Transforming a sector: An interview with Dean Kimpton

COVID-19 fundamentally changed the size and structure of the construction sector. It has influenced the industry in a way never anticipated and the pipeline itself has been dramatically impacted. Prior to and through this turbulent time, there were several industry bodies addressing sector issues. Those bodies continue to operate and straddle different functions. But what are they doing?

We sat down with Dean Kimpton, Chair of the Construction Sector Accord and Managing Director of infrastructure advisory business, Tūhura Consulting, to discuss the future for the Accord, Building Advisory Panel and where the construction and infrastructure industries should remain focused.

How would you describe your pathway to becoming a leading consultant in New Zealand’s infrastructure industry?

I originally trained as a civil engineer and started my career at AECOM. I worked my way up to become the Managing Director for a number of years, before I was attracted to the Chief Operating Officer role at Auckland Council in 2013.

This role provided me a broad overview of the varied functions of the country’s largest city, and what is needed to develop sustainable infrastructure.

Last year I made the decision to start my own infrastructure advisory business, Tūhura Consulting. Tūhura is te reo for ‘discovering, exploring and bringing to light’ – I love the meaning. It was going to be a hobby but as usual there are too many interesting things to be involved in!

How would you describe your experience chairing the Accord during New Zealand’s first significant response to COVID-19?

It was a night and day experience – it was a ‘zoom’ experience!

The Construction Sector Accord had only just been signed by all parties – but the brilliant thing was we had deep relationships with ministers, with government agencies, with industry and the wider construction sector. Our strategy and my total focus was to leverage that as best we could into a three phase response – maintain, restart, transform – to build a coalition of the willing and committed to create a resilient construction sector.

This also meant fast-tracking some of our transformation agenda in areas like rapid procurement models, payment terms, and dealing with significant issues of the moment like resolution of contract terms triggered by the pandemic, the dramatic shift down of existing and future work, redundancy and lay-offs. Looking back, I believe we achieved to a large extent our ‘maintain and restart’ objectives.

Now we get to focus on delivering against the transformation agenda, and we have 2 years left to deliver it. But the agenda has changed, now with a greater focus on environmental leadership (a new workstream) and innovation (being further embedded in all workstreams).

With a new Government, we will need to adjust again but we have an awesome platform to work from and great ministerial support. The Construction Sector Accord will continue to provide that unique partnership interface between Government and the sector, between supplier and procurer.

How does your work with the Accord compare to your current role chairing the Building Advisory Panel (BAP)?

BAP is a group of leaders from across the building sector appointed to provide the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) free and frank advice and review of its building policy work programme. This ultimately shapes up the regulatory programme and advice to the Government of the day.

There is a helpful overlap between the panel and the Construction Sector Accord, as both aim to create a more sustainable and resilient construction and infrastructure sector here in New Zealand.

What is the focus of these industry bodies moving forward, do they share a common purpose?

They absolutely share a common purpose – building regulatory frameworks have long term, high impacts on our built environment, for the betterment of all New Zealanders. The construction sector needs to be high performing for the same reason.

In your opinion, what is the one thing the construction industry can do to seize opportunities from the disruption caused by COVID-19?

COVID-19 was a true ‘black swan’ event. My view at the outset was very simple from a Construction Sector Accord perspective – rapid focus on resilience (the ‘maintain’ and ‘reset’ phases), then accelerate the transformation agenda.

For individual organisations, this is really interesting but simple in my view: people matter, and that is the big opportunity. Great people innovate, create, deliver excellent services, are your businesses agility, will be high performing and can be trusted. Hard choices still need to be made, but those companies that get it – that is that people matter – will be the ones transform and thrive.

If I had time to talk about a second – it would be technology innovation. There has never been a better time to think about how technology can both support and constructively disrupt business and New Zealand’s wider economy.

If you could deliver one message to the construction and infrastructure industries what would it be?

People matter.

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