How Mace Group ‘hit the reset button’ to create a purpose-driven organisation

Interview

Mark Reynolds
CEO of Mace

Mark Reynolds, CEO of Mace Group, has spent many years trying to make the construction firm more purpose-driven, but it took the COVID-19 pandemic to create the catalyst needed for change.

“It was time to press the reset button and say if I want to change behaviours and culture, this is the best opportunity I have,” says Mark, speaking to PwC for our 24th Annual UK CEO Survey.

It had taken 18 months to get agreement on Mace's previous business plan – in comparison "this one was an absolute dream," says Mark. "Everyone worked together, everyone was collaborative, everyone got what we were trying to do."

The result was an ambitious purpose-driven strategy, which aims to drive sustainable growth for Mace.

“People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it. It isn’t about trying to sell you something, it’s about trying to solve a problem for you, I’m trying to work with you,” he says.

Sustainability initiatives

Sustainability is at the heart of Mace’s new strategy. The firm achieved Net Zero status in 2020 and aims to make a further 20% reduction on CO2 emissions this year.

Helping clients reduce embodied carbon in new developments provides one of the biggest opportunities, with ESG commitments becoming an important investment criteria in the private sector.

"If we can come in and take 30% of the CO2 emissions out of your project today, they are getting cheaper funding. So we'll win work on the basis of saying how we can help."

The sector’s ability to increase efficiency and collaboration using digital tools will be crucial to achieving sustainability commitments. The "biggest game changer" for Mace has been analytical tools linked to its existing enterprise management system.

“I asked people to stop bringing me dead birds. You know how cats bring dead birds into the kitchen and they’re really pleased they have bought this horrible thing into your home? You would not believe how many weeks I would wait for a dead bird to be brought to my door.”

For example, on a basic level Mace can improve security on its building sites using a digital access management system. However, technology which helps track who is on site can also drive efficiencies by ensuring each project has the optimum number of people with the right mix of skills. "Using information and data like that is becoming much easier for us now," says Mark. "It’s allowed us to make better decisions and move forward more quickly."

A more agile business

Mace has also seized the opportunity to become more agile, prioritising "speed over elegance". Mark says people used to spend too long finessing their ideas, meaning they were potentially wasting time and money on bad decisions.

"I asked people to stop bringing me dead birds. You know how cats bring dead birds into the kitchen and they’re really pleased they have bought this horrible thing into your home? You would not believe how many weeks I would wait for a dead bird to be brought to my door."

Mark encouraged people to worry less about making mistakes and to be willing to discuss their problems rather than always trying to find the solution. It’s a lesson he learned while working on the London Olympics. “I would make better decisions than most of my colleagues and that wasn’t because I was better than them, it's that I had more information to make the decisions. I had more data sets to choose from," he explains. “My point is, give me the information and then we can make a decision. Just tell us the problem, don’t try to work out the answer.”

The real test for large firms like Mace is whether agility can be maintained long-term.

Building back better

The construction industry is an important gauge of the vibrancy of the UK's cities. Mark expects commercial property will have a difficult year and admits to being "absolutely amazed" that developers are so far continuing to build offices in London.

He predicts that around 70% of the firm’s employees will eventually return to its Central London office full-time, meaning redundant office space will need to be repurposed into a collaboration space or sublet to a social enterprise. "But I don't think the commercial market will fundamentally change. And if it drops 20%, then it will be filled by something else, particularly government contracts." he says.

The construction industry looks set to have a prominent role in the UK government's economic recovery plans. 'Levelling up' the country will involve large infrastructure projects, with Mark predicting the north and the midlands will get the bulk of investment. “It creates jobs and that’s what the government is trying to do," he says.

Public sector projects, alongside the renewed focus on sustainability, suggest the industry can be optimistic about the next few years. Firms that are agile and move quickly to seize the opportunity for change will likely reap the benefits. "We still see huge opportunities, particularly through Net Zero carbon, digital, and the whole off-site manufacturing change within the industry. So if we can be one of the leaders in that area, we can capitalise."

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Marco Amitrano

Marco Amitrano

Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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