The Engage HR Forum Interview: Maria Seabright, Greendale Construction Limited

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Maria Seabright is Finance & HR Director at Greendale Construction Limited; the Poole based chartered building company established in 1990 by Rob Hooker and Chris Kane, specialising in a wide spectrum of construction projects from luxury private houses, NHS, schools and colleges, to internal office refurbishments and commercial builds.  Amongst the company’s many acclaimed achievements is holding a Gold IIP award, and winning the FMB Chartered Builder of Year 2012 for its work renovating Durlston Castle in Swanage.

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Maria is a regular at the Engage HR Forums and has found the supportive and relaxed format something which makes the breakfast meetings highly enjoyable and something to look forward to.

“The speakers are always really inspiring and their presentations are consistently relevant to situations I have to manage on a regular basis.  I love the interaction and being able to candidly discuss HR topics in an open and friendly way with people at my table, and there’s always lots of laughs as well which is a bonus!”

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Maria joined Greendale on 1st October 1997 as an office administrator/receptionist, having previously left Poole High School in 1985 with, by her own admission, ‘a handful of very low grade CSEs.’  Over the next 19 years, Maria worked her way up within the Company, eventually being appointed to the Board of Directors on 1st January 2013.  Greendale now employs around 58 people and last year turned over £15 million.

As a successful woman in a very male dominated industry, and one who didn’t take a typically academic route in her career, I was fascinated to hear Maria’s story, and how her experiences have shaped the person she is today – in and out of the business environment.

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Maria, you’ve achieved so much, but, if you had your time again, what, if anything, would you do differently? And, with hindsight, is there anything you think you could have done better?

 “I went through some personal tragedy in my life when I lost my son, George in 2004, who was born prematurely.  Looking back, I felt that I couldn’t really be with him in hospital over the 6 months and 1 day he was in special care.  As much as I wanted to be with him during the end of his life, I felt guilty being away from work, and in such a male dominated company, I felt other people wouldn’t understand how I was feeling from a ‘mother’s point of view.’  When I look back I wonder how I did it; balancing work with visiting George in hospital and then going home to be a mum to my then 10 year old son, Jordan.

“I know I can’t change this now, but as I try to focus on the positive in life, I can see the experience made me grow as a person and has made me a better employer, as now, I always try and see personal issues any of my staff has from their point of view, and be sympathetic and understanding from that position.”

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Being a Finance/HR Director holds a lot of responsibility.   You’re responsible for keeping the Company financially fluid and also, the welfare of your employees and the smooth running of the company on a ‘people’ level. How do you deal with stress and have you achieved the all too often elusive work/life balance?

 

 “I go to the gym twice a week before work where I have a personal trainer, Marvin, who is amazing at keeping me motivated, which focuses my mind and in turn sets me up for the day.

“I also really enjoy spending time in my garden and renovating my home – a cottage we moved to in the countryside near Wareham in 2013.  I love to take our dog – a border collie called Lacey – for long walks in the countryside with my husband, Andrew.  I also enjoy cooking using vegetables we’ve grown in the garden, and I love to bake.  I think living in a house I love, surrounded by beautiful countryside really helps with the work/life balance, although inevitably, a stressful week at work still manages to creep home with me more often than not, so like most people, I’m still working on it!

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Only 1 in 10 Executive Directors in the UK are women and not only have you achieved a Board position, but you have done so in a male dominated industry.  What is your advice to women who are hoping to achieve the same?

 

 “You need to be prepared to stand your ground.  From a personal point of view, when I was appointed Director at Greendale, it was a massive step up from being a manager – in both responsibility and workload. I am the only female Director on a Board of 4 and the only senior ranking female in the company.  I think that women given executive and board positions have to prove themselves more than  men given the same role – particularly with the older male generation who might take exception to being answerable to a lady boss.

“I’d tell other women that it’s not going to be an easy ride, but you have a voice and you have to make sure that it’s heard above the other male directors.  I think a woman always looks at things differently and this has gone in my favour when dealing with delicate/tricky issues in the business.  Never exploit your sexuality as it just degrades you.  Get to where you want to get to on your own merits – through sheer hard work and determination.  Every problem has a solution – look outside the box and take time to make decisions, don’t fire from the hip.  Plan ahead.”

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As a South Coast employer, what are you concerns for the future talent/ employment/training/apprenticeships for the region?

 

“I am passionate about training for the future of the construction industry and this is something as a company we are very pro-active with. However, I have concerns that not all employers in this industry feel the same as Greendale, or are as committed to investing in training, as we are.

“At Greendale we actively encourage apprenticeships and work very closely with the local college and schools.  The construction industry is a place where, as long as you have passion and drive, you can have a successful career regardless of your academic ability.  Many years ago it was seen as the choice for those who were less academic, but the truth is, it’s an industry which needs those with talent and ability across a wide spectrum.  We have employees who have taken the career route through university to become QS/Contract Managers, and we have young people who have come to us straight out of school on an apprenticeship or training scheme and proved themselves to be highly talented and in demand within their chosen trade.

“I think that because I disliked school so much I like to really help students that are struggling and I want to encourage them and give them a chance.  I attend various events at schools and do lots of talks about the construction industry and the careers that are available within it.

“When I left school I was told by teachers and also by my parents that I would never make anything of my life.  These words have stayed with me throughout my whole career, and been the driving force pushing me on. Today, I can say I am exceptionally proud of what I have achieved.  I know that I am very lucky in the fact that I joined a great local company that has grown over the 19 years that I have worked for them – enabling me to grow in terms of my career.  I know that I wouldn’t have got to where I am today if I wasn’t at Greendale’s.  Although I have been able to forge a successful career without great academic qualifications, when talking to students I try to get across the importance of working hard at school and striving to get the best you can achieve as it’s a different world today than it was 20 years’ ago.

“All in all, I love what I do and I love the company I work for…..99% of the time!”

 

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