Mike Putnam’s departure from the day-to-day running of Skanska UK leaves Gregor Craig with big shoes to fill.
The timing of the announcement surprised people in the industry this week. Skanska has worked hard to keep it under wraps given Mr Putnam first floated the idea of leaving a year ago.
When I was invited to meet with the outgoing CEO and his successor at their head office in Hertfordshire this week, it became clear that Mr Putnam’s non-exec role will be more hands-on than that of a normal non-exec – particularly in the short-term.
He will continue to lead Skanska’s relationship with certain key clients as Mr Craig takes a handle on the wider operations of the business.
A desk will be there for him at its head office, though he insists he doesn’t intend to use it too often. Mr Putnam was clearly keen to walk away in an amicable way from the company he has worked with for 25 years and this arrangement suits both parties and could be of benefit to the wider industry.
Mr Craig’s challenge is how to tackle establishing leadership while his old boss – such a prominent figure in the industry – continues to play a part, including by maintaining client relationships.
The incoming CEO will need to raise his profile and will also want to establish his authority early on. He might do that by making a key senior appointment, or perhaps a surprise move in the market, though he was keen to stress that while he has his own ideas he’s not about to upset the apple cart.
Skanska has performed consistently well despite the turbulent economic backdrop to more than seven years under Mr Putnam’s leadership.
But the industry is now at a tipping point, particularly for contractors seeking to change their business models – by making greater use of technology and advanced manufacturing, for example.
Mr Craig is self-assured and clearly sees some of those changes to the industry as crucial to Skanska’s future – perhaps a hint as to why Mr Putnam believes now is the right time to hand over leadership.
It was interesting to note Mr Putnam was the person who promoted Mr Craig to becoming MD of civils in 2014 from his role within the company’s buildings division, showing Mr Craig has been earmarked as a potential future leader for several years.
But while he has been an MD and part of Skanska’s leadership for some time, his new role will be unlike any other.
On a positive note, the group has a strong set of standards and is known for its sustainability credentials and reliability. Frankly, he’ll want Skanska to stay out of the headlines. Reliability and focus on customer satisfaction will remain the principal goal.
But Mr Putnam, an excellent leader, has benefited from having people around him with decades of experience as leaders in their own right.
Gone are former leaders including Bill Hocking, Paul Chandler and now Mr Putnam (in a full-time capacity at least) with a relatively junior team around the new CEO, though most are Skanska stalwarts themselves.
Mr Craig takes over a company consistently producing a strong margin (by industry standards) with established client relationships.
He also has the chance to work with those around him to build a new Skanska leadership, and claims he will want to have different ideas to his predecessor.
But how he works alongside Mr Putnam in his non-exec role will be a challenge, particularly when their ideas differ.
Two leaders won’t work; Mr Craig will want to be judged on his own merits.
This week is national mental health awareness week and clients, contractors and construction businesses have been contacting CN in their droves seeking to engage with our Mind Matters campaign.
So many industry leaders have quoted back the statistics in our survey to me in the past two weeks. There is a real sense that construction is being shaken into action and it’s heartening to see.
It’s good to see Skanska’s new CEO specifically mention mental health as an early focus for him in his role. He has experience of mental health issues in his family and paid tribute to CN’s campaign this week, while describing the ‘one in four’ statistic as utterly shocking.
There is much work to do, but it’s heartening to see that despite the stark messages we have conveyed, positive action is being taken already to tackle the issue.