I recently had the privilege of travelling to the other side of the world to visit some of our international offices. The main purpose of the trip was to spend time with Chris Field, our recently-appointed head of Acoustics for Australia, in Sydney, but while I was in the area, I also planned to spend time in our Hong Kong and Singapore offices. All in 10 days, so I could get back to the UK in time for an awards ceremony (and it’s a good job I did, as we won the award and I had to collect it!).
Having never been further east than Cyprus (4 hours by plane), the prospect of flying to Sydney (20+ hours) was somewhat daunting. However, with the assistance of a travel agent (to book flights) and in-house support (to book hotels), an itinerary was soon drawn up, flights and hotels booked and there was no going back.
Foreign travel seems a very romantic concept to those who have only limited experience of it, or who travel abroad with friends and family for leisure. The reality of lone business travel, though, is quite different. Days and nights away from the family back home, hours upon hours of flights, gruelling time zone changes and the dawning reality that it’s not possible to just ‘pop back home’ as you’re half a world away, is a much more brutal reality. I know several people who spend much of their professional life jetting around the world, to seemingly exotic locations, but I can now better sympathise with their Facebook posts saying that they’d rather be home in rainy Birmingham than in the sunshine somewhere in Asia.
I was looking forward to the weather on the other side of the world. The English Spring time is beautiful, but can also be wet, cold and even frosty. So, imagine my surprise to land in Sydney during the worst storms for 100 years, with even the mighty Airbus A380 needing a second go at landing due to the winds being so strong. My picture of Australia being a tropical paradise where everyone lives on the beach barbecuing shrimps was quickly dismissed; when I finally reached the hotel after almost two days of travelling, I received an email from my new colleague saying that his house was liable to flood and was on red alert ready to be evacuated by the emergency services, doubting whether he would be able to make it into the office while the weather stayed as it was. Thankfully the storms abated within the next 24 hours and my colleague was able to make it into the office by early afternoon the following day (although his home was without power until the following Saturday!).
If I had to sum up our Sydney office up in one word, it would be ‘non-corporate’ (or is that two words?). Amidst high rise glass and concrete towers, in Milsons Point, virtually on the bank of Sydney Harbour, lies a 3-storey building (the top storey is a quirky room described as ‘the turret’) above a food hall. Even when the weather is hot, the building is naturally ventilated by using opening windows on virtually all sides and on the upper floors (to create a stack effect). There is a busy road outside, in addition to the train line connecting North and South Sydney across the Harbour Bridge, so one would expect the office to be too noisy, but instead the internal environment is quite delightful. A gentle breeze and constant wash of background noise creates ideal conditions for a collaborative workplace. Sydney itself is a frighteningly expensive place to live, but the food court under our office sell curries, kebabs and Chinese food at prices lower than in the UK – a hidden treasure indeed.
And then there’s the people. After all, that’s what our business is all about. The business leaders and staff in our office are an eclectic mix of engineers, scientists and sustainability designers. Above all of this though, they are inextricably Cundall, part of the global family with a local twist. All our global expansions have been organic, whereby existing Cundall staff have set up an office in other countries, subsequently joined by local people and others from around the world; this means we never lose our business culture, but are also at home in our respective local markets. Imagine life in the ‘80s sit com Cheers, where Norm walks into the bar and everyone greets him with a ‘Hi Norm!’; that’s what our office reminded me of; a close knit group of people who work together but also look out for each other, all with the common goal of producing environmentally responsible, innovative designs for buildings and communities.
On my third day in Sydney I was meeting a friend from the UK for breakfast at Circular Quay, on the South side of the Harbour. By then the weather was lovely, with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. Even by 8 am temperatures were in the mid 20s Celsius. I walked the couple of miles across Harbour Bridge (soon regretting that I was wearing a jacket) and got a flavour of what Sydney is really like. Hundreds of bronzed adonises (and adonissettes) jogging on their way to work, making the most of the climate and demonstrating just why Australia is so good at sports.
Reflections on my time in Sydney:
- Great people. Friendly, accommodating, relaxed, quirky, yet incredibly professional and competent
- A melting pot of cultures. In our office alone (and there are only 16 at present) there is representation from Macclesfield, Newcastle, London, India and Australia
- Fantastic, beautiful city (when the weather is nice), not dissimilar to Vancouver in its mix of water, beaches and metropolitan lifestyle
- Fiendishly high cost of living, with technical salaries to match, yet professional fees are similar to the UK. Despite this, public transport is very cheap, as so is lunch in the food court below our offices
After three full days in the office I really felt like part of the team and am incredibly excited that we are now offering Acoustics from that office, which is already paying dividends with working in the Asia Pac region.
Find out more about Cundall – http://www.cundall.com/