Ismail Alli-Balogun on climate change, construction innovation, patience

Ismail Alli-Balogun, construction entrepreneur

Climate change is now biting, and hard – from floods in Germany, via extreme heat in Italy, Spain and the United States, to rising sea levels. While it may be tempting to wait for big-government solutions as the COP26 global climate summit approaches this autumn, businesses have their part to play too.

Ismail Alli-Balogun, a construction entrepreneur, gives us his opinion on climate change, also on the value of biding your time, as he joins us for the latest in a monthly series of  guest interviews with business owners and creatives.

We know each other from the network Constructing Excellence in Croydon. What’s been going on with your business in the past few months, and what are the challenges and opportunities ahead, in this era of climate change for one? How much has your sector of the construction industry been affected by the pandemic?

We’ve all been through a very difficult period, especially last year at the start of the pandemic, which hit parts of the construction industry quite hard.

In the first quarter of the year, I was enrolled in an innovation programme run by Newable. It was quite an intensive programme of one-to-one sessions, focusing on advice specific to my business’ needs.

It’s important to take time out of the day-to-day periodically to reassess all the important aspects like business strategy, resources, service offerings, customer segments, marketing and so on. The main challenge for the rest of the year will be putting all those plans into action.

Coming out of this period, now it’s all about building on a stronger foundation. The past few months, and really the rest of the year, the focus is on growth. I now have a much better idea of where I want to business to go, what I want the business to stand for and who we want to be associated with.

It’s hard, almost impossible, to ignore climate change whatever industry we work in. That can only be a good thing, many might argue. What initiatives have caught your eye in the construction industry on this issue, and do you feel enough is being done? How does Carterhatch Architectural Acoustics fit in with what’s happening on climate change?

Profit shouldn’t be the sole reason for a business to exist. Business can and should provide some form of benefit to society, even if it’s just in a small way. I’m convinced that the construction industry has a carbon footprint that could be reduced. I hope to see all contractors (and their supply chains) take a proactive approach to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, a greater use of off-site construction, more sustainable materials and electric vehicles.

aerial image of a container ship

I intend to play my part by making sure that Carterhatch Architectural Acoustics remains for force for good in the industry. I’ve joined the SME Climate Hub, which is a global initiative to encourage and support companies who have committed to reaching net-zero emissions. I’m also about to become a member of the UK Green Building Council, which campaigns for improved sustainability of the built environment and a positive change to the way buildings are planned, designed, constructed, maintained and operated.

Aside from these corporate-level commitments, I want to help the architects and contractors I work with create more sustainable buildings.

(You may also be interested in an earlier blog: Timber! Construction gets inventive: MultiPly, climate change, Cornwall, #bmcreativeplaces)

It’s important to reduce whole-life costs of buildings. This can be achieved by considering refurbishment first before resorting to demolition and new build construction. Sustainability frameworks such as BREEAM and LEED can also help to create buildings that are truly fit for purpose, which means they may last longer, be repurposed easily and ultimately give greater long-term value.

What’s your ambition for the business, and your part in it, for say the next three years – given that Carterhatch AA is about three years old now? Is it more of the same, or are you heading in new and different directions?

I have a long term ambition for Carterhatch AA to become a certified B Corp, which fits in with my belief that business should have a purpose beyond profit. I think the best way to champion designs that give building occupiers the acoustic comfort they need for improved wellbeing and productivity is to work with designers and contractors that share the ethos of quality for the benefit of the end user.

Image of sound waves

So it’s certainly not more of the same. The focus for the future is to find the right partners, clients and projects to realise my goal of being a force for good in the industry.

As the business grows, I want to promote a company culture that reinforces the values of collaboration, integrity and quality. From this year onwards I’ll be focusing on the types of building that form the backbone to communities, residential, schools, hospitals and offices. This will help us fulfil our potential to have an impact on society.

There’s a common strand to the interviews I’ve been doing recently with business owners and creatives, in that I’m always interested in how people achieve some kind of (imperfect, maybe) balance between work and other aspects of life.

After all, much as we like to make professional progress, there are all sorts of other personal projects and demands on our time. How’s that balance for you, and what habits if any are you working on to help improve work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a subject we hear a lot about in the media and at work, but it’s not something I actively think about. Perhaps because I have a good balance? Or perhaps I should be thinking about it!

The way I approach work life is the same as my approach to home life. I generally try to make sure that the most important tasks are completed on time. This often stops them becoming urgent. I’m quite an organised person and I use various reminders and alarms to prompt me into action at the right time.

alarm clock

But I think there is a balance to be struck so I try not to plan everything to the last detail. Being flexible and able to change the plan at the last minute is an advantage, especially when things don’t go to plan, which is bound to happen from time to time.

I don’t really see a divide between work and other aspects of life. As a business owner, I’m always thinking about way to make the business better. As a parent, I’m always considering what I need to provide for my children to give them the best start in life. My wedding anniversary is coming up soon, so between meetings I’ll be thinking about how best to celebrate that. For me the balance comes from frequently switching between priorities throughout any given day.

We all need thinking time… to develop our businesses and ourselves. When and how do ideas percolate best for you, and how do conversations with peers play a part? That, of course, may be in your industry or way beyond. The word networking, for instance, makes some people cringe… but what place do “real-life” events play for you and the development of your business?

The sudden switch to online and remote working has really changed the dynamics of networking. I enjoyed to face-to-face interactions with peers and my counterparts in other disciplines. It’s a chance to discover what’s happening in the industry and I see networking as an important business activity.

An in-person event in a relaxed atmosphere is the best way for me to gain useful industry insights. But the travel restrictions during the lockdowns did bring a positive side. With events going fully online, I was able to attend multiple conferences abroad in a relatively short time. This would have been simply not been feasible before the pandemic.

Online event screen with a plant nearby

Carterhatch AA is an active member of the Association of Noise Consultants (ANC) and we’re helping to organise “hybrid” conferences and meetings, which will be a blend between a traditional event with a live audience and people joining in remotely. The tricky thing will be working out how best to enable interaction between those in the room and those at home. We don’t have all the answers yet but I’m sure we’ll be able to use the latest technology to create events that are engaging for everyone.

I think it’s important that the conversations between all the various parts of the industry continue because it takes a team of professionals in many disciplines to create a cohesive design. These interactions help us understand each other’s viewpoint and priorities.

>>Another interview in this series: Men’s stylist Sarah Gilfillan: how I plan, what to wear on Zoom, winning habits

What, if anything, has intrigued you – perhaps it still does – since setting up in business? Has anything been more challenging than you expected, for instance? Who and what has helped you to make progress with that?

The biggest personal challenge for me, since starting the business has been having patience to let opportunities develop in their own time. I’m the sort of person that, once I’ve decided what needs to be done, I like to get in done as soon as possible. I like to be able to measure progression. But I’ve learnt that, in business, some things cannot be rushed.

For example, I’ve tried to develop partnerships and alliances with like-minded businesses that offer complimentary services. But agreeing to work together is just the first step. You then need to wait for the type of project that would bring mutually benefits. And there’s a lot of learning along the way; discovering how each partner prefers to work, what the interactions are like, what the priorities are.

Some of the partnerships I’ve formed have taken a year or longer to bear any fruit. But I’d say it’s been worth the wait.

I’ve seen a similar pattern when looking to develop opportunities with some clients. I’m lucky enough to work for some multinational companies, much larger organisations than my own. Once they’re on board with our offering and the value we can bring, it’s a case of waiting for the right type of project. But keeping in touch and staying “front of mind” means we’re the first choice when that opportunity does come along.

It’s through experience that I’ve learnt to be much more patient and let go of the feeling that I need to be in control of everything. I try my best with the things that are within my control. For everything else, I try just to go with the flow.

>>An earlier blog: How to encourage reader comments on your blogs: seven ideas

(Image credits: Cameron Venti, Pawel Czerwinski, Ales Krivec, and Sigmund on Unsplash; many thanks to Ismail for the headshot and logo.)

*What examples have caught your eye of the actions businesses,
large and small, are taking on climate change?
Please add a comment below, I’ll be sure to reply.*

Logo of Carterhatch Architectural Acoustics

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