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Interview

A conversation with Amri Denton, Principal, Oceania

Amri Denton, Principal

After relocating from the UK to join HKA in Sydney, Amri Denton recently clocked up two years with the business. To recognise this milestone, we sat down to talk about his experience.

What is your role at HKA?

I lead the Commercial Advisory stream, which is part of our Advisory business.

In my team leadership role, I’m responsible for developing people and helping them respond effectively to client needs. I try to understand their strengths and aspirations to help them build a fulfilling career.

In my client-facing role, I help clients get better value for money from their infrastructure investment projects and programmes. This means continually engaging with industry and understanding the latest trends, challenges and opportunities in order to help clients develop tailored commercial strategies to achieve their objectives and desired outcomes.

What sparked your interest in infrastructure?

Growing up, I had a talent for art; I was a graphic designer right out of high school, designing t-shirts in the Caribbean.

My aptitude for drawing made me want to be an architect, and upon further studying building professions, engineering seemed a good choice as it blended my art and maths skills. I still draw caricatures and the like in my spare time.

What is your academic and business background?

After completing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, I started my career in building construction and then moved on to design, planning, and construction of highway projects. Early in that period, I became interested in contracts and how they work, which led me to later focus on procurement strategies and contract development. In parallel, I completed Masters degrees, first in Highway Engineering and then in Strategic Procurement.

Before joining HKA, I headed up Transport for London’s infrastructure procurement for its Surface Transport division. I was responsible for procurement of design, construction and maintenance services for London’s roads, bridges, tunnels etc.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about people. From my HKA team and colleagues to seeing clients satisfied, through to what clients are trying to deliver for their communities, people are at the centre. I was in a client organisation for a long time, therefore even as a consultant, I still can’t help putting myself in the clients’ shoes and feeling their sense of long term ownership.

You relocated to Australia to join HKA. What were the motivations behind you and the family making the move?

When I got to know more about HKA, I really liked what it stands for – a collaborative, inclusive environment and people who are passionate about driving change in the industry. Also, the type of work HKA is involved with, and the size of the infrastructure spend in Australia over the coming years made me feel I could make a meaningful contribution.

Relocating more than 16,000 kilometres to Sydney was an interesting proposition but not an easy decision to make, so I discussed it with the family – my wife and two daughters, who were six and eight at the time.

Together, we watched hours of Youtube videos of beaches, the harbour, the native animals, the outback, etc. The girls got really excited.

We decided it was an opportunity to find great work and life balance while enjoying a new environment and outdoor lifestyle. The girls have settled into school and made lots of friends, so we’re all happy with the move.

How did you find the process?

There are always challenges, but HKA provided support and continued engagement throughout the process.

Everyone made themselves available to talk about places to live, how transport works, schools etc. I also connected with Carl Chouler during his trip to London and quizzed him about everything!

When we arrived, we were greeted with a bunch of flowers, none of which we had seen before – they were Australian natives – and a bottle of beautifully fermented grapes, so we felt really welcome.

You arrived in Australia just before COVID hit. How did you find settling in a new country during a lockdown?

We arrived in Sydney a few weeks before everything shut down. Before I started work, my family decided to explore Sydney by picking different train lines each day and going to the end of the line. We’d look around the area then hop off at a few more stations on the way back. We went to Berowra, Cronulla, Macarthur, Emu Plains, Leppington, Richmond etc. It was a great way to see the different sides of Sydney.

Once I started work, I was able to go to client offices and the HKA office before everything shut down. It was amazing to see how quickly the HKA family adapted to the new way of working – regular Teams meetings, quizzes, coffee bingo and online cocktail and cooking classes. I prefer to be rubbing shoulders with people though, so I’m very excited we may soon see the back of all restrictions – touching wood! I also can’t wait to get the decks out and spin some of my eclectic tunes for everyone!

What are the key differences between living and working in Australia compared to the UK?

The first difference anyone from London would notice is the weather and access to amazing beaches! This is from someone who thinks London is one of the best places in the world to just have fun with amazing nightlife and culture.

Working with different states, I’ve noticed the differences in their philosophy and approach. It’s almost like working in different countries as each state has different priorities, but it brings diversity and richness to the working experience. Some principles that would now be considered norms in the UK are still finding their feet here, such as the role of collaborative contracting in solving some of industry’s ills. Some clients are ahead on the journey, but there is still the debate to be had here quite often.

However, the corporate culture is pretty similar, so adjusting to that has been relatively easy.

How did you manage a team in COVID?

There were certainly challenges coordinating a team that is working on more than one client project, but we quickly adjusted to the new ways of working out of necessity. We shared the responsibility to check in with everyone on a personal level to keep connections strong – and every time there was a gap between lockdowns, we made sure to meet in person to build rapport and connectivity.

Despite the challenges, the team grew in strength and added more people. We have added new teammates from Australia and further afield, which has broadened the team’s skill base, diversified thinking, and strengthened our service offerings in key areas. We continue to keep an eye out for talent.

How is your team helping to drive change in the industry?

The industry is facing some significant challenges related to market capacity in key areas to deliver the substantial planned investment: geopolitical and constrained resource impacts on the supply of critical products, shortage of key skills, low productivity, prevailing approaches to risk allocation and relationships, all currently exacerbated by the pandemic.

Key players in the industry have realised the need for change. Many of our major clients are responding to the challenge by reviewing their entire approach to procurement and delivery of their infrastructure programmes.

Our first-hand experience with targeted industry engagement, advanced delivery models and innovative contractual approaches has helped many clients on their journey towards successful delivery. We continue to build on this experience, grow our client base and refine our methodologies to remain agile and responsive to the industry’s changing circumstances.

If you want to find out more about relocating with HKA, contact lizkane@hka.com for a confidential discussion or visit www.careers.hka.com

Liz Kane, RECRUITMENT MANAGER

This publication presents the views, thoughts or opinions of the author and not necessarily those of HKA. Whilst we take every care to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time of publication, the content is not intended to deal with all aspects of the subject referred to, should not be relied upon and does not constitute advice of any kind. This publication is protected by copyright © 2022 HKA Global Ltd.