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To mark International Women’s Day 2021 we sat down with Maria Seabright, Finance and HR Director at Greendale Construction Ltd in Poole to find out about her career so far, and how she has worked her way up within the company.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to work for Greendale Construction?
I am proud to have been born and raised in Poole. Like many teenagers, I didn’t really love school, or make the most of my education and couldn’t wait to leave to find my own way in life.
Once away from the school environment I threw myself into working life, left home, and worked hard in a number of jobs, building on my work ethic from very early on. In 1997, I applied for a job I saw advertised in the local paper for an office administrator at a construction firm based in Poole. That firm was Greendale Construction Ltd, and 24 years on I am still here, having worked my way up to Director level.
As the company grew, I moved up to office manager, continually getting more involved with the accounts and HR side of the business. I worked closely with the founding Directors, Chris Kane and Rob Hooker, immersing myself in my role as I gained a deeper understanding and knowledge of the construction industry. I always loved my job and coming into work at Greendale, so it was a huge boost to my self-esteem to have my dedication and hard work acknowledged, when in late 2012 I was invited by Chris and Rob to become Finance and HR Director and sit on the Board of what was now a multi-million pound construction firm.
I officially became a Greendale Construction Director on 1st January 2013, and I was thrilled! I am not only passionate about the company, but even more so about being in a position to help change lives.
Being a Director means I have more input into how we run and develop certain sectors of the business, and that means I can really get my teeth into initiatives involving apprenticeships, training and CSR. I certainly don’t take my position lightly. I worked hard to get where I am, and it’s incredibly important for me to open up opportunities for others to get where they want to be through hard work and dedication.
What do you enjoy most about your current role in the construction industry?
Every day is different. Some days I’m working on the accounts and looking at financial forecasting, whilst other days I’m sorting out HR issues and making sure our staff are happy. I really enjoy putting on my hi-vis and visiting staff on site. I like seeing where it all happens – as after all, without our amazing staff and their hard work we wouldn’t have a business!
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I feel very strongly about Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and giving back to the local community.
I think my own personal experience of the education system has led me to want to open up opportunities for other young people who may be despondent with their school life.
Although education is important, it absolutely should not be all about grades. There are numerous reasons why a young person might not excel academically in school, and it’s not for us to judge, but to view each person on their own achievements, strengths and merits.
I am the Chair of Governors at a local school in a less affluent part of Poole, and visit many other schools across the district to talk in assemblies and careers days about training and apprenticeships. I help pupils with interview techniques and I even mentor some. If a pupil is struggling with school but has demonstrated a passion for construction, I visit them at the school and talk through the career options for them, encouraging them to sit tight and work hard in their core subjects, yet showing them that they won’t be tossed aside purely on exam grades – just so long as they prove they are doing their best. I’ll offer them the opportunity to have a day’s work experience with us on site if they can improve their performance at school over the term. It’s all about encouragement and understanding.
I’m passionate about this because I wish I had the same support when I was at school, but it’s fantastic to see attitudes changing for the better in education. Everyone has a valid place in the world, it’s just some need more encouragement and understanding to get there. It’s not just boys either, I’ve also supported girls who have demonstrated an interest in construction too, of course.
From a career perspective, there have been many goals achieved since I’ve been with Greendale, including winning the Dorset Business Awards for Developing Talent in 2018; reaching the finals of the CITB Personality of the Year at the Pride of Construction Awards; speaking to, and giving evidence in the Houses of Parliament for the Richards Review on the apprenticeship levy; Greendale gaining IIP Gold Standard in 2004; becoming Chair of Governors at St Aldhelms, and Trustee of Chestnut Nursery. We’ve also introduced a mental health policy within the company, and I’m a mental health first aider, helping to promote this issue across the construction industry and to other construction companies.
I also met Her Majesty the Queen in 2009 which was an amazing honour, if not a slightly surreal experience!
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your role in the industry?
There are, of course, day to day challenges in running any business, and being a woman in a male dominated industry is an added challenge on many levels.
I have risen above any personal judgments, and proved myself through hard work, determination, and a passion for the industry.
Anything that comes up with the business is dealt with together, as a Board. I’m lucky in that my fellow directors and colleagues are genuine and dedicated people, many of whom I am fortunate enough to also call friends. Of course, the pandemic has been challenging for everyone!
How has PKF Francis Clark supported you?
Greendale has been a client of PKF Francis Clark for around 20 years, and as such, the team have been a part of our growth. Whether I have a query about management accounts, payroll, pensions or anything, I always know I can speak to the Partner that looks after Greendale Construction, Sam Chapman at the firm.
I’ve also built a strong professional relationship with Michelle Love, Director of Audit & Accounts, who has really encouraged me to push myself in my own career journey and given me so much advice and assistance. Without Michelle I wouldn’t know half the stuff I do now!
I’ve also known James Robinson, Office Managing Partner of the PKF Francis Clark Poole office for over 15 years. James has always been a wonderful ambassador for Greendale – in fact, it was James who put me forward as Trustee at Chestnut Nursery (their Poole nursery is another major project Greendale worked on).
What advice would you give someone considering construction for their career?
Construction is a brilliant industry to work in, so I’d say go for it! Whether you want to learn a practical trade which will benefit you for life, or work in a more office-based role, it’s a thoroughly satisfying and exciting industry to be part of.
I still get a kick out of seeing projects we’ve worked on and seeing how good they look, years down the line.
Construction is a lasting testament – we’re building for the future; whether that’s in bricks and mortar or helping to build careers and livelihoods. After all, there will always be a demand for construction, so there are plenty of career opportunities.