PROFILE: This is my story - Paul Netscher

Please give us a brief summary on your career to date.

I have 30 years of construction project management experience spanning 120 construction projects in 6 countries. My projects included industrial, concrete, commercial buildings, houses, earthworks, roads, bridges, petrochemical and infrastructure. Indeed, there are few in the industry fortunate enough to be involved in so many different projects for such a wide variety of clients (including private, corporate, government, mining and oil and gas). I’ve held senior positions in major construction companies and served on various industry bodies and advised on training, mentoring, construction curriculum and contractual matters. 

I retired early to write construction management books and share my knowledge with the industry. My 8 construction management books include examples from my career and incorporate 30 years of construction management experience and knowledge.

Give us details of the projects that you were involved with?

I've been involved on many projects and fortunately most have been successful for both us and the client. The best projects, and the most successful, were those where we worked together with the client as a team. Unfortunately too many projects end up in a 'them and us' between client and contractor - each trying to trip the other up. And it starts before the project begins, where clients are only interested in price - the cheaper the better - with little regard for the contractor's capabilities.

Wilkinson Shaft Concrete Headgear Rustenburg
What have been your duties and roles?

I started as a young site engineer fresh out of university. Then I began managing my own projects, eventually becoming a contract director looking after multiple projects. I then became managing director of a newly formed construction division which we grew in both turnover and profit by 8 fold over 6 years. Managing my own division was probably the highlight.

Why does this time stand out for you?

I found managing my own division hugely rewarding. We literally built it from scratch with a few people. Yet with training, mentoring, and promoting people within the organisation we were able to build a great team. When I left in 2010 about 30% of our directors were people of colour, as were 60% of our site managers and 80% of our foremen. That success, and having many repeat clients, and a good reputation for our quality, safety and delivering projects on time made this time fantastic.

Railway Bridge Jacked into Position Limpopo Railway Line Mozambique.

So what were the important lessons you learnt from this time?

People in construction are so important. You have to work with all kinds of people. There is really no place for discrimination, or to hold grudges. You need to understand the people working for you. Know their strengths so you can use them to the best, understand their weaknesses so you can support them when needed. I think the few projects which weren't so successful was when I had a new team, working with people I didn't know.

Feedback is critical - people will not change unless you tell them where they should improve. No matter your position you are only as good as your team. I would never have got to where I did without my team - from the workers, to foreman, site agents, directors. Importantly remember to acknowledge people - a simple hello, a thank you, and compliment for work done well - goes a long way.

Lion Chrome smelter phase 1 Steelpoort

Any career mistakes or regrets ?

Fortunately I don't have too many regrets. Regrettably there were a couple of serious injuries and 3 deaths on projects where I was the director. I do think of these, maybe more so with time, and wish that they could have been prevented. Safety is so important. Accidents change lives.

How did you overcome your mistakes/regrets?

Wilkinson shaft Concrete Headgear Rustenburg
Fortunately safety has improved over the years. I shudder to think how we did construction 30 years' ago. I'm not sure how we slept. Yet, even today I see contractors risking their workers' lives. You simply cannot do that. So all my books cover safety and the consequences of accidents. People complain that safety costs money! Have you considered the costs of an accident? 
Poor safety costs money.I know that sharing my knowledge and experience can help others avoid the mistakes I made.


What has been the most satisfying thing for you personally and career wise

I've got great satisfaction in training my team. Carpenters have become foremen. Young engineers, went to site managers, and even to directors. I enjoy sharing knowledge with people through my books and articles. It's very satisfying to get good reviews of my books from all over the world, USA, Russia, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Italy, Mauritius, Mexico, UK. I enjoy people contacting me and asking me questions. We can make construction better together.

Also read : This is my Story - Kate Foss

This industry is said to be one of the toughest industries , how did you manage to stay in for so long?

I always enjoyed construction. I enjoyed the challenges. I enjoyed mentoring and teaching people. Then one day I was on site and realised that seeing cranes and big yellow machines on my project no longer excited me. It was time for me to get out. So I enjoy sharing my knowledge and helping people - but being full time on a project is not something I hanker after.

In your opinion what are the biggest challenges facing the industry currently and how can they be overcome?

Since writing my books I've had extensive feedback and contact with people around the world. Although each country, including South Africa, has their own unique challenges, the biggest challenges contractors face everywhere are the lack of skills. This includes from artisans, through foremen, and construction managers. A second challenge is the cyclical nature of construction - contractors go from too much work to too little - and both these environments offer their own challenges. Lastly is the lack of pride by many, which is often exacerbated by poor management, a lack of training, and no effort to embrace our teams.

Pedestrian Bridge N1 Fairlands

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