2023 10 12

“Making sure our goals align” – reflections on the Wates’ Supplier Conference 2023

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As one of only three façade contractors present, and the only European facade contractor, it was a privilege for the Staticus team to be invited to this years’ Wates Supplier Conference. Our CEO, Ausra Vankeviciute, and our UK Regional Director, Aaron Dehara, were among the 200 delegates taking part in the event. Ausra also contributed to a lively panel discussion on the nature of strategic partnership in our industry.

In this short article, Ausra and Aaron reflect on the discussions around partnership in the industry that took place, and on the close alignment between Wates’ goals and those of Staticus.

This was our first time attending the Wates’ Supplier Conference. So, first and foremost, it is encouraging to know that a company we view as a strategic partner sees us in the same light.

The morning was dedicated to Wates presenting their strategic partnership strategy. On reflection, three key points struck me from this part of the event. 

First of all, it was noticeable how much emphasis was placed on health and safety. The message was loud and clear – it has always been and will continue to be the number one priority. 

Secondly, Wates emphasised the importance of competency, inclusivity and diversity within the subcontract workforce as well as their own teams.   

Lastly, Wates walked through the 5 key components of their strategy that underpin profit: Innovation, Sustainability, Inclusion and Diversity, Quality, and Safety. It was noticeable that our own goals at Staticus align with those of Wates very closely, matching our ambitions to further improve in these areas. 

And for me, a key aspect of building an effective partnership is making sure our goals align. When you have the same overall direction, it’s easier to find ways to work together. These values and strategic ambitions must then be communicated and championed within the respective businesses to ensure collaborative, trusting and transparent partnerships are fostered at a project-level.

What makes a partnership strategic?

In the afternoon, our CEO Ausra was one of the speakers in a lively discussion focused on the nature of strategic partnerships. For us as a company, it meant a lot that Ausra was invited to speak, especially as we were the only subcontractor on the panel.

The discussion topic was “Strategic supply partnerships: urban myth or business imperative”. And the conversation covered topics like risk (can risk sharing in a partnership be rebalanced so it doesn’t cascade down to the subcontractors?) and price (how do we build partnerships where price is not the only factor, but where there is still competitiveness?)

Ausra’s central point was one that many attendees agreed with – that in a partnership you have ups and downs, but you never take each other for granted. The analogy she used was of a spouse who becomes lazy and stops making any effort. She stressed that we should always remember our partnerships are bound by economic limits, and this is good because it keeps us motivated and focused.

The industry’s partnership report card

There was an overall consensus from the speakers that when it comes to building stronger partnerships there is more that the industry can do. If the construction sector received an ‘end-of-year report’ for its level of partnership, it would probably read: “must try harder.”

It is clear that many companies are trying to partner more effectively, and we need leadership from the top to break the status quo culture in construction, which can still be quite confrontational and divisive.

The good news is many people are working that direction, and the event itself was a great example. On the day, Wates were very transparent with their information. They shared some lessons they had learned and even some financials, which was extremely helpful for us as a partner, providing confidence that despite the challenging economic outlook their financial position is strong.

This was an example in practice of the type of transparency Elaine Allen, Head of Built Environment at Microsoft UK, was calling for during the panel discussion. Her specific focus was on AI, and the potential to build mutually beneficial relationships through data sharing. Her point was that for this to happen, you need a culture of trust and transparency. If we get this, we can create innovations that ‘move the needle’ and more ‘customer-centric developments’. 

We certainly echo these sentiments at Staticus and are constantly looking for ways to improve transparency. Our 4D reporting tool is one example of putting more data into the hands of our partners, while our new approach to negotiation is dependent on mutual trust and maximising asymmetrical cost and value. I’m not saying that all of this transparency and trust-building is yet a reality, but discussing these points at a leadership level is certainly an encouraging first step.

Overall, while there is certainly a lot of progress to be made, events like the Wates’ Supplier Conference show that we are moving in the right direction as an industry. As a company that openly advocates (and practices) transparency and trust in the industry, it was encouraging to see a Tier 1 player like Wates pulling in the same direction.

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