Built on personality and partnership

Stuart Choak Managing Director Calibro Consultants

Meet Stuart Choak, Managing Director at Calibro

“I don’t think we’ve just re-launched the brand – I think we’ve re-launched the business” begins Stuart Choak, Managing Director at Calibro. It’s certainly an exciting time for Calibro, which Stuart sees as part of a journey: “Now, when we look ahead, we can see a clear route for the business”.

How an idea becomes a culture

Stuart first started thinking about setting up his own consultancy during the recession of 2008. In his role between 2013 and 2016 he’d grown a team and built up a record of developing relationships and delivering projects:

“The idea behind Calibro was to put the finance and admin sides of business at the back end, and focus on doing the job in a no-fuss way – and always in an equitable way. Of course, everyone has different job titles here, but on the ground and in the office we’re all equal. We all pull together to meet deadlines, whatever the task”.

Stuart continues: “The business grew quite quickly, especially in the early days. But the aim is not to employ a huge number of people: the focus is on nurturing a team, exposing people to clients early on, and sharing in the enjoyment of the work. Continuity of approach and commitment at all levels only come from investing in people over a period of time”.

Synergy means a greater understanding

For Calibro, it’s not just about one discipline. The synergy between infrastructure, transport and flood risk is absolutely essential, and that’s why Calibro was set up as an infrastructure planning firm.

Stuart explains: “When we sit around the table to discuss all three of our disciplines on the schemes we’re working on together, we gain a better understanding of the wider issues. You get more job satisfaction by knowing more, applying more and thinking outside the box.

Transport and highways have always been acknowledged as the front-end disciplines to unlock a site. But, increasingly, flood risk issues are increasingly seen in the same context. More and more clients are looking to de-risk their sites from an engineering perspective; because if it’s not deliverable in a cost-effective way, the whole financial incentive to a developer for converting that site into something for the community completely falls away.

We know that with Calibro, when the planning application is submitted, the post submission queries are minimised and discussions are shortened. This way, the developer is on site quicker. With the underpinnings right from the get-go, you protect the quality that’s gone into the site”.

Telling it how it is

Calibro clients value the fact that managers are involved in every project, and the strength of relationship that comes from this. This human approach allows the team to have frank conversations with clients. Stuart picks up on this transparent style:

“It’s not about following a process, and just delivering a report and set of drawings. We need to understand what’s going on and why as part of our evidence-led approach. Even in our fee proposals we identify early risks and detail how we’ll approach the project, as this informs the proposal. From here, we’re able to innovate within our methodologies.”

For Stuart and the business as a whole, a purely transactional client relationship doesn’t fit with their culture: “Clients come to us because they see the bigger picture. It might not be the answer from us that helps them unlock a site; but it might be the answer that protects them from wasting their money.

Our responsiveness, dynamism and doggedness are things you might not always get from a business that’s older or more traditional. It makes us competitive, it helps us punch above our weight. All our work is founded on transparency, accuracy and quality. If we put our name to something, it’s because we believe in it. We want to leave the office at the end of the week feeling as though we’ve really achieved something. With the placemaking agenda coming forward into schemes, there will be even more opportunities to achieve this”.

Calibro logo

A brand to be proud of

Stuart felt three years into Calibro was a psychological milestone, and the re-brand came from using time over the UK’s lockdowns to put everything down on paper – but not as part of a corporate document:

“The management team has been involved in the re-brand and defining our ethos and principles. This is how we settled on what we’re all about: we’re professional, with a personality. We wanted a brand that had more scaleability, and echoes the trust people have in us.

But this isn’t a re-brand in isolation, it comes alongside a re-focus on the cultural aspect of our business.” Calibro has introduced new systems, welfare benefits and development/upward feedback opportunities through ‘one-to-ones’.

Partnership as an exchange of ideas and expectations

A brand and culture aren’t just for existing members of staff and clients: they need to resonate with new people coming on board, who can bring different ideas and experiences with them. Stuart explains Calibro’s ‘partnership’ approach:

“When we get the culture right, we attract the right types of people – and we can retain them. This is important for consistency of approach and output, which is what we and our clients want.

We want the right personalities, people with a confident openness, commitment and motivation, but who also know when to reach out to the wider team. We can train and mentor, to help people achieve their best, add value for clients and move up the business. But we can’t train personality.

Partnership is a big part of this. It starts with interviews, which we actually just see as conversations. It’s not a one-way thing: we need to sell Calibro, as much as the prospective employee needs to promote themselves”.

A place where people want to be

Three years into the journey, Calibro also moved offices – to Whiteladies Road in the Clifton area of Bristol. This buzzing, popular location helps ensure Calibro is a well-connected and sociable place inside and out. The split-level accommodation offers the space for work and also to get away from screens and relax (and play some table football).

Stuart outlines his commitment to the office environment, even after the pandemic: “The office is an important place for us: to get together and share ideas, to work through problems together and find solutions we probably wouldn’t have found individually”.

This is just the journey so far…

It’s understandable that we’ve talked a lot about Calibro as a whole. But we got Stuart to finish by talking for a moment about his role:

“I can’t be involved in every detail; but importantly, I don’t need to be, because of the team we have here. So in this guiding role, I can help to keep everyone engaged, responsive and focused: not on chasing profit, because we’re committed to quality. Then, the business will grow organically based on our values.

I’m proud of the journey so far. ‘So far’ are the important words here: if I’m asked in one, two, three years’ time, the answer should be different – it has to be different.”

We look forward to hearing the answers from Stuart in the years to come!