Core Values People Profile: Julian Hemms, Collaborative

Effective leaders understand the power of collaboration. Just ask Director, Commercial Advisory, Julian Hemms, whose joy of working alongside people inspires a high-performing team.

What is your position/ what do you do for HKA?

I’m a Director, Commercial Advisory and look after a team of nine people; working primarily with Government blue chip clients.

What is your background?

I started my career as a quantity surveyor with a small chartered QS practice in Gloucester, UK. Sheer luck is what started me off, as I had no idea what a QS was, nor did I have much understanding of the construction industry. After three months from joining the company, they sent me on a degree course where I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Quantity Surveying. So really, I fell into the industry like I think a lot of people do!

I have now spent 24 years working in varying commercial roles with all types of job titles throughout the boom phases of construction, infrastructure, oil and gas industries before moving into advisory.

Why did you continue in the industry?

I love this industry and I’m a people person, so genuinely enjoy collaborating in a team environment. As a leader, I get more joy out of my team performing well and having chemistry where we enjoy working together. I also like the fact that no day is the same, which for most manufacturing industries is not the case. We are privileged in that sense to be in this industry.

What have been your proudest moments?

There’s been a few proud moments throughout my career. My proudest moment would have to be working as a Commercial Lead on the Gloucester Quays project, which involved rebuilding my home city. My mum passed away recently and she was fond of looking out the window towards the quays, which is something I will take with me. Another proud moment was building the Velodrome in Newport, Gwent, which is my wife’s hometown. I thoroughly enjoyed taking her dad, an ex-site foreman, around to see the world-class carpentry in the Velodrome as he has inspired me to stay in the industry.

It also gives me a great sense of pride to watch people I’ve trained go on to achieve a lot in their careers and surpass my achievements. There is no bigger compliment in my view.

You have grown a team from one to nine over the past year, seconded out to HKA’s portfolio of clients. What steps do you take to keep the team cohesive and happy?

I sit with the team 70-80% of the time and make sure I get around to see everyone. I’ve found that as a leader I need to have regular contact with my team so they feel part of the HKA organisation, rather than just a project resource and a number; this is especially important for people working remotely at client sites. You need to demonstrate why they are here, develop people and give them career path. It’s also important to match people’s circumstances with their current career aspirations. For example, those team members who are looking for a work/life balance, or those who want to develop their career on projects where they can learn new skills and develop.

What is your mantra as leader?

People are people!

What underpins those principles?

Becoming a dad when I was quite young helped me to be more considerate of others. I also run a local junior rugby team which has given me an awareness of people and teams, and how to develop them accordingly.

When I was young and five years into my career in the commercial space, politely putting it, I liked to practise contract law and interpretation on companies.

There was one particular assignment which saw me take on a company and beat them hands down. I was very proud of myself, and on reflection, downright arrogant. Soon afterwards, an older colleague took me aside and gave me some very good advice – that our industry is a people industry and if I continued down this track of ruthless indifference, I would eventually exhaust the subcontractor supply chain and be seen unfavourably. It was a great lesson to learn so young, and following his advice, I haven’t looked back.

Collaboration and innovation leads to co-operative behaviours – which always generates more money – and more importantly, high performance as people feel inspired, respected and attentive. There is nothing worse than working on a poor performing project and feeling impending doom each day as you head into site.

Who has influenced your leadership style?

Roy Gould, a legend and a guy who clipped my wings and put me on the straight and narrow.

Rory Murphy, a Commercial Director at Vinci. He believed a key trait in high performing teams was to be personable with each other. He showed me the importance of making sure to say hello to everyone when you come to work each morning, and that having a presence isn’t being feared, but rather respected and admired.

Nigel Davie, who coined the ‘people are people’ phrase.

Peter Nation, a true gentleman of the industry and someone who when he retires will be a great loss.

Keith Wagstaff, an absolute pleasure to work with and taught me a level of calmness and reflective thinking that was missing previously.

How do you define time well spent as a people manager?

Time well spent for me is finding out what is going on with each team member, both professionally and personally; where their careers are going and family circumstances can change and influence the dynamic of the team. In a true business sense, we must accept people as assets; we pay people for their ideas and market intelligence, not to just sit there filling in things.

What aspects of teamwork do you find challenging and how do you overcome this?

Spinning plates to keep them engaged and on the right track can be challenging. I don’t enjoy poor performance conversations and believe recruiting people who are right for the role is crucial; enthusiastic people that want to go far.

My team is diverse and is made up of people from different backgrounds, nationalities, ages and genders, which creates a dynamic that works well. They all have humility and respect for each other and I believe embrace vulnerability. Each member is more than capable in their role and are genuinely people that want to work with others; I do not tolerate people in a team that use others as a stepping stone for their own personal greatness. I believe being authentic makes people come together willingly.

You have worked as a Commercial Manager for tier one contractors where work can be quite adversarial. How did you go about collaborative contracts, do the same principles transcend?

You need to be open, transparent and have trust both ways. People need to be held to their principles and concentrate on the long-term game not the short-term game. With collaborative contracts, you have to apply contingency management techniques not just scientific management techniques,  e.g. a carrot-and-stick approach.

In Australia, collaborative contracting is a bit slower to take off. In my view, currently people’s intelligence is focused in the wrong areas. There are very smart commercial managers who spend their time looking for gaps and finding areas to unravel the ‘deal’ and revisit the contract to move away from the problem. A behavioural change from clients in risk allocation and approach would use intelligence of people in the industry to drive the value; working on a target cost model/value engineering approach. A refocus of intelligence and effort is required and I hope to be part of this process in ensuring it becomes apparent in our industry.

People are at the heart of everything we do here at HKA, and this is especially true with the great team of people I work with. Through nurturing my team to perform well, I have seen them grow and have a great sense of satisfaction from building something sustainable, which I hope will become a legacy.


Found out more about us in our Careers section.

"Time well spent for me is finding out what is going on with each team member, both professionally and personally; where their careers are going and family circumstances can change and influence the dynamic of the team.

In a true business sense, we must accept people as assets; we pay people for their ideas and market intelligence, not to just sit there filling in things."
Julian Hemms, Director, Commercial Advisor
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