WSP's Guy Templeton: navigating challenging market conditions

Guy Templeton, CEO of WSP Asia Pacific, explains how the firm is managing a range of challenges including ESG compliance, supply chain risks and skill shortages

The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the global economy, causing significant disruptions in supply chains, labour markets, and consumer spending. As a result, governments and central banks worldwide implemented unprecedented fiscal and monetary policies to mitigate the economic fallout of the pandemic. While these measures have helped support the recovery of some sectors, other related issues, like rising inflation and supply chain disruptions, persist.

In addition, ongoing geopolitical tensions and trade conflicts between major economies, such as Russia and Ukraine, and US and China, have created further uncertainty and volatility in the global economic climate. This, along with recent world events and alarm surrounding the looming impact of climate change, is creating further uncertainty.

The building industry has been particularly hard hit as a result of a number of these factors. One firm that is managing well through these challenges is WSP, one of the world's leading engineering professional services firms which provides management and consultancy services to the built and natural environment. Frederik Anseel, Professor of Management and Senior Deputy Dean (Academic) at UNSW Business School, recently interviewed Guy Templeton, CEO of WSP Asia Pacific, about how WSP is navigating market changes, how Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) priorities are influencing business outcomes, and how individuals can future-proof their careers in a world of uncertainty and instability.

How to make the impact of ESG real

Experts globally agree that people must expedite decarbonisation efforts to mitigate the worsening impacts of climate change. For WSP, this requires removing embedded carbon from any designs, said Mr Templeton. “So one of the things we've done fairly recently is we've committed to halving the amount of carbon associated with everything we design by 2030, which is a massive commitment,” he said.

But operationalising such changes from a business perspective across areas such as engineering and science is proving to be a big challenge. Nevertheless, this also presents opportunities for growth and positive change, explained Mr Templeton. “What do you do with road route user pricing around electric vehicles? How do you make sure you design a building that's going to be sustainable? That's what will actually have the biggest impact, and our businesses are shifting very quickly in that direction,” he said.

Globally, ESG is a hot topic for many companies, but many are struggling with it, acknowledged Prof. Anseel. “And especially keeping the E, S and G together – I don't know if that is always so helpful,” he said.

In agreement, Mr Templeton said that when taken together, each component of ESG can initially seem somewhat overwhelming.  “ESG is a huge area. And as you say, the definition of it is incredibly broad,” he said. “Where I start from is, as a firm, we need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And therefore, we need to make sure our own house is in order, which is, frankly, the easiest part of the equation.”

Supply chain uncertainty: an outlook

Another significant challenge for organisations with global operations is minimising supply chain risks and improving supply chain resilience. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted transportation, labour and production, which led to delays and increased costs – which are still being felt by many companies today. Shipping and transportation companies have faced port closures, labour shortages and supply chain congestion, while suppliers and manufacturers have struggled with reduced production, raw material shortages and labour disruptions.

All of this has made the jobs of planning and forecasting difficult. These challenges will persist but stabilise eventually, according to Mr Templeton, who explained inventory levels and knowing how much to hold will continue to be key challenges going forward.

“I think it will stabilise and normalise… there probably will be a little bit of, I think, long-term increased resilience in some of the essential supplies around healthcare, for instance. But from a business point of view, you don't want to hold inventories any longer than you want to hold them,” he said.

“At the moment, we're in a position of high inflation and interrupted supply chains in some areas. Twelve months from now, I think that will look a lot more fluid. But I do think there will be a kind of an ongoing [feeling of] ‘what if something goes wrong again, I don't want to get caught out as I did in COVID’,” he said.

How to future-proof your skillset

In certain industries and professions such as engineering or medicine, hard skills are crucial to success. However, in an increasingly interconnected and dynamic world, soft skills like collaboration and communication have become increasingly important. But according to Mr Templeton, it’s the hard skills that should be the first priority.

“You need to be a little careful about getting seduced by ‘it's all about teamwork, collaboration’ all these things... we find people are pretty natural around it,” he said.

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“But you've got to be good technically at something. Because if you're an engineer, for instance, and you come out [of university] they're so collaborative, they're great to work with, but they need to know how to do the structural engineering,” he said.

“We've got an obligation around delivery around safety. And you can learn some of those softer skills later. My advice to graduates is, whatever it is you're specialising in, make sure you get really good at it.”


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