Joanna Farnsworth

Joanna is an experienced Commercial Manager leading the commercial team for Galliford Try Partnerships on their flagship scheme – Brunel Street Works. Having trained as a Quantity Surveyor, Joanna specialises in the Commercial Cost Management of major residential and commercial projects, notably in the regeneration sector. Based in Essex, she has been involved in a wide variety of projects in London and the South East including the construction of education, retail, commercial facilities including the refurbishment of historic buildings. Skilled in procurement, forecasting, change management, contract management and administration, she obtained her charter-ship in 2010 and joined the RICS regional board in February 2018.

What is your typical day like? 

Now, it’s all about the Construction site, having spent over a year based in the office planning and preparing for this scheme it is elating to be a part of the delivery team as the project is constructed.

I wake up around 5.30am and leave the house between 6.00 -6.30 am to commute (mostly by train and underground) to my site in East London. I ALWAYS start the day with coffee and read my e-mails on the train ready to hit the ground running when I arrive on site.

None of it would be possible without the team and I will initially have a catch up with whoever is in to see how they are, what they did the previous day and have planned. I am responsible for ensuring my team have the skills, experience and confidence to progress their careers and deliver to the best of their ability; Lesson no. 1 ‘make time for everyone and they will make time for you’. 

Depending on what is in the diary for the day I will prepare for any meetings I have or review the tasks I have planned. My responsibility is to ensure that we have the resources ready to be deployed and that the project is performing financially as planned; Construction is a rapidly moving and challenging environment which requires me to be adaptable, prepared with the facts and confident to make decisions. Lesson no. 2 is ‘a wrong decision is better than no decision’

I will put my boots on (hard hat, high viz jacket, goggles, gloves etc..) and walk around the entire site with my team, once a week, although every day is a learning experience, and go onto site as and when needed during the day to inspect the works being undertaken. The site is one of the biggest new build schemes currently being constructed in the area and consists 975 apartments, a hotel and retail areas. We have 8 tower cranes operating with approx. 800 operatives on site daily and the work-face changes constantly as the works progress.

We use a lot of ‘builders slang’ on site and oh so many acronyms that the same TLA’s* can mean many different things. Such as PV, which can mean Present Value or Photovoltaic. Lesson no. 3 ‘always ask the stupid question…. everyone else is thinking it’

* Three letter acronym

My day will finish between 5 – 6.00pm and I will either head home to my family or to my weekly yoga class and occasionally meet up with friends. I took up yoga to improve my strength and flexibility but have found it a great mechanism for switching off, when you are so focused on holding a pose or not falling out of balance it is difficult to think of anything else.       

 What is your proudest moment?

Achieving MRICS, it was a personal journey that I undertook over several years. Receiving my charter-ship in parliament square was a great achievement for me.

What gadget can you not live without.

There are so many! But of course, the smart Phone – who would have thought 10 years ago that we would run nearly every aspect of our lives from a handheld device? It’s my diary, photo album, camera, calculator, telephone directory, reference book, train timetable, fitness tracker as well as being a communication tool.

What’s your favourite book and why?

Again, there are so many to choose from but there is one book that I could read over and over, Memoirs of a geisha by Arthur Golden because it is such a beautifully written novel that transports me to a place and time far away.

What’s your motto/favourite quote in life?

‘There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women’ Madeline Allbright. To me this means helping others up the ladder behind you. 

What tips do you have for managing your inbox?

Use your e-mail to close issues down not open them up; don’t send an e-mail to ask a question when you can ask it face to face or on the phone but use it to follow up and confirm anything you have agreed. Remember your inbox will be a multiplier of your outbox.

What keeps you awake at night?

Literally everything – I am a terrible sleeper and have a very busy mind. If I have an idea or project in mind the excitement will keep me awake. I try not to worry about things that can wait until the morning, it has taken me a long time to realise that worrying doesn’t solve anything. Lesson no. 4 ‘Everything seems a thousand times worse than it actually is in the early hours.’

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the work you do?

I am a commercial manager for Galliford Try Partnerships London heading up the surveying team.

How has the industry/sector changed during your career? 

It is a constantly changing industry which makes it challenging and exciting, the types, scale and build rates on the schemes have grown significantly and the types of schemes to reflect economic, political and social demands. I have moved from the more traditional contractor / client background delivering commercial and education sectors to regeneration schemes delivered through joint ventures that benefit communities and provide accommodation and business premises to several end users. 

Does the general pace of gender parity equality worry you at all?

Yes, back in the nineties there were seemed to be many more women in trades, we took it for granted that this would grow and continue but there has been a huge shift in the make-up of the workforce over the last twenty years and although there are so many more women in the professions this is not replicated in trades roles. There are still very few female executive directors in the contracting sector that have come through an operational career pathway and this makes it difficult to see yourself in such a position without having a relatable role model.    

 What is your advice to other women in your position?

Be yourself, don’t try and change yourself to fit in, others will respect you more for being you and it is so much less effort than trying to keep up and appearance, others will find you fake and distrust you.