From Ireland to New Zealand via Mongolia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, Paul Corbett’s career has taken him right around the world. Here he speaks about his career and the opportunities of working for CPB Contractors and other companies in the CIMIC Group.
How did you get started in construction?
I studied in Ireland and graduated with a masters degree in civil engineering from Trinity College, Dublin. But at the time I graduated there was no real work in Ireland, so I applied internationally and took a job in Hong Kong.
As a young engineer starting out on your career, this must have been a great learning experience.
In 1995, when I arrived, Hong Kong had a huge amount of work with a new airport being built and all the transport links to support it also being constructed. These were massive projects and meant the opportunities open to me early in my career were enormous. It was a great learning experience.
When did you join CPB Contractors?
I joined Leightons, which was to change its name to CPB Contractors, in 2008. While working in Hong Kong I’d come across Leighton Asia several times, and they were very impressive, so when the chance came to join Leightons in New Zealand, I just snapped it up and I haven’t looked back.
CPB Contractors and Leighton Asia are both part of the broader CIMIC Group. What’s it like working across companies in the same corporate group?
At the core, is the absolute and fundamental belief in doing things safely. It’s central to CPB, Leighton Asia, and right across the CIMIC Group. Our Principles also resonate with me – I think they are great expressions of common sense. During tough times, I can fall back on my core values and know that they are aligned with our Principles and make the right decision. It helps me enormously knowing that I am culturally aligned with the Group.
Then there are the opportunities that the Group provides. Sometimes this means you have to be flexible, but I’ve had a successful and interesting career.
In 2012, a wind farm project in Mongolia needed a hand, so I went there for a couple of months and that’s when I reconnected with the Leighton Asia team and took the opportunity to transfer from New Zealand to the Philippines, then Singapore and back to Hong Kong.
All the time, when you make these moves, your career is being developed, with increased responsibility and the acquisition of knowledge and experience. Moving countries builds your resilience and can enhance your career tremendously.
What’s your advice to young people starting out on their careers?
Be flexible and open to opportunities. Have a career plan, but write it in pencil so you can change it. You can achieve your ultimate career goals, but be open to adjusting the way you get there. If you are prepared to do something that others think is hard, then you will get greater opportunities earlier in your career than you might otherwise.
If you are prepared to be mobile in your career, then, in my experience the Group respects that and looks after you.
Another thing is that working in great cities, like Manila, Singapore, and Hong Kong, means your personal opportunities are fantastic too. You get to meet interesting teachers, artists, lawyers, and bankers and that will enrich you.
What’s the most important thing you have learnt along the way?
Working in different cultures enables you to be more astute in managing conflict. Being experienced in dealing with many different cultures helps prepare you to engage creatively in solving a problem and to understand that there is often more than one workable solution. It helps your career greatly if you can be innovative when managing conflicting priorities or other challenges.
Are your travelling days over?
I’m enjoying working and living in New Zealand, CPB is delivering some great work here, and if I end up staying here that will be great. I’m not quite ready to give up the adventure yet, so if the Group want to me to go and do something interesting elsewhere I’m always ready.