIKE: Retentions are a contractor’s profit on a job these days. It’s as simple as that. Persimmon and Berkeley Homes boast big profits but at who’s expense? They (retentions) are both outdated and the concept needs changing. Client payment terms – most of the time we do not have too many issues. I still have an issue with JCT contracts which need a serious proper overhaul from all industry bodies, not just the 7 colleges that exist. Only three of the 7 are contractors and one of those are subs – so two. How does that present a level playing field contractually?
CMM: Mike, I know you have been associated with the CIOB. What is your role now and what are the benefits of Construction professionals belonging to this organisation?
MIKE: I am currently a trustee in my second term. I sit on the Professional Conduct Committee am Chair of the Nominations Committee, Audit and Risk, Investment and Subscriptions Working Group. I am heavily involved in the recruitment of a new CEO. I could write reams about what I have been part of in developing this great publicly unknown Industry Chartered body. The CIOB represents the people who make our living environment – where we live, work, play, travel etc. What has to be understood that the CIOB represent a broad church of professional skillsets not just Construction Managers. We are a Professional Awarding body and not a Trade Association. The benefits are an internationally recognised professional qualification in construction, a great back up family which stands alongside RICS and RIBA (we are the oldest construction society started in 1834 older than RICS and as old as RIBA). We developed the Modern Slavery Act and have started our own Quality Qualification after Grenfell. So the benefits are huge personally, professionally and universally and we have great plans going forward to get a qualified industry.
CMM: Finally, I know that running a business can be very demanding. What activities do you get involved in to relieve stress?
MIKE: We have 6 children three chickens a dog (and soon to arrive bees!) between us so that’s always demanding albeit they are mostly in their 20’s. We are working at weekends making our house a home – we bought a cottage that we thought only needed a bit of work … when that’s done, time with family and friends, gardening, cycling, run, sail, climb and walking. Oh, I forgot Harlequins supporter and season ticket holder, which as we have a South-African Director of Rugby you will appreciate.
CMM: Mike, thank you so much for joining us on this platform. It is much appreciated, and we wish you and Corniche well going into the future.