Meet Gregor Craig, President and CEO of Skanska UK

23 July 2021

SCC patron Skanska is among the largest Swedish employers in the UK and has in a relatively short time established itself as one of the top construction companies in the country. Gregor Craig, President and CEO of Skanska UK, leads us through the company’s most immediate challenges of bringing people back to a ‘new normal’, the misperceptions of the industry, and how Skanska is changing industry standards in areas such as health and safety, as well as taking the lead in the decarbonisation of the industry.

“I have probably had a few careers actually,“ Greg says when asked to recap his professional accomplishments throughout the years. He started his career in the construction industry “before the days of mobile phones”, as he puts it, with a commercial role as a Quantity Surveyor. “I did various commercial roles, but always based on site, which was important to me. I wanted to see visually what I was working on. That was one of the things that really attracted me to the industry.”

When Greg decided to do an MBA around the year 2000, it was a flag to his organisation that he was thinking a little bit wider than just commercial roles. “Fairly soon after that, I was offered the Operations Director role.”

In 2003, he joined Skanska UK where he held several senior positions including the role of Managing Director in the infrastructure sector, until he was appointed President and CEO in 2017. “For me, this sort of leadership role can be described as yet a different career. I have been really fortunate.”

Big player in the UK
Skanska UK is one of the country’s top construction companies. Established in the UK in 2000, the company today employs around 3,300 people and is known for working on major projects such as HS2 – the UK’s new high-speed railway – just to name one. “The UK is quite different to some of our other markets, primarily because of the phenomenal amounts of competition that there is in the UK,” Greg explains. “Skanska is for instance one of the top three in Sweden. In the UK, we are a big player, and we have a very strong reputation, but you would probably say we are in the top ten. To give you a feel for the competitiveness on the market, there are about 60,000 construction companies in the UK.”

Sticking to what it knows best Unlike other businesses in the industry that diversify into areas such as telecoms or shipbuilding, Skanska sticks to what it knows best – construction and development – a trait that attracted Greg to join the company in first place. “One of the things I really like about Skanska is its focus on construction and development, which means that the people at the top really understands the business. This is our market penetration strategy – we try to maximise those sectors that we have known for years. Another thing that is incredibly important to us is that we are very transparent and honest. I think this is what customers really value about Skanska.”

Passionate about the people
When we ask Greg about the best part of his job, it is evident that he is passionate about the people that comprise the industry. “In the construction industry, there are so many different roles. You come across so many different people, all of them with quite fascinating backgrounds. This is one really important part to me, that keeps it really alive and keeps me energised.” Also, the visible and tangible aspect, where you can see and touch what is being built, is still as important to Greg as when he first joined the construction industry. He describes a project where a 1200 tonne, 72m-long bridge structure was slid into place above one of the busiest roads going into London on the weekend of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal wedding in Spring 2011. “To pull something like that, land it into position, and to do that with millimetre accuracy, is just the most incredible feat of planning and engineering. When you see things like that being done, it is just incredible.”

Building for a better society
‘Building for a better society’ is a phrase that is used within the organisation to describe what Skanska actually does, and according to Greg, it is one of the things that sets Skanska apart from the rest. “Yes, building is at the heart of what we do, but we are very conscious of the society and respectful of the community within which we are doing our work. We are always alongside people, sometimes with big heavy equipment, and sometimes making noise. We need to be very respectful of the communities, otherwise it becomes a problem for them. We are also very conscious of the much wider aspects of society, particularly the environmental and sustainability aspects.”

Sharing knowledge across the group
According to Greg, the UK construction market is probably one of the most mature markets in terms of the processes that are used. “The construction market has been around for a very long time,” Greg explains. “We have probably some of the very latest thinking in terms of construction in the world.“ These conditions have proven to be a hotbed for innovation, and ideas generated through different projects are being passed on and shared across the group. “We have been doing two-stage contracting for a very long time. We are now into highly collaborative models of contracting, frameworks, and alliances. These are models that tend to come out in the UK first, that eventually will spread to other parts of Skanska. The UK has quite a lot to offer in terms of the learnings that we have achieved from these new models.”

The fact that Skanska is a global company is a competitive advantage in the UK market. “Most of our tier-one competitors, as we refer to them in the industry, don’t have a global parent. We try to strengthen our linkage and knowledge transfer between the business units in each country as much as possible. If we have solved a problem in one place of the group, we make sure the rest of the group knows about it.”

Front of the pack
Skanska UK is seen as in the front of the pack in terms of leading in health and safety, not only within the group but also in the industry. Greg elaborates by sharing an initiative that involved the bucket on the front of an excavator, which can be very large and heavy. “The industry had been having problems for years with the fact that occasionally the bucket fell off. We just decided that this is ridiculous and took a stand in the industry. We banned the current way of fixing these buckets to machines and went to only use machines that have what they call a fully automatic quick hitch. We persuaded our supply chain and then the rest of the industry followed our lead as well."

Taking full responsibility
The company is sticking its head above the parapet in other areas too, such as environment and sustainability. “In 2019, we brought out a report on decarbonisation. We said that it is wrong for companies to just be reporting on their own emissions. As construction companies, we should be reporting not only on our own emissions, but actually the emissions of all of the projects that we are creating, because that is something that we can influence.” Greg says that unless the totality of what can be influenced is recognised, the plan to decarbonise will not be worthwhile. “Even though it made our emissions seem about 10 to 12 times higher than others, we believe this is the right thing to do.” “For several years, we have also put our head above the fence in terms of inclusion and diversity. There is some great work going on in the UK and we are able to benefit the rest of the group with some of that thinking as well.”

Defining the new normal
During the pandemic, people’s safety has been the top priority for Skanska. Now, as society is opening up, it is all about bringing people back into a ‘new normal’. “We have a full range of people, from some that are banging on the front door and would like to get in to the office right away, through to some that are probably quite scared either about their journey into work or what it is going to be like when they are at work,” Greg says. “The pandemic has been the most terrible tragedy, but we have already created some opportunities. For example, this massive experiment in terms of a large number of people working from home – we solved that one. Now, how do we take that forward and take at least the best out of a bad situation. We have already introduced flexible working, but now it is about getting to the optimum situation going forward.”

An industry bouncing back
According to Greg, the construction industry has bounced back much faster than people have realised, and that the UK government recognises the importance of the industry for the recovery of the economy. “The construction industry is at the heart of some of the opportunities that the government is creating for us. It is continuing a very strong and consistent investment in the industry, which is great for us. Since January, we are also seeing commercial offices and industrial buildings starting to accelerate, so there are huge opportunities in our industry.”

Misperceptions about the industry
The construction industry might have a reputation of being traditional and old-fashioned, but Greg says that people will be amazed as to how modern the industry actually is. “There are some huge misperceptions about the construction industry. People would probably be surprised that the industry has plenty of graphic designers, we have data analysts, and for those young people that are looking to get into the industry, we also have expert drone operators. Creating digital models of roads or buildings used to take us days and days, and today, our drone operators solve it in a matter of hours.”

Fortunate being part of the construction industry
Rounding up the interview, Greg reflects upon his career, his choice of studies at university and how he learned about the construction industry almost by mere chance. “I had probably a huge dose of luck in bumping into someone that did actually tell me about the construction industry. Throughout my career, I have been extremely fortunate with the sort of opportunities that large organisations can give you. Throw in two or three really great bosses that push you and give you those opportunities – I have been very fortunate indeed.“

 

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