Planning a bright future

  • Planner Keith Smith retiring after 46 years service
  • Has worked on Cathedrals, Courts, Concert halls and Hospitals
  • Finishing on a high at Westgate Oxford shopping centre

Keith Smith in Westgate Oxford
Keith Smith at the Westgate Oxford development

As he prepares to retire, following 46 years’ service at Laing O’Rourke, we spoke to Senior Planner Keith Smith – who reflected both on his career milestones and the future of the construction industry he’s leaving behind.

Where did your career in Construction begin?
“My father worked for the Laing business for 38 years, and following his retirement in 1970, I then followed him into the industry kicking off in September 1971. I started working at the Roman Catholic Cathedral, St Peter and St Paul in Clifton in Bristol."

Where have you worked over the years?
“I went from there (in a production control department role) to work on the Magistrates Court in Bristol. I worked in Exeter from 1974-76, which along with my current role at Westgate Oxford, are the only times I've lodged away from home in 46 years. Other major projects I’ve worked on include: Bridgend, Princess of Wales hospital, the National blood centre in Bristol (as part of the Procure 21 framework), several office blocks in Bristol and St David’s Hall, plus Wales’ national concert hall in Cardiff.”

First Laing O'Rourke job?
"Officially it would have been Basingstoke shopping centre (when the Laing O’Rourke business was formed), although the first one I worked on from start to finish was the Sophos Headquarters, an anti-virus software firm based in Abingdon. I then worked on Project ‘Red Dragon', a massive repair centre for the RAF, which Laing O’Rourke built three massive aircraft hangars and the maintenance building for."

And during the last 10 years?
"Three years ago we finished Bristol Royal Infirmary – a job I spent five years in total on, which included a two year pre-construction phase. This was the first contract I'd worked on with a Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) frame and cladding, and it worked really well. We were the first job to trial Smart-Wall, and it was a real one team effort, with Expanded piling and Crown House heavily involved.

From there I went to the Grange University hospital to work on their tender programme, right up until the submission, at which point I came to Westgate Oxford where I've been for the last two years."

Key things you've learned in your construction career?

“Generally on-site you need a mix of youth and experience. Youth gives you drive and passion, while experienced management really backs up the work with knowledge and mentoring for those coming through. One can't survive without the other in my view.”

Personal attributes? 
“To some degree I think you have to be thick skinned, but also flexible. Management has become very specialist in the last few years, but you do need to see the bigger picture as well, it's vital.”

How has Laing O’Rourke changed?
“Since the formation of Laing O’Rourke in 2001 there's been a massive drive and determination to achieve the company’s goals. There’s just so much more drive and enthusiasm now to push things forward. There’s also a real desire here to use technology to its greatest potential, via our commitment to Digital Engineering and DfMA.”

How do you feel now as you contemplate retirement?

"It's strange it hasn't really sunk in. I finish this month, which will mean walking away from something I’ve been doing for 46 years. As it has been at work, in my personal life from here on in, planning is key - tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. And my son has also decided I’ll be an ideal babysitter!”

Things you're most proud of?
“Am proud to have worked on Westgate Oxford shopping centre because the team here has been second to none." 

Why? 
"Everybody is determined to provide the client with what they want, on time. I work on block 4 which has a first class team, from the project leader on this section all the way through, we all work closely together with a great team spirit where we back each other up. Like any job it has its challenges but it’s been a great one to finish on. When I look back at my career I've been proud to work on every job and I get enormous satisfaction looking back at finished buildings knowing that I played some part in it."

A message to anyone considering a career in the industry? 
"It’s exciting and it’s varied, because there are always interesting jobs to work on. The great thing about the Construction industry is that you never get bored, I’ve worked on Cathedrals, Magistrates courts, concert halls, hospitals and shopping centres. What other industry gives you that variety? You're making something tangible, which will more often than not leave a lasting legacy behind."

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