Peter Bailey is the current Chief Executive Officer and Chair of Arup in Australasia. He is also a Director on the international board of Arup Group. In 2012, Bailey was awarded the National Association of Women in Construction’s Crystal Vision Award (NSW) for advancing the interests of women in the construction industry. He is a member of Consult Australia Champions of Change, a collection of CEOs from the building environment consulting industry who are united to encourage more gender diversity and to drive change.
Monica Edwards/Natalie Lane-Rose: What are the values that underpin the culture of Arup?
Peter Bailey: Ove Arup founded Arup in 1946. He was a strong character with Scandinavian values such as a sense of social equity, being honourable, concern for the environment, quality of work and social usefulness. These principles continue to guide us in terms of our approach to business and anything to do with people.
ME/NLR: How do you think this culture is embedded in the practice?
PB: I think there are a number of factors that have worked in our favour. One is the ownership structure of Arup. Originally it started as a normal partnership, but when thinking about succession, Ove Arup developed the generous plan to bequeath the firm to trusts owned on behalf of all employees, future, present and past, to ensure that there was a legacy forever. The second is that we’ve also been careful about how we expand. In his key speech before leaving, Ove Arup spoke of growth, of not over structuring or over strategising the firm, but allowing individuals to flourish and to take the firm where they wanted to go. We have never done any large acquisitions or mergers. So it grows organically and therefore the culture goes with it. And lastly, by being very deliberate about the exchange of staff around the world, it has the added benefit of connecting the culture.
ME/NLR: In 2013 Arup celebrated 50 years of design and innovation in Australia. At the time, you described the shifting needs of a diverse society as a challenge for the future. Can you elaborate on this?
PB: It is an ever-changing world and as a business we need to be conscious of what society is dealing with and the challenges it is facing. The diversity of those challenges is increasing. Things like urbanisation, population growth, density, migration, refugees, changing demographics in society, ageing population, the desire of women to be in the workforce and the pressure on family life. We can’t divorce ourselves from these challenges. We have got to be of society.
ME/NLR: How public are you about your aspirations for the world?
PB: This is an issue we’ve struggled with sometimes, how outwardly public and demonstrative should we be about our views? I think engineers should actually take a stand and be visibly participating in the debate in society. We know about energy, climate change, urbanisation, density, infrastructure, transport, connectivity, all of these challenges, and yet I don’t think we are that visible as an industry.
ME/NLR: How have you implemented diversity policy in Arup?
PB: I was made the initial Diversity Champion of the Board in 2008. We took a specific approach to the portfolio to look at things like flexible working, maternity leave, giving a voice to young women in the organisation, looking at our gender ratios, looking at our pay equity. We bought in a Diversity Policy that tried to address these things and set about plans of action and policies that would be supportive of a diverse workforce.