Colleague Interview

A conversation with Baoqiang Zheng, a delay expert and WWL Global Elite Thought Leader

Baoqiang Zheng’s career has developed from an assistant planning engineer on a major hydropower project in China to a senior project planner and delay analysis expert helping clients resolve complex project planning, claims and dispute situations around the world. Named a WWL Global Elite Thought Leader in 2023, he talks about his motivations, career development and what it takes to succeed.

Tell me about your background.

Following my graduation with an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering, I was selected to take part in a one-year special training programme organised by the Ministry of Water Resources of PRC. In late 1997, upon completing this training programme, I was assigned to work on the Xiaolangdi Multipurpose Dam Project on the Yellow River, funded by the World Bank. It was China’s second-largest hydropower project, second to the Three Gorges Project on the Yangtze River. I spent four and a half years at Xiaolangdi, working at the Employer’s VCG (Variation Claim Group) office with senior Chinese colleagues, alongside the employer’s multi-national consultants and lawyers from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. Together, we dealt with complex claim and dispute issues arising from international contractors from Germany, France and Italy.

Following the amicable settlements of the dispute matters on the Xiaolangdi Project, I pursued further studies abroad. In 2002, I ended up at Warwick Business School in the UK, where I completed my Masters in Management Science and Operational Research. The courses at Warwick provided me with key skills in management, strategic thinking, and especially problem-solving.

Upon completing my Masters degree, I started working with High Point Rendel in London. Here, I worked with highly experienced professionals from all disciplines – especially the head of planning and scheduling and a senior delay expert – which enabled me to pick up all the critical project planning and scheduling skills. I learned the standard methods of forensic delay analysis while finding opportunities to travel around the world to work on several major international projects. These projects covered almost all major sectors in the construction industry, including but not limited to infrastructure, transportation, buildings, process plants and power sectors.

I also completed a distance-learning programme in Construction Law and Arbitration when working with High-Point Rendel. This has further enhanced my knowledge and understanding of the laws associated with the construction industry and the roles and procedures in arbitration proceedings.

After ten years with High-Point Rendel, I decided it was time to move back to my home country to be closer to my family and to be more involved with China’s international construction companies and foreign enterprises. I had seen that Chinese companies were heavily involved in international projects in almost every continent. At the same time, there were and still are a significant number of major foreign companies investing and operating in the construction industry in China. Therefore, at the beginning of 2014, I joined Hill International (the former name of HKA), working as a director for its Beijing office.

In 2021, I became a Partner, leading the Beijing practice.

What inspires you in your job?

I am particularly inspired by the uniqueness and complexity of construction projects and the challenges facing project teams, especially those working on major international projects. I find it very stimulating and rewarding as I can use my knowledge, experiences and expertise to help our clients resolve complex issues and get them out of difficult situations.

I have also enjoyed international travel opportunities and working on iconic projects around the world. To mention just a few, I have worked on the Dubai Metro Project in the UAE, Muscat International Airport Project in Oman, Ichthys LNG Project in Darwin, Australia, the Medupi Power Station in South Africa, and the IGCC Power Stations in Jazan, KSA.

Although our involvement in each of those projects can be limited to a particular stage, I feel our impact on the projects and our clients. That is also why most of our clients have asked us to extend our services and/or to work on their other projects.

Describe a typical day in your role.

Being in a project-oriented profession, there is no so-called typical day for me – how I work changes periodically. As most of my work is client-focused, I work with our clients to deliver the best possible products and outcomes within the time frames and budgets, while taking into consideration any logistical arrangements or constraints.

As most of the projects I work on are international, I often need to travel to the project sites to work alongside the project team members (typical for live projects), or I could be sitting in the client’s head office where most of the project files or project personnel can be reached (typical for completed projects). Alternatively, I could work in our own offices – this is normal for very remote projects, and the clients can make most of the project files available electronically.

Even though all projects are unique, there are still many similarities in the issues practitioners in the construction industry face; our knowledge, experiences and expertise gained on a broad international spectrum put us in the ideal position to best assist and support our clients, making our services really valuable to them. I find those experiences and expertise particularly useful for our Chinese clients, as they tend to focus on the progress of the work while at the same time overlooking their contractual entitlements, particularly in terms of time and costs.

My work also involves collaboration and cooperation with other HKA offices in the APAC region or HKA worldwide. Since joining the company in 2014, I have been involved in projects with several HKA offices, including Australia, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Dubai and KSA.

Furthermore, as the Head of Operations for HKA China, apart from dealing with routine management issues, maintaining client relationships is also an important part of my role. I often attend and present at relevant seminars and conferences organised by professional bodies such as the Beijing Arbitration Commission, CIETAC, or RICS whilst providing training to those professional bodies and major Chinese construction companies.

What is your speciality, and how did it become so?

Although I have a degree in mechanical engineering, I have practised as a planner and delay analyst from the beginning of my career.

When I started on the Xiaolangdi Project, I was assigned to work with a senior planner, who at the time was the company’s P3 (Primavera Project Planner) expert. I learned how to operate P3 with him, including creating and managing project plans and updating and controlling project progress. Upon starting at High-Point Rendel, I was lucky to be allocated to work with the head of planning and scheduling, who was also the company’s delay expert and was heavily involved in arbitration-related matters. Working alongside the head of planning and delay expert exposed me to great opportunities, especially in project planning and scheduling, but most importantly, the various methods of forensic delay analysis and how the issues should be approached differently depending on the circumstances.

I thoroughly enjoyed being a planner and delay analyst and being able to assist on major international projects. Apart from the deep involvement and hands-on practices in the construction industry, academically, I have deliberately designed two of my Masters dissertations on project planning and delay analysis.

What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of?

Over recent years, I have been recognised by the Who’s Who Legal (WWL) as an Expert Witness in various categories, including Consulting, Arbitration, and Construction. However, I am most proud of my recent achievement of being recognised by WWL as a Global Elite Thought Leader in Construction 2023. This is unique,  as I am one of the only native Chinese speakers who is recognised at this level in the international space. This means a lot to me as it’s recognition of the work I do and my dedication to delivering to a high professional standard.

What do you think have been the reasons for your success?

I think the right attitude and platform have been the primary reasons for where I am today.

Being native Chinese, getting into the international construction consultancy, especially in a highly specialised field (like delay analysis an expert witness work was difficult, especially in London.

Besides that, the most important aspect is a professional attitude, especially being responsible for whatever I do. Before starting any task or commissioning any services, I usually take time to think things through and identify the right approach first. Most importantly, I never compromise on the quality of my work, as I believe our reputation is built on consistently delivering high-quality services within the timeframes and budgets agreed upon with our clients.

My attitude is also reflected in my habit and ability to pursue continuous professional development. I am proud of myself in that I finished my Master in Law using my spare time and have achieved fellowship/membership status and qualifications from a number of professional bodies, including CIArb, RICS, CIOB, and PMI. These qualifications have given me the right knowledge, expertise and recognition of who I am today and what I am capable of.

Furthermore, construction is an industry with high complexity, which covers a wide range of sectors, such as building, defence, industrial, infrastructure, oil & gas, and power & utilities. Only when we are willing to learn and pick up new things can we gain the capability and confidence to advance our careers further and gain our clients’ trust.

My advice to young professionals who want to get into the construction consultancy field is to have the right professional attitude, be persistent and be willing to learn and continuously develop their career in stages.

Wish to find out more about Baoqiang?

Find him in our Expert Centre.


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