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DIALOGUE: SIP Project Management-Taking China’s Dynamic Construction Sector to New Heights
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Of all the multinational companies which currently operate in China, it is rare that we get the opportunity to speak to the leader of an organisation with over 20 years of experience within this country, let alone a firm which has become the foremost leader in its sector. SIP Project Management is a unique company within the field of construction project management consultancy and holds the impressive accolade of being the largest and most distinguished firm of its kind in China. Mr. Stephen McCartney is SIP’s dynamic and highly experienced Managing Director. We spoke to him to obtain his personal insight into SIP’s services and the corporate culture which drives this incredibly successful organisation forward. 
 
Firstly, please could you give us a brief overview of your professional background and tell us about your role at SIP?
I started my career in this sector as a Charted QS (Quantity Surveyor). I have worked overseas for the last 20 years in various countries including Dubai, Oman and Ghana. I first came to China back in 2002 and I have been the MD of SIP, China’s largest independently-owned project management company, for the past 10 years. During that time, we have gone from strength to strength: we now have almost 250 staff between our offices in Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin, and we’ve worked for a vast range of clients, from specialist companies with a few hundred staff, to the world's most brand-recognisable multinational operations. This year we are celebrating 20 years in business, and our exclusive focus on China has enabled our team to become the unrivalled expert in this huge and complex market.
 
Tell us about some of the project management services that SIP currently offers clients in China and elsewhere.
 
We offer a full suite of construction project management services. Starting from site selection, our proprietary five-staged service programme ensures peace of mind for clients throughout the entire project delivery process; from planning and due diligence, through to project definition, design, tender and construction management, and ultimately to the project’s completion. However, before our clients reach that stage, we also have teams of specialists able to help investigate and evaluate possible business cases and development strategies in order to determine whether an investment in China is really for them, and if so, what guise it should take. We also guide our clients through key aspects such as health and safety, quality control, budgetary and time management.
So it is a very broad range of services, based on 20 years of experience in China, and we work for a very wide and varied suite of clients.
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As an organisation with such broad expertise and services to offer potential clients, how do you ensure that SIP’s knowledge and skill base keeps up with such a dynamic economic and legal system here in China?
 
We are members of professional bodies within the industry and we continuously run staff development programmes for everyone in our organisation: QS’s, engineers, legal specialists, accountants and members of the HR team. We invest hugely in continual professional development – far above the industry norms – and our policies and procedures are continually updated in accordance with international standards of best practice.
 
We always encourage our staff to keep up with what is happening within their industry. The Chinese have an insatiable appetite for learning and we allow our team to study for higher qualifications within their field of expertise and in business management generally. We are also unwavering in our commitment to our Ethics Policy in all aspects of our business. All staff and clients are encouraged to raise concerns about any issue or suspicion of malpractice at the earliest possible stage - and we have a Compliance Director, with whom we are all free to talk to in strict confidence.  
 
The team you need to have in order to offer such a varied range of services must be incredibly diverse and well trained. What challenges does the organisation face in terms of recruitment and retention of staff?
 
Our staff members are by far our greatest and most valuable asset, so we take care to hire and retain the right people. And, as I already mentioned, we are committed to the continued development of our staff, and also to the continued development of our corporate processes and operations. It is for this reason that we have invested heavily in the establishment of the SIP Academy.  
 
I think anyone will tell you that finding and retaining talented staff members is the biggest challenge of operating in China. Because we have been here for such a long time and we have developed a great profile we are able to offer our team a feeling of job security and career opportunities for the future. People in China are very conscious of their futures and with our business model evolving and entering more sophisticated markets we are able to offer our staff opportunities to grow. Around 25% of our staff members have been with us for 5 years, so we must be doing something right and it is very reassuring!
 
How competitive is this type of project management consultancy here in China? What key credentials would you say give SIP the edge over other firms in the sector?
 
Broadly speaking there are many competitors in the market- perhaps 20 companies at the moment. We are the only project management specialist that is focused exclusively on the China market. Our level of expertise simply doesn’t exist in any other firm. There are, of course, construction, architectural and real estate organisations that offer a project management service in addition to their core expertise – and many of those firms are globally renowned – but they are not PM experts, nor are they China experts. We have been here for 20 years, we are committed to the market and we live and breathe Project Management in China. There are very few challenges that we haven’t already helped another client to overcome in this market place!
 
We are also unique in that we are wholly independent. There is nothing holding us back from giving our clients the best and most honest professional advice available to them.
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Who are SIP’s major clientele at the moment? Have you seen some shifts in the demand for your company’s services in recent years?
 
We are very much focused on providing services to the private sector. Our client base has evolved in line with China’s own development. In terms of the construction sector, SIP is very much focused on industrial and retail sites- as opposed to residential.
 
Originally, we started by building factories for foreign firms that were manufacturing goods here to export overseas. Pre-WTO this was the only area in which China allowed foreign investment. After that we began project managing the construction and fitting-out of foreign firms’ Asia or China headquarters. This included clients such as Volvo and Atlas Copco. We have also helped to develop production facilities for firms that were selling products to China’s domestic market – Autoliv and Cummins would be good examples of that. 
 
Now, alongside all that, we have a thriving retail and lifestyle business unit that is overseeing the development of luxury malls and leisure complexes, ski and holiday resorts, bars, nightclubs, high-end designer shops and fashionable restaurants. Club Med, Element Fresh, Swarovski and Inditex are just a few examples of such clients. In addition to those, we have worked with Michelin, Zara, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and many other big name international brands that have moved into the Chinese market in recent years.
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Corporate & Social Responsibility (CSR) is an increasingly prominent topic in discussions with both multinational and Chinese firms, across all sectors. What is SIP doing in this regard?
Corporate and Social Responsibility has always been, and remains a cornerstone of our corporate culture. We believe wholeheartedly that as a firm we have a responsibility to the communities within which we live. SIP works hard to share our knowledge and expertise in order to enrich the lives of those around us, and we feel particularly empowered to do this practically given our background in engineering and construction.  
 
Over the years our senior team has invested huge amounts of time and energy into training and development for young engineers outside our firm. Furthermore, as the China representative for the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), our Founding Director Geoff Mills has been responsible over the past decade for developing the ICE’s role in China for which he has been awarded the ICE’s International Medal. Amongst the wide range of activities undertaken by the ICE in China was a mission to develop low cost rural housing following the Sichuan earthquake- for which the team, led by Geoff, received a United Nations award.
 
Recently, our staff came together in a sponsored moustache-growing activity that raised CNY 58,500 for the Baobei Foundation, a charity that works with Shanghai medical professionals to provide life-saving neurological or gastrointestinal surgeries to Chinese orphans. We will be doing many more things like this in the future! 
 
Lastly, please could you tell us about some of your future objectives as the Managing Director of SIP, and furthermore, can you tell us about some major projects that your company has in the pipeline?

Looking in to the future, I see huge opportunities for us to continue providing support as China moves in to its next phase of financial development – as a foreign investor in its own right – and we have some very exciting projects in the pipeline.  As I’m sure you can appreciate, I couldn’t possibly disclose details of those here – but watch this space; China’s future is burning bright and we very much intend to be project managing the maintenance of its lights bulbs! 

By Josh Cooper 
 
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