30 years in Management Consultancy, specialising in construction and engineering claims
Earlier this year, CEO Peter Elliott reflected on nearly 30 years to-date, in Management Consultancy and construction claims in an article on LinkedIn. As the year draws to a close and we look to another year of growth and development within an ever changing market, he explains how he first got into Management Consulting and why ensuring that you actually get paid for what you do, is more relevant than ever…
How did you get into Management Consultancy?
Like most things, by accident. I went to Queen’s University in Belfast to study medicine but following an accident, which left me in hospital for some time, I basically ran out of money and couldn’t afford to resit having missed a year. So I left uni. and came to the UK looking for work.
I arrived in London with pretty much nothing, and for a while I was homeless before I met someone who was incredibly supportive and gave me my first job. That opportunity led me into property development and from there I got into NBA Quantum, which was an early iteration of the company that has eventually become Tungsten Capital. That person became a lifelong friend.
How have construction claims changed over the last 30 years?
Good question. They’ve certainly become much more sophisticated than they were in the early days. The legal and technical processes are much more rigorous and the burden of proof is far higher. In fact, the whole market is more demanding – where once upon a time, deals would be done on a handshake at the end of a project, today you have to fight for every penny and prove absolutely everything.
Once, where employing the help of a Management Consultancy to fight a claim was seen as an indulgence, today you wouldn’t even think of trying to navigate one without professional support. It would be a bit like thinking you could do your own heart surgery just because you’ve watched Holby City a few times…
Often you’re dealing with large sums of money, lots of anger and frustration and the temptation is to rush in and try to get any deal you can. That never works out well. You must never lose sight of the fact that you only get one chance to get it right.
What was the most challenging case you worked on?
There have been many! Technically, every Claim presents a unique challenge but sometimes, the most difficult aspect of this job is actually balancing what a client believes he’s entitled to and what he’s actually going to get. Maybe they have seen another consultancy who have told them they are entitled to a particular amount or perhaps they have a Board to whom they are answerable to.
Just because you have lost £100 doesn’t necessarily mean you’re entitled to £100 compensation. I just don’t see the point in misleading a client into thinking that they can get more than they can from a claim just because it brings in a fee-earning assignment for the consultant or because the client is concerned that bringing a claim will somehow damage his relationship down the line. You have to operate within the confines of what is commercially realistic.
So, for us it’s about being practical; only promising what we know we can deliver and helping our client navigate the myriad of challenges surrounding a claim.
What was the most unusual claim you’ve ever been involved with?
Well, I can remember some years ago we had an enquiry come in to provide two claims consultants for a hospital project at the McMurdo Scientific Station in the Antarctic. We went our to our team of consultants to see who was available but because of the way the seasons worked there, they would essentially have to be there for a whole year – bearing in mind that average temperatures there are -20c.
As you can imagine, there wasn’t exactly a rush of volunteers! However, somewhere along the lines in discussion, somebody mentioned that there were 100 female nurses working there at the time and funnily enough, the next day my inbox was full of consultants who were suddenly available – many of whom also appeared to have suddenly dropped their rates!
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone starting a new construction project?
Follow Murphy’s Law. If something can happen, it invariably will. So be sensible – anticipate the worst, allow for it and legislate for it. If it does happen, then you’ll will be really glad you prepared. It’s a bit like house insurance – the day you forget to renew it is also the day your house burns down. And, if it doesn’t happen, then you’ve lost nothing. Remember no-one ever got fired for looking after a company’s best interests…
What are you looking forward to at Tungsten Capital over the next year?
The construction landscape is changing – if it hasn’t already become challenging, it’s about to. Between 2020 and 2025, I want to address those challenges in ways the claims management consultancy industry hasn’t done before – by implementing a suite of services and processes that better serve the needs of the industry and reflect the risk that contractors are now having to take.
People are going to have to think very carefully about the projects they get involved in and the risks they are prepared to take. Increasingly, I think people will need to avoid the temptation to take on construction projects just to keep turnover up. That’s never been a good idea, but even less so now.
The world economic landscape is again under huge pressure – its cyclical and under these circumstances there’s more risk out there than in the good times. As one of the biggest single industries – that impacts construction.
As contractors are getting involved in projects, they need to be more selective about what they take on, be more commercially minded and rethink the way they do business.
In short, our clients are having to adapt the way they work, and so why not Consultants also?
The old ways in which claims consultants work just aren’t attractive to Contractors any more and given that there are so many so-called Claims Consultants out there – something has to give. I have always been of the opinion that claims consultants need to take on a measure of the client’s risk. That ethos has always been present in the way Tungsten Capital operates.
However, we’re increasingly bringing that to the forefront of management consultancy, creating new tools that reflect the risk that contractors are now having to take and helping them to share that risk. I think it’s our responsibility as a claims consultants to invest in yourself and in short, put your money where your mouth is. So I am looking forward to putting those plans into action over the coming months.