Multiple risks

Question: What do Mongolia’s mining boom, $225bn of deep-water drilling in Brazil, the rising threat of terrorism in Asia, European financial regulations, cyber-risks, Qatar’s growing SME sector, and the difficulty of predicting natural disasters in Australia and New Zealand all have in common?

Answer: They are all insured through Lloyd’s of London, and I covered them all for the news section of its relaunched Market magazine in June.

The P word

Wanted: a senior civil engineer, with a strong commercial background and experience of working in Asia, currently serving on the board of a FTSE 100 company. There aren’t many men with that CV, but this was the brief given to headhunters seeking the first female non-executive director for FTSE 250 company Balfour Beatty earlier this year. If such a person exists, they have yet to find her. In the end, the contractor had to look overseas and outside the industry — Canadian Maureen Kempston Darkes is a former group vice president of General Motors and a lawyer by training. Since 2011’s Davies Report highlighted the under-representation of women in British boardrooms – just 12.5% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies were female, and it would take more than 70 years to achieve gender parity at the current rate of change – there has been progress, but construction still lags behind other industries. As Balfour Beatty’s experience shows, there just aren’t that many senior women coming up through the ranks, and those who have made it almost always have an HR, finance or marketing background. In this piece for Construction Manager magazine, I asked how companies can ensure a ready supply of female board members for the future – without resorting to (whisper it) positive discrimination.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Indian construction boom

I spent January researching and writing a 12,000-word report on India for Building magazine’s White Paper series. One of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India appears unstoppable. While foreign investors continue to flock to its Special Economic Zones, domestic demand from its 1.2 billion citizens is more than sufficient to maintain GDP growth well above the global average. But to live up to its potential, the Indian government knows it must invest billions of dollars on every aspect of its infrastructure – under the Five Year Plan just finishing, it spent $500bn, and it has set out a further $1trn of projects in the next. This feature, published in Building the same week, offers a snapshot of what’s going on.

“Life seems more meaningful in a tiny house”

Small may be a relative concept when it comes to homes, but there’s no question that the “micro homes” increasingly popular in crowded cities around the world are very, very small indeed. I investigated the phenomenon of shrinking spaces for Modus, the magazine of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, speaking to residents of tiny houses smaller than most people’s garages, office designers condensing the footprint per employee by a third, and psychologists seeking to find out how our diminishing place in the world is changing the way we think.

Lonely at the top

On a Wednesday afternoon in early August, Julie Fadden was walking around the streets of Speke and Garston with her staff, talking to her tenants and resolving issues on her estates. The chief executive of South Liverpool Housing was doing what she does on the first Wednesday afternoon of every month – even though her father had died early that morning. This is an extreme example of what sets the chief executive in a housing organisation apart from their staff, but it does shed some light on why the chief executives in Inside Housing’s salary survey are paid so much more than their employees. I spoke to them to find out how they earn their six-figure salaries.

However bad it gets, we still have to eat

If you think the UK has reached saturation point for supermarkets, think again. In fact, we’re still relatively under-served compared with other European countries and the US – France and Germany have nearly twice as much supermarket space per capita, and the US has triple. All the big chains and quite a few newcomers have been taking an aggressive approach to expansion over the last few years, and they’re not planning on slowing down any time soon, as I found out in this analysis of the supermarkets sector for Building magazine.

How not to get into a fight with a brickie

Before I wrote this piece for Construction Manager, I struggled to picture a room of builders discussing their feelings and filling in personality tests. But a growing number of contracting firms are using exactly these methods to help staff win friends and influence people on site. I spoke to the owners of some of the muddiest boots in the business to find out whether you can really teach site management in a classroom, and compiled a handy quiz to help readers identify their own management style.