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“Resistance is how people are.”: Patrice Bard

“When I am talking to clients, I say to them, ‘I’m your mason. I’m just a simple man, building for you,’” says Patrice Bard. For the Managing Director of one of Thailand’s leading construction firms, Bouygues-Thai, the ethos is to deliver high-quality projects on time while serving the needs of clients.

Patrice Bard, Managing Director of Bouygues - Thai

“This is the key motive for us,” Patrice says. “Serving our clients, improving and growing higher in our safety standards in Thailand. I am always saying to my team, ‘Don’t forget, the people paying us are our clients.’ Without our clients, we have no job, no project or any other job in the company.”

Over the past few years, Patrice has noticed a shift in client relations. “Our clients have evolved a lot,” he explains. “They are going much faster. They want their buildings to be built quicker, be more modern and to have particular features for the staff.” He adds, “It is important to listen to our clients, to spend time with them, always to show that we are present, and to find solutions within all the different situations.”

Patrice has spent much of his professional career learning the ropes of construction at Bouygues-Thai. But he came very close to taking a different career route. Before graduating from engineering school in France in 1996 specialising in construction, Patrice was focusing on manufacturing cars and aeroplanes.

Then one summer holiday, following his parent’s request, Patrice found a job as a trainee at a construction company. “I was inspired to be in a job where I could see what I was designing and building,” he says. “You can leave something behind you, sometimes even forever. That made me change my path.”

“I was inspired to be in a job where I could see what I was designing and building. You can leave something behind you, sometimes even forever.”

The enthusiasm for education and vision has stayed with Patrice. Now, as a leader of a 29-year-old company, he hopes to leave his mark. “Two years ago, we set up a training centre for employees. The centre is there to test them and make sure they have the required knowledge, according to certain trades,” he says. “We formed tests, including a theoretical and practical test. If they don’t have this knowledge, then we train them accordingly.”

The centre is set to develop the company. But of course, like with any change, there was resistance. “It was difficult because you are trying to show a new way, a new vision,” Patrice reflects. “You’re trying to impose something. The first six months were challenging because you are changing things and changing the routine of some people who have been with the company for 15–20 years.

“You are giving a new phase to your team, to your organisation, and to be able to give this new phase, you must be dealing with people you know extremely well. You can’t just be here for a year and start imposing changes. You need to be here for a long time and the team needs to know you. They need to understand how you work and how you react.”

Additionally, this shift also came with organisational and cultural transitions, which were difficult to implement. Patrice says cultural shifts are especially challenging in Asia. “Your age is crucial here and your experience is the number one priority. Otherwise, you won’t be recognised by your staff and your clients won’t accept you,” he says.

Patrice Bard, Managing Director of Bouygues - Thai

Nonetheless, the challenge was motivating. Once the resistance started to subside, Patrice and the team recognised that it wasn’t necessarily negative. “Resistance is how people are. It’s a type of reactivity. Once people saw the benefits, it got better,” he says.

Over time, employees started to appreciate the training centre. Patrice says, “We can clearly identify every specific skill for all our workers and then we can allocate the right resources or the right skills to the right projects.”

When asked about his most significant career achievement, Patrice replies with: “I am still learning every single day.” He adds, “It’s important to always be open in this industry and ready to compromise. You have to adapt yourself either to the future or to the economy.”

Although no single high point comes to mind, Patrice says his achievement is ongoing. “We have to be involved in this business. We need always to be motivating ourselves. There is no time to rest and think, ‘That’s it, we’ve done it. It’s the best. And that’s it, we are number one,’” he says.

“No, never. We are facing all sorts of problems every day, all sorts of new issues. It can be new laws, political schedules in the country, new competitors or Chinese influence in Thailand. It’s a continuous learning time for us.”

For a surge of motivation, Patrice regularly visits the sites. This usually involves looking at problems with the team, clearing technical issues, and asking, “What can I do for you? Where can I help you? What is your problem? Tell me, don’t hesitate.”

“The life of project managers and the engineers is not easy,” he concedes. “We are adding more and more constraints and requesting more from them.”

When the conversation veers to the subject of leadership, Patrice says that people need to lead with emotional intelligence. “Today, everything goes so fast with emails, social networks, meetings and so on. It is generating a lot of stress,” he says. “You need to use your emotional intelligence because it’s not just about results. It’s not just about achievements every day. It’s more about how people around you feel, if you listen to them, how they feel at the end of the day.”

“You need to use your emotional intelligence because it’s not just about results. It’s not just about achievements every day.”

Achieving leadership is also to do with being inspired by people around you. “I think it’s from your appreciation, to pick up what is good and what is not good from the different people who inspire you,” he says.

“It’s also about admitting if you don’t know something. There’s no shame. There is nothing negative about taking the time and not reacting within a second. This is important, especially within certain cultures where emotions are fundamental.”

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