In today's business landscape, the concept of social value has emerged as a powerful driving force behind both organisational success and employee satisfaction. In his role as the Managing Director of Pell Frischmann, Iain Bisset has a deep understanding of the importance of social value and the role it can play in building a more sustainable, inclusive, and diverse working environment.
Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, sat down with Iain to delve into his professional journey, his leadership approach, Pell Frischmann's commitment to social value, and the challenge of fostering a culture of learning and growth across the organisation.
I’m the Managing Director for Pell Frischmann. We’re a multidisciplinary consultancy firm focusing on the built environment. We offer a broad spectrum of services in the transportation, infrastructure, water and environment, and asset management sectors.
I’d love to say it was part of some cunning plan, but I can’t say it was! I started off as a civil engineering graduate around 30 years ago, working for state-owned British Rail. After privatisation, I moved to the consultancy firm Owen Williams before becoming Head of Rail at White Young Green. From there, I was recruited by Pell Frischmann. I strongly believe that success isn’t just about the work you do, but also the environment you’re in. I was fortunate to start out at British Rail, where there was a strong support network and a culture of empowerment. Since then, I’ve worked across different technical roles and project management positions which have given me a diversity of experience. All of these experiences help to shape you, not just in your career but also in your growth as a person. Don’t try and be what other people want you to be: try and find the position that works for you.
Effective leaders aren’t just good at talking: they know how to listen and understand what makes people tick. You need to create an environment where everyone can work towards being a better version of themselves. It’s an art as well as a science. I have a rule called Plan, Passion, Patience: you should develop a strategy, deliver it with passion, and have the patience to wait for the results. To achieve improvement instead of just change, you need to allow things to settle in. If you’re always looking for an immediate return, you are going to be disappointed. To be a capable leader, you need to have trust, not just in the plan but the people around you.
I think our industry is in a really interesting place right now. Some of that is driven by a shift in public procurement policy to put more emphasis on social value. But fundamentally, people go into engineering with the intention of making things better for society. That was certainly the case for me: it wasn’t just about railways, it was about being part of an industry that moves things forward. It’s no use looking after infrastructure and assets if you forget why those things are there in the first place. Our industry is facing some global challenges around the climate crisis and the biodiversity emergency, and that has profound implications for our built environment. So we need to consider how to balance the needs and wants of society with taking care of the planet, and social value needs to be at the heart of our approach.
First, you need to have a plan, and you need to include everyone to make it work. You need to be clear in your aims and be honest about what the challenges our. We’re living in a world where sustainable resources are a mounting challenge, and that applies to talent as well. But it’s not just about acquiring new talent, you need to know what to do with it. To be a great business, we need to be getting the best from our people. It’s imperative to find ways to make people feel included and like they are part of a diverse organisation. It’s not enough to lead from the top: the whole organisation needs to be involved in that conversation. As leaders, you can’t just talk the talk, your people need to see you out there making a difference.
For any business, developing people needs to be the top priority. As organisations, the topics we need to engage with are much broader, and we can’t just distil them into bite-sized messages. So we need to support our people along a path of continuous learning, providing them with the resources they need and giving them the time they need to grow. No one has all the answers, so you always need to be ready to ask questions. That’s the only way we’ll create better solutions for the future.
Someone once told me, “You’ll never regret it if you try and fail. But you will regret never trying in the first place.” I think there’s a strong lesson there about putting yourself forward and giving things a go. Even if you fail, you’re sure to learn something along the way. Don’t let your own self-doubt get in the way of progress.