Today we chat with Giovanni Pennacchia, newly promoted Commercial Director at HW Martin (Traffic Management) Ltd, a company that delivers expert, temporary traffic management solutions. We ask Giovanni about his new role, how he became part of the fabric of the business, his function in the company’s evolving safety culture, what a typical day looks like for him, the challenges he faces and what’s in store for the future.
Congratulations on your new position. You’ve been in this role for a few months now, could you describe your job as Commercial Director?
Thank you! I’m responsible for managing the commercial team – comprising commercial managers, quantity surveyors and commercial assistants across several contracts and geographical locations – ensuring they have the resources they need to perform their commercial duties accurately. It’s important to me that they feel valued and satisfied in the job they do, so that I can get the very best out of them.
The book stops with me in all aspects of commercial and cost management, negotiating and agreeing contracts and costs, limiting variations, and ensuring monthly valuation and invoicing is on point. I’m also accountable for developing and implementing the commercial strategy across the business and monitoring the performance indicators in place that ensure we meet our goals.
Some of the biggest areas of job satisfaction for me, are being a visible presence for our clients, maintaining constructive supply chain relationships and interfacing with our operational teams to maximise contract performance. I meet with as many clients and stakeholders as possible to identify opportunities and find efficiencies in what we do to add more value to our projects.
I also explore new revenue channels for the business and evaluate opportunities to help the company develop and grow sustainably, securing its future for the hundreds of people we employ across the country.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
I think you’ve got to be a little bit extroverted and enjoy talking a lot! Negotiating persuasively with all manner of people, off-the-cuff problem-solving, and motivating people to pull in the right direction is a daily requirement. I spend a lot of time speaking with clients, suppliers, my team, the senior management, and our operational functions to achieve project goals, so effective communication skills are key.
Obviously, it helps to have extensive commercial and industry experience. I find I think on my toes a lot and need to make quick-fire decisions almost instantly. Without a firm understanding of the business, its position in the market and its aspirations that would be very difficult to do with the necessary confidence. I hold a lot of detailed information about a lot of different things in my head at any one time which allows me to quickly work out what we need to do to deliver added value to our clients.
It’s important to have good grounding in risk management and financial reporting and a good working knowledge of financial management and word processing tools as you spend a lot of time in front of a computer. I think it’s also important to be creative. Innovation in any role comes from thinking outside of the box. Finding new ways of doing things that helps our clients and our people to thrive is a key part of the job.
Finally, ambition, loads of enthusiasm, a positive outlook, and a willingness to put in the graft necessary to get where you and the business need to be.
How has strategy changed at the company?
We are in a fortunate position that we can pivot the company strategy at a moment’s notice as we are an agile business. The pandemic really illustrated this point. We were able to flex in response to the crisis and still deliver strong, sustained results for our clients and keep the health, safety, and wellbeing of our people at the centre of our solution.
We benefit from a very talented workforce across a range of different specialisms and we’re currently working incredibly hard with different departments to become more streamlined in terms of our business processes. This includes value mapping our approach and stripping out any wasteful activities to grow customer satisfaction sustainably. This will increase our efficiency and maintain our exceptionally high levels of performance to ensure we remain the supplier of choice in the future.
Another fundamental part of our approach is our focus on developing a safe and inclusive culture known as Safe by Choice. The health and wellbeing of our people is one of our central values and we are evolving the way we engage with our workforce to better support them. Our improved culture has been created collaboratively through engagement and consultation. Central to this culture is the personal and professional development of our people. We are empowering them with the skills, knowledge, and behavioural maturity necessary to make the right choices in terms of safety, not because they’re told to, but because they understand and are motivated by their role in maintaining safety at the business.
How has client behaviour changed because of the pandemic?
Client behaviour in our industry was in flux before the pandemic. The industry is under pressure to modernize in a big way which means the key metrics by which we measure our performance and commercial success are changing. Collaboration, technology and sustainability are going to play an ever-increasing role in how we future proof the industry.
For me, the pandemic demonstrated the resilience of the sector, and it was inspiring to see what can be achieved when contractors, clients and other stakeholders work together to support one another. In terms of practicalities, I think the pandemic made it more acceptable to communicate and work remotely and showed that it is just as effective to collaborate over Microsoft Teams as it is in-person. This paves the way for greater flexibility which will make the industry attractive to a more diverse range of people.
More was done to try and support individuals living with mental health conditions because of the pandemic, making communication around this issue more acceptable. There is much more to be done, but I was pleased to see the adaptations made to our approach, and the approach of the industry as a whole, to recognise the issue and respond proactively.
Tell us a typical day for you
Most of my day is dedicated to maintaining momentum. This could involve working hands-on with the wider commercial team to deliver a project, liaising with our supply chain to nurture new innovations or price points, cross-department collaboration to improve our internal processes and find efficiencies, business development and lead sourcing, or building upon existing client relationships by better understanding their needs and ensuring they’re met.
I have to remain completely engaged in the temporary traffic management market, conducting market research and analysis that will feed into our commercial business strategy and our approach to innovation. To do this I might attend commercially focused conferences or industry events and stay up to date with press and state of the market reports. Regular client meetings also help me to stay in touch with what is important to them. By using historic client data, I can predict which future trends might become relevant for different projects so that we can be more proactive in meeting their business needs.
I’m also a Safe by Choice Influencer, so part of my day might be dedicated to role modelling the safety culture we want to see across the business.
What do you love about what you do?
I love that every day is different; there’s always a new problem to solve, or a new project to get stuck into! I get to work with loads of interesting characters too. Coming up against different dynamics like this makes each conversation unpredictable and exciting. I get to travel to different places, see how other people do things and have new experiences that feed into my approach.
I also appreciate that I get to be quite entrepreneurial in the way that I work. A lot of trust is placed in me by the company, and I can make a tangible impact on the business if I don’t think an approach is working effectively.
What’s the most challenging part of your role?
Patience. A lot of what I do relies on other people, working in different locations with their own priorities and agendas. Moving projects along takes a lot of negotiation and a lot of time which can be frustrating.
Managing people can also be hard work where there are a lot of dynamics and strong personalities at play. But as I said, it’s also one of the things I love because I enjoy the camaraderie. The inclusivity of our team means there is always fresh ideas as well.
How did you get into commercial management and when did you join the company?
I began my career as a Quantity Surveyor with an infrastructure organisation providing services to the steel industry. I took the role straight out of university where I gained a BSc in Real Estate Management. I’ve been with HW Martin (Traffic Management) Ltd since 2014 when I joined as a Quantity Surveyor.
You mentioned that you’re a Safe by Choice Influencer. For those who don’t know, could you explain what that is and what your responsibilities are?
Sure. As a Safe by Choice Influencer, I have made a commitment to changing the safety culture across our business to raise the standards and create a more open, inclusive and ultimately safer environment. I role play the behaviours and attitudes we want to see and enable the right environment for employee empowerment.
Safe by Choice is our commitment to safety as a business and as individuals. But to me it’s more than just going home safe at the end of every shift, it’s about respect, and caring for your teammates. As part of my role as an Influencer I’ve personally committed to doing all I can to empower our people, particularly my team, and being visible and available to anyone who may need to talk. Ultimately, I believe, if someone isn’t in the right head space then they might not make the best decisions and that’s going to impact on everyone. It’s a camaraderie thing, making sure everyone is ok and safe before you go out and do something.
What’s in store for Giovanni and HW Martin (Traffic Management) Ltd in the future?
There is a lot of positive change on the horizon for HW Martin. There are several large projects throughout the country that we are looking forward to getting off the ground in the coming months. From a business perspective we remain committed to developing and strengthening our relationships with our supply chain and diverse client base, delivering key infrastructure projects that will support economic growth for UK PLC.
We are continuously evaluating what we’ve learnt, bringing together all the important lessons, knowledge and experience we’ve gained in recent years working with our clients to deliver a safe, reliable and efficient network for everyone.
I am personally excited about bringing several automated systems online across the business that will help both us as an organisation, and our clients, by providing reliable, up-to-the-minute information across a range of data points. This will make estimating and valuations more accurate because we can base our calculations on real-world data around mileage, hours worked, realistic cone times, traffic count times, accurate resources, and so forth.
I’d like to see more cross-industry collaboration going forward. The sector thrives when we work together to enable innovations and initiatives, and that can only be a good thing as we move into an increasingly digitally led future.
What advice would you give someone wanting a career in commercial management?
- Have faith in your own abilities and ambition
- Learn to be flexible and adaptable
- Do the basics well
- Be a good communicator