Philip Gillard joined Design Worldwide Partnership (DWP) two months ago as regional managing director of the Middle East to pull down barriers and lead expansion into Europe and the US. His success will be built on three pillars: producing great design that is profitable and fun.
Gillard is responsible for a team of more than 30 people in the Middle East that form a vital part of dwp’s 450-strong global workforce. He is the latest in a string of key appointments, following the arrivals of Justin Wells, global head of hospitality, Elizabeth Valkovics, design director, and Gillian Blair, CID’s Young Interior Designer of the Year for 2017. And he brings a wealth of commercial and design experience to the table.
As the former managing director of US design giant Gensler, Gillard was a vital part of the leadership team that increased turnover from $150m to $1.2bn and expanded the workforce from 1,500 to 6,000 people. During this 17-year tenure, he worked on some of the most diverse megaprojects in Europe and the Middle East – including a GCC project that, at the time, was Gensler’s biggest in history.
“I started working in the Middle East from 2001 onwards and was mainly based in Dubai,” Gillard says looking back on the path that led him to dwp. “Gensler was involved in projects for Dubai International Financial Centre. We won the masterplan, did the Gate Building, Ritz Carlton, The Sky Gardens, loads of things,” he shares.
After winning high-profile jobs in the Middle East he helped to establish Gensler’s office in Dubai with a team of just three people and played a significant role in the regional growth of the company. Due to personal reasons, he left Gensler in 2017. But the time to hang up his boots and exit the Middle East’s architecture and design sector was a long way off for the sport-mad Gillard.
He joined dwp in May 2019 after a conversation with Brenton Mauriello, group chief executive officer, and Scott Whittaker, group creative director, in which they shared an “incredibly powerful” vision for the future of the firm. At the heart of everything was the philosophy that architecture and design is simple, elegant and timeless. With this as a backbone of the business, Gillard is joining dwp as it steps into the future by embracing digital connectivity and design technologies, such as building information modelling (BIM). The business uses BIM software Revit in all interior design projects to ensure high quality construction documentation, flexibility and enhanced multidisciplinary coordination, particularly between interior design and MEP.
Ramping up the free flow of information to share ideas, experiences and skills across dwp’s offices in in Australia, Asia and the Middle East is a priority for Gillard. As the practice has hundreds of people working on projects from Saudi Arabia to Singapore, the business operates fully on the cloud. Gillard will be responsible for increasing global connectivity and international expansion.
“My first mandate is to look after the Middle East – at the moment this is the UAE and Bahrain,” he notes. “It has been a tough few years for everyone but we are starting to see the green shoots of recovery in the amount of work we have started to pick up,” he adds. Since he joined, dwp has won several high-profile projects in the GCC and Gillard admits it “never hurts” to get a few quick wins under your belt as the new managing director.
“I’ve just tried to pull down as many barriers as possible” he adds in response to a question about his strategic priorities. He wants to build a less hierarchical business, empower staff and “create a culture where design is at the forefront of expression.” He also wants to establish an entrepreneurial, enterprising team of go-getters.
“If you attract the right people but the culture and the environment doesn’t support them they will leave. So your retention strategy has to be about ensuring they feel that motivation and incentivisation to perform, but also that they can see their growth,” he adds.
Gillard also wants to adopt a leader-leader business management model, which can be more effective than the hierarchical leader-follower framework. David Marquet’s book about a US nuclear submarine captain called ‘Turn the Ship Around’ summarises this model, he explains. The captain has had 12 months to make the vessel and crew seaworthy, but is moved to another ship three weeks before the mission is due to begin. During a readiness test onboard the new boat he orders a command which is repeated back to him by his crew but not followed. He gives the order again. Nothing happens. The crew were too afraid to tell the captain that the order could not be carried out. The problem: no one challenged him.
“This is the leader-follower model but what we need to be successful is the leader-leader model where checks and balances come back,” he says, adding: “No matter how junior you are, you should feel that you can ask questions. By holding each other accountable you move forward together because the whole business is made up of leaders.”
Gillard is not only breaking down hierarchical barriers to build a team of leaders, but is setting up informal seminars covering everything from networking to perfecting the art of follow ups and proposals.
“The key message for me from 20 years in the industry is make people successful; your success is driven by other people being successful, so get them to kick you out of the way,” he says. You can get some amazing results – be that design culture, innovation, career growth or financial performance – if you focus on making people successful, he adds. “It’s not always about metrics. You can make great growth in a very short space of time if you focus on making other people successful,” he adds.
Gillard has only been with the business a matter of months and it is too early for his strategy to be fully implemented – or judged on its effectiveness – but dwp finds itself in a position of strength.
“What’s great in terms of the financial backlog of the company is the onsite or about-to-go-to-site projects we have ongoing,” he notes. This includes the renovation of Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, which is being rebranded as a W Hotel in time for the Fomula 1 Grand Prix in November. The company is also working on One Za’abeel, numerous projects in Deira Waterfront and the corporate headquarters of the National Bank of Bahrain. At design stage, it is working on the interior design of Crowne Plaza at Business Bay. Killa Design is the architecture firm. Additional design projects include the refurbishment of the Sheraton Bahrain Hotel and the Westin in Myanmar, in conjunction to a high-profile GCC project that cannot be named due to commercial sensitives.-Having historically been focused on high-end hospitality and corporate offices, Gillard wants to strengthen and diversify dwp’s capabilities in architecture, high-rise buildings, sport and healthcare. The business hopes to use Dubai as a springboard to expand into the UK, mainland Europe and the US by 2020. And Gillard will continue to break down barriers, soften the hierarchical structure and focus on empowering staff by championing inclusivity to create good design that is profitable and fun.