Where ambition meets delivery
By Scott Smyth, Soben Founder & CEO
As we kick off the new year, I find myself yet again marvelling at Soben’s incredible journey these past 12 months. It was a year of wins, challenges met head-on, and the unmistakable spirit that defines us. Today, as I look ahead to another twelve months of growth, I’d like to share some of my personal learnings from our scale-up journey, and my hopes for the year ahead.
It’s no accident that last year Soben was named by Building Magazine as the fastest growing UK construction consultancy. More and more clients are looking for a partner that truly understands the commercial implications of major construction projects, where every team member is hand-picked to support their unique needs.
I founded Soben with a vision of disrupting the construction consultancy market. I wanted to combat the poor advice I’d experienced first-hand from consultants that clearly didn’t have practical experience on a construction site, nor an understanding of what it takes to make a project commercially successful. I saw an opportunity to create a business that would integrate this practical experience into its consultancy offering. Soben would ensure that everything we do would positively influence project outcomes and provide an ROI on the fee invested in us.
This vision to disrupt has helped us continue our planned growth – increasing our headcount by over 30% last year. We added several leading global brands to our client portfolio in 2023. We have cemented our position as a leading consultant in the global Data Centre market, as well as expanding our services in the Life Sciences industry, where our teams started working with two new global pharma giants last year and continuing to support the world’s sustainable energy transition through our work on one of the biggest infrastructure schemes currently underway in the UK.
Globally, it gives me great satisfaction to witness Soben’s expansion. I had the pleasure of spending a month embedded in our Australian operations in November, watching the strong local reputation being grown by our Australian MD, Kevin Carr. And I always enjoy spending time with our Americas business, where our operations go from strength to strength in the US, Chile, Brazil and Mexico. Finally, in 2023, we have doubled down on our commitment to sustainability with our ground-breaking partnership with climate tech company, IES, adding Soben’s market-leading cost data to IES’ net zero roadmap solution.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
One thing I’ve learned as a leader this year is that the old adage, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” holds a lot of truth. In the hustle of ensuring daily client excellence and growing our business, it’s still vital to spend time nurturing our company culture. At our core, Soben is a people business – our team aren’t just industry experts – they’re passionate professionals who consider their work a vocation, not just a job. This year, I’ve learned that creating a unique and nurturing environment, where people can grow long and fulfilling careers, is what will truly make us great.
I’ve experienced first-hand organisations where workplace culture was not enjoyable and did not inspire success: autocratic and authoritarian leadership, divisive office politics and lack of transparency. I could see the negative impact on employee wellbeing, personal, and company performance. So, at Soben, I set out to create a culture where people can bring their authentic selves to work, can feel valued and supported and most importantly, can all have some fun along the way, even when times get tough.
Maintaining a world-class culture will be a priority for Soben’s leadership team in 2024 – along with the other major focus of any rapidly scaling business: ensuring we have the structure, processes and talent to continue to deliver operational excellence.
It is this operational excellence that remains at the heart of our success – and what sets us apart from other consultancies. Our founding principles still hold true today. Our commitment to always deliver on our promises, no matter how small, must continue as we scale. This, paired with our bias for action and can-do attitude is what ensures we deliver exceptional results for every client.
2023 wasn’t just a growth journey for Soben, but for me personally. As I reflect on my decisions in the past year, I’ve learned the importance of trusting my gut and dealing with issues swiftly. It may seem easier to ignore your instincts, but it’s rarely the right path.
My second reflection is how important it is to place people in the right roles. As we grow, roles and responsibilities are in constant flux. Recognising that someone is a good fit for the business isn’t enough; they need to be in the right seat. People are outgrowing their roles, and that’s a good thing. It means we’re all evolving together, providing a better experience for our clients.
Finally, surrounding myself with positive, experienced, and knowledgeable people is one of my core values. I’ve highly valued the input of advisors like Tom Harrison, who have helped our business go from strength to strength. And our involvement in the Scale Up Scotland 2.0 Programme, a strategic initiative operated by The Hunter Foundation (THF) in partnership with Scottish National Investment Bank, has been transformative.
Looking to the future with purpose
Over the past few years, we’ve built a growth engine. Soben has grown internationally, hired some of the industry’s best talent, and developed a host of exceptional client relationships. This gives us a formidable basis for growth in 2024. We’ve streamlined our strategy to focus on the markets and industries where we hold deep expertise – like Data Centres, where we are working for some of the industry’s largest hyperscalers and colocation providers. Our strategic direction aligns closely with our purpose – to accelerate the impact of the construction projects that are transforming our world, ensuring they are delivered more cost-effectively, faster, and with greater certainty.
The work we do and the sectors we have chosen to support are making a real and significant impact on society and the world around us: the data centres that will enable efficiencies in everything from disease diagnosis to educational outcomes; the energy transition projects that are essential to create a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren; the large-scale infrastructure projects that are drivers for future economic prosperity; and the life sciences and health care projects that are enabling people to live healthier, happier and longer lives. It’s humbling to play a part in this transformative global progress.
As I look ahead, what truly excites me, and fills me with pride, is witnessing the development of our people. Empowering talented individuals to do their best work and watching their careers flourish is a testament to our incredible team. I founded Soben to create a culture that inspires success – where we could employ the best people and empower them as they strive to make a meaningful impact. I’m looking forward to helping more talented professionals unlock their potential at Soben in the coming year.
This time last year, I wrote about my personal commitment to focus more on work-life balance. That’s pretty easy when building Soben is like a job and my favourite hobby rolled into one.
Happy New Year to all of our clients, and everyone that is playing a role in Soben’s success. Here’s to another incredible year!