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The Hoggett Bowers 2 Minute Interview: Phil Aiken

Phil Aiken interview
Phil Aiken, Chair – Balfour Beatty, Chair – Aveva, NED- Newcrest Mining

What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?

This week I am finalising the interim results and preparing a prospectus for a £5bn acquisition for Aveva, considering implications of a new lockdown for Balfour Beatty and preparing for an AGM of Newcrest Mining in Australia. Like many non-executives some of my weeks are extremely busy and the others not so busy.

Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?

We have seen the efficiencies of remote working across all of our businesses, including long Board discussions on Zoom and Teams. At the same time, not being able to communicate face to face still presents a challenge.

What would you have done differently in lockdown and therefore, how may this shape your thinking for any future lockdown (local or national)?

We have learned a lot from the previous lockdown in March-April and came a long way in terms of learning to work remotely. Main lesson going forward is to have more communications for shorter periods of time. 

Given the reliance on technology during lockdown, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/ workforce transformation in the short-medium term?

All of the businesses I am involved with have seen a digital transformation, which was accelerated by the pandemic. However, people have short memories, so I believe that the face-to-face interaction will continue once the crisis has come to an end. The face-to-face element is particularly important in the context of international communications.

What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?

Safety of our employees has always been a priority across my businesses, even before the pandemic. We have seen introductions of face masks and protective equipment more recently. We have also seen an increased emphasis on ESG.

There was a dramatic reduction in our carbon footprint during lockdown, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?

The carbon footprint has been an issue for us even before the pandemic, especially for Aveva, a supplier of software to energy industries. We see people travelling a lot less now. I live 6 km away from my office and never walked to work before, but I do now.

What changes personally will you keep from the lockdown period going forward?

I have tried hard to have a sensible routine, including having two hours set aside for exercise every day. I had my first zoom call at 6am today but will go for a 10km walk during lunch. On my walk I tend to listen to the radio and do some phone calls.

Also, in normal times I would have made 6-7 intercontinental business trips over the course of the last 6-7 months. I intend to make such trips more productive in the future.

Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)

The least inspiring thing last week was hoping that we will not go into the lockdown and then getting the lockdown announcement. The most inspirational was a video of a Covid19 sufferer from Liverpool hospital. This man, in his 70s, said that although he had wonderful care, he wished for nobody to get this horrible illness.

Did you manage a holiday this summer and if so where / how did you spend it?

Being in the middle of a major deal over the last half year prevented me from taking a proper holiday. My wife and I took several short breaks in the UK, including the Cotswolds, Scotland and the West Country. We really enjoyed the Highlands; it was wonderful for walking and playing golf. We are thinking about returning there for Christmas again, as we will be spending Christmas this year, just the two of us for the first time.

Any words of wisdom?

We are living in difficult times. This second lockdown puts an extra level of pressure on us, especially after having experienced a bit of freedom. It is important to keep smiling and keep trying to be active, especially as the days are becoming shorter. There will be a life after pandemic!