It’s been 18 months since Nick Abley stepped into the newly-created role of Group Business Manager at BADGE. Described by our CEO Roger Zammit as a ‘leader who listens’ and an easy choice for the job, Nick observes our daily operations across the country, and makes sure our traditional small-office culture isn’t outpaced by business growth.
At 45, Nick is also something of a midpoint between the old hands and the next generation at BADGE. His presence across our business puts him in a unique position to serve as a team-wide motivator – and having been well-supported by senior colleagues himself through an impressive career rise, he’s happy to pay it forward.
In our first Q&A blog post, Nick reflects on how he shaped his career from an early age, and what he learned along the way.
You studied to be a civil engineer – but by the time you graduated, you’d decided you weren’t going to be one. Most people wouldn’t dream of finishing a university course only to change trajectory straight after. How did you convince yourself that you could make it work, and what steps did you take?
I think this really gets back to having a plan! And sometimes being prepared to change if you need to. The reality is I was pretty young, like most of us who finish school and go straight to uni. Part way through my degree I realised there were different avenues post-university – not just the traditional design path. I did some work experience at an engineering firm, and while I enjoyed it, I was exposed to construction sites and the different opportunities that existed working for building companies. This led me to investigate a different career path into the construction industry.
One thing that has always stuck with me is that you only get out of something what you are willing to put in. The discipline that was required from me to achieve my engineering degree put me in good stead to venture into the full-time workforce, both technically and more importantly work ethic-wise.
Once you got your foot in the door as a project manager, did you already have long-term goals to get yourself to where you are now and beyond?
I have always set personal goals. This is a really important part of investing in yourself to be the best you can be. Sometimes those goals were as simple as finding the time to read a book in the hectic world we live in, and other times it’s been more project-specific. For example, I was working on a significant project as a Project Engineer with a very wise and experienced Site Manager. I set a goal to walk around the site with him for one hour a day and learn from him. Fortunately for me, he didn’t mind the shadow!
What value did you see in having people to mentor you along the way? And what did those relationships look like?
I can’t say I’ve ever had an official mentor, but I worked with some great people who took me under their wings. Some of these people I directly reported to day-to-day, but there were others who simply took the time because they could see that I was interested. They also exposed me to business activities beyond my current role – I always put time aside for this and relished the opportunities on offer. Since I have lots of people to thank for taking their time to care about me and my career, I have carried that forward myself, and I am passionate about supporting and developing the careers of younger Badgers. I also advise them to put in discretionary effort, because if there’s a chance to do that and you’re willing to, it will be noticed.
At BADGE, you moved up from a state business management role into your current role, which sees you manage our national operations and provide leadership to over 270 people. How did you adjust to guiding teams across four different offices around the country?
To be honest I was a bit nervous, but I saw that as a good sign since it proved that I wanted to succeed. The biggest challenge was getting to know an extra 170 staff – and that’s something which requires a continuous response. I consciously ensure I make the effort to say hello and know something about each person in all of our offices, whether it’s about their project or something else. I’ve also had to be a lot more organised, even though I thought I was pretty good when I started in the role.
Your role involves a high degree of visibility. Nobody in the business liaises face-to-face with more Badgers than you do. What do you like about supporting people as a leader?
For me, working with people is an opportunity to have an impact on someone and influence their development, their career and whatever else it is they’re doing around the business. In my time at BADGE I’ve seen people come into the business who might be very green, still at uni, and develop through because they have the ambition to go with the guidance people like me can offer them. For example there’s Tom De Garis, who went all the way through from labouring on sites when he was at uni to now running the defence part of the business as a Defence Sector Lead. I think that’s the greatest joy you can have – just seeing people develop and reach their potential.
One of the regular pieces of advice you give to young people in our business is to look outside their own space and get involved in what’s happening around them. Why? And what was the first moment in your own career when this made sense?
Success in this industry is a lot about relationships, both internally and externally to the business. That’s how you build your own personal brand and expand your relationships and visibility. It might be through a Property Council committee, getting involved in the Master Builders Association, or joining a community club to add value there. There are opportunities if you’re at university too – for example at UniSA they have the BOSS (Builders Organisation for Staff and Students) group.
I was pushed into this early by my first employer, but I quickly realised the value of a strong network and personal brand. Getting involved in the Property Council was pretty important early in my career because it broadened my horizon – I was project-based at the time and working for a very large organisation, where you might be on a project for 2 or 3 years dealing with the same people. At somewhere like the Property Council you can expand your network base instantly by meeting a whole heap of people dealing with multiple projects. Then on the next project you might actually be working with someone that you’d already built a relationship with, so you won’t be starting from scratch – you’d either built up a friendship or a working relationship, and that helps you maximise the value for your organisation and your client.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
Most of all, on top of everything I’ve said above – just have a go!Browse more BADGE Blog posts