Day in the life: Perkins+Will boss inspired by creativity

As the head of a global architecture and design consultancy, Steven Charlton spends most of his meal-times sampling Dubai's many cuisines as he entertains colleagues, clients and contacts.

Steven Charlton says spending time with existing or potential clients is very important for him. Victor Besa for The National
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Six years ago Steven Charlton opened the Dubai office of one of the world’s biggest global architecture and design consultancies, Perkins+Will, alongside his business partner Diane Thorsen. Now the 36-year-old principal managing director oversees a team of more than 100, working across the GCC, positioning itself as a regional industry leader. Mr Charlton, from the north-east of England, began his career in London before moving to the UAE in 2009. Married with two daughters, nine and seven, he spends much of his time travelling – both personally with his family and on business trips.


I recently moved back to Dubai after three years living and working in Abu Dhabi, so now I can enjoy an extra hour in bed. Through habit, I often still waken at 6am, but now I can blissfully nod off for an extra hour.


Not only did I move into the building in Dubai Marina next to our office but also my gym is in the same place, so I can be working out with some cardio and weights within minutes of waking. I enjoy starting the day on the treadmill; it clears my mind and helps me structure my mental checklist.


Being a US-headquartered firm I often have emails to catch up with in the morning and doing this over coffee and breakfast has also become my routine on weekends.


The early part of the day is filled with morning management meetings where I can catch up and focus the leadership team on the key issues. We focus on the five Ps: People, Profile, Product, Profit and Process – whichever area needs the most attention dictates where I will focus my time and that of the leadership teams. We spend a considerable amount of time on analytics so we can be proactive rather than reactive, which is tougher in this region with its fast-paced way of doing business.


My external meetings begin now and can be vastly different from week to week. They can involve either: pitching to a new client, negotiating on a fee or contractual sticking point or sitting in on a key design presentation from our team to our clients. Some of our recent high- profile projects include: King’s College Hospital in Dubai, the new UAE Adidas headquarters and DQ Marriott in Riyadh. We are a very tight team – everyone looks out for one another and the buzz from the creativity generated by our talent is infectious. My passion at work used to be focused on the thrill of winning work, but these days it’s just amazing to see young potential flourish.


Lunch with colleagues, clients or market contacts in a relaxing environment is such an important part of my day. I am a true believer – people choose to work with people they actually like and want to spend time with – be that as an employee or as a client. My wife is convinced I just like sampling all the new restaurants in Dubai, but I assure her that is only part of the case. Zuma is always a favourite, but you will often find me in the Pier 7 restaurants.


I work on focused research for our 2017 planning schedule, which culminates in mid-October where each of our 25 offices have their MD present the forthcoming strategy to one another and the executive committee. This year it will be in Chicago. There are always some tough questions posed, as the company’s leaders essentially pressure-test each other’s plans – I have to know my plan inside out. I am very optimistic about the market in 2017, and although we are looking to refine key areas rather than expand at the same pace we have previously, I certainly see some key strategic moves that can cement our position.


The US is generally coming to life around this time, both east and west coast, so I have late conference calls. Whether it’s the monthly managing director call where we rotate and share key issues with our peers or our bi-monthly Middle East sales and strategy calls where we identify key opportunities and discuss ideas, risks and approach.


Spending time with existing or potential clients is very important to me – and what better way to do this than over dinner and conversation. My favourite restaurant is 101 at the One & Only Palm Jumeirah – the view is spectacular and they have the best scallops in Dubai.


Who doesn't like to catch up on the latest TV series for an hour or so before bed? I am currently watching The Jail: 60 Days. My favourite series of all time is too difficult to choose between The Wire, Sons of Anarchy and Mad Men.

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