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Mike Putnam: Why I'm standing down as Skanska CEO

Exclusive: Mike Putnam first told Skanska’s group board he wanted to step down as chief executive a year ago, Construction News can reveal, as he backed successor Gregor Craig as an “excellent choice”.

In an exclusive interview with CN at Skanska UK’s head office in Hertfordshire, Mr Putnam said he would continue to be the point of contact for some key Skanska clients in the short term while Mr Craig settled into the CEO and president role.

“Both personally and for the business, it’s good to have change at the right time. I’ve been thinking for a while, what next, and been talking to Skanska in Sweden for about a year to work out the best way forward.

“Over that time I have been exploring having a non-exec portfolio career. You can’t do that in addition to the day job.

“It’s great that my first non-exec role will be with Skanska, I’ve spent a big chunk of my time trying to make a success [with Skanska] and it’s important to me that [Mr Craig] and the business continue on that path, because it’s not easy.”

Mr Putnam will continue as a non-executive director at Skanska and said he would consider non-exec roles at clients and supply chain firms in future.

He said he wanted to keep working with the Construction Leadership Council and Green Construction Board. Mr Putnam, who is also a member of the CBI construction council, said he would continue to “help the industry find its new direction”.

Mr Craig joined Skanska in 2003 as operations director for the company’s London commercial building business, having formerly spent time at John Laing, Wates and Carillion.

The 53-year-old said: “Mike is a tough act to follow. He led the company through the financial crisis, he’s an industry leader and look at the results in that time.”

Gregor Craig chief executive Skanska 1

Gregor Craig chief executive Skanska 1

Gregor Craig: ‘Mike is a tough act to follow’

Asked why Mr Craig was chosen to succeed him, Mr Putnam said he was widely known and respected within the group having worked across the buildings, civils and operations businesses.

Mr Craig had also been involved in the group’s 2020 plan, he added, and that Skanska now needed to look beyond that under his successor.

Mr Putnam had championed Mr Craig’s move from Skanska’s buildings division to become MD of its civils arm in 2014.

“When we first formed the senior management team, Greg was one of the first people onto it nine years ago. He’s well-known, well-respected across the organisation and he understands the business very well.

“With a new person at the helm, the great thing is that he will have a slightly different emphasis, one which is close to CN’s [mental health] campaign.”

Asked what would happen when Mr Craig took decisions he disagreed with, Mr Putnam said: “I hope he does. Organisations need bold leadership and that’s going to be fundamental when [Greg is] faced with challenges in this next stage… I will be there as a sounding board.”

Among the senior leaders to have left Skanska UK in the last 18 months are Roger Bayliss (who moved to a group role) Bill Hocking (now at Galliford Try) and Paul Chandler (who moved to Wates).

Recent promotions to the executive management team have included vice-presidents Thomas Faulkner and Martin Neeson, who share decades of experience at Skanska.

Mr Putnam said he had “no doubt” that the senior management team supported Mr Craig’s appointment. “It’s quite a young and diverse team but their support is already evident.”

Mr Craig pointed to opportunities presented by new methods of construction, including the trials of 3D-printed concrete and bringing offsite construction to sites through Skanska’s ‘flying factories’ concept, as being at the heart of the firm’s evolution.

Brexit “doesn’t particularly worry me”, he said, adding that Skanska had put “a lot of time into thinking through the different scenarios presented to us”.

Mr Putnam admitted the Skanska board did have initial concerns over the EU referendum vote, but insisted that its commitment to the UK was absolute.

EU workers account for less than 10 per cent of its direct workforce, Mr Putnam said, but admitted that on sites that could rise to anything from 15 per cent to as much as 70 per cent on some London projects.

Mr Craig said he would have four key themes to his leadership: customer / quality (“our job is to get them to choose us”); performance (“we are in the upper quartile but we need to keep going and do better”); health and safety (see box); and people (“earlier in my career, going from buildings to civils wasn’t on my radar but [Mike Putnam] prodded me into doing it. I want Skanska to really think about people’s potential”).

Skanska CEO backs CN mental health campaign

Skanska’s new chief executive and president Gregor Craig has paid tribute to the CN Mind Matters campaign on raising mental health awareness, saying it would be an early focus of his leadership.

“I have had an experience in my family which brings it home to you as to how difficult it can be to spot and do something about. 

I was shocked by the stats and information in CN. You look at the crowd of people we have here [in Skanska UK’s Hertfordshire head office] and the fact that one in four [of the CN survey respondents] had considered suicide, that message is stark.”

He said Skanska now employed 200 mental health first aiders and that he wanted to grow this and Skanska’s mental health focus in “a meaningful way”.

“If you look at all the effort we put in to making sure people don’t have falls from height and then look at the amount of effort we put in to people not dying from suicide, it just doesn’t compute. We need to address that balance. It’s good the industry and Skanska have a growing awareness of it.”

Mr Putnam admitted it would be “hard” to leave the running of the business, but that it would help him to achieve a better “work-life balance”.  

He described handing over to Mr Craig while being involved at non-exec level as “the perfect way” to pass on the reins. 

Asked whether Skanska’s group had attempted to change his mind at any point, Mr Putnam said they “respected the fact that I have given plenty of time [to the business] and, while I have energy in the tank, that I want to do something different that is meaningful”.

“I think if you look back over the last five to 10 years our track record has been very good, but it’s also important to get some fresh thinking.”

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