Waking up at 0450 every day and harnessing the potential of the younger generation: Interview with Mark Cowlard, CEO UK & Ireland

04 april 2019

micrAs Global Shapers, we have the opportunity – and a commitment – to making Arcadis a great place to work. Culture is a huge part of this, so we caught up with Mark Cowlard, CEO, UK & Ireland, to learn more about what makes him tick as a leader.

People know you as our CEO, but what are you like outside of work?

Family is really important to me. Given I have a long commute from East Sussex – just over two hours – I try and work from home at least one day a week to ensure I get to spend some time with my wife and daughters. My role sees me travelling a lot, so occasional home working is a great benefit to me, supporting my own work-life balance…and I hope others take the opportunity to do the same.

Away from work, I spend a lot of time outdoors. I wake up early every morning at 4.50am to walk my dog, Fizz. I also like to spend time gardening, kayaking along the Sussex coast and riding horses.

What motivates you to wake up from bed every morning and come to work?

I love my job and I am really proud of what we do as a collective. It’s brave to talk openly about ‘improving quality of life’, but I think we’re one of the only companies who can make that claim a reality.

It’s something that matters to me personally too. I want being part of Arcadis to truly benefit our colleagues, and that means creating a culture where our people can enjoy what they do and feel proud of the contribution they’re making.

Moving on to Global Shapers – what impact does Global Shapers play in this global and digital world (or could potentially play)?

I think the potential impact is enormous, but I also feel that the real impact is not realised. We need to learn how to better harness the contributions from Global Shapers in the long term for the business and make the most of the high levels of energy and innovative ideas that these brilliant individuals bring to us.

Everybody has the authority to challenge and we need to encourage our people to challenge the way we do things.

How can we engage Arcadians who are not Global Shapers but share the same passion?

I hope that those who haven’t been part of Global Shapers are aware of other ways they can make a difference. We have a multitude of Leadership schemes and other communities where people can embrace ‘extra-curricular’ activities and influence positive change. Whether it’s through charity work, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, our communities of practice or even other initiatives such as Expedition DNA.

My hope is that those in the UK who hold Leadership positions are already contributing to the groundswell, encouraging people to make a positive difference and lending their support and experience. We must bring what we do to life.

The theme for last year’s Global Shapers was #FutureCities – what are your thoughts on this and specifically what are the enablers and challenges to buildings #FutureCities?

There truly cannot be a better theme for this a Global Shapers programme. Our cities today are demanding a balance between work, live, learn and play. The cities agenda is moving at a fast pace and this will lead our business.

We must ask ourselves, how do we create the right city for the future? We must identify trends like the rise of automated vehicles. We can play a key role in shaping our future cities and I am genuinely excited to see the outputs from Global Shapers this year.

We are in a digitalised world where things are quickly changing and if companies don’t adapt to change they can become obsolete. What steps are we taking to set up Arcadis for the future?

What we do will certainly evolve over time. We listen to our clients, we can see market trends and we continue to iterate to improve. In addition, we have a global digital and innovation programme, which underpins our Vision, supported also across EMU and right here in the UK. Our aim to focus our efforts on scaling the use of tools that make us more efficient, whilst also providing support of new digitally-enabled propositions, like City Analytics or Precision Manufacuring.

I think we are certainly further along the journey than a number of our traditional competitors – our people have an immense level of passion, the ‘dare to be digital’, and we have a significant amount of investment in digital, the Global Excellence Centres (GEC), and now our digital studio.

But we must recognise one thing – our competitors of the future are not necessarily the competitors of today. We must collaborate with our eco-system partners and identify spaces and gaps in the market but also appreciate that not every gap needs to be filled by us.

Another thing that we must focus on is the Workforce of the Future. Led by Lara Potter, this role will be pivotal in garnering internal insight, opinion and ideas and marrying it with an objective market-backed perspective to help us shape future action..

What will Arcadis look like in 20 years?

I might have retired by that time! This is a tough one, can I answer it by saying how I hope to see Arcadis in 20 years’ time? I hope that we will continue to be concerned with improving the quality of life. I hope that we continue to be respected in our market and by our clients – saying that, it is difficult to say who our clients will be in 20 years’ time. I hope we can have a more diverse organisation. I also hope we can be successful from a share price perspective. I hope our people continue to enjoy being part of Arcadis and that we have a fantastic culture across all regions.

I think it’s hard to look ahead with any degree of certainty. What we need is an evolution, not a revolution – but an evolution at pace. And lastly, I hope that we can not only shape our own organisation, but also shape our client’s businesses to be focused and relevant for their customers needs.

By Mohammed Al-Sharifi and Manuela Belle