Lessons from the C-suite: Mark Cowlard, Arcadis

The UK CEO of design, engineering and management consulting company Arcadis offers his leadership tips and his view of HR at the top.

I would describe my leadership style as… Very collaborative. I like to build a rapport with colleagues as it is important that our people feel valued and recognised. Occasionally I adjust my style to become more directive, particularly when the business is going through a transformation, to create an environment where the company can flourish.

More lessons from the c-suite:

Rob Jupp, The Brightstar Group

Lisa Pinney, the Coal Authority

Peter Laurie, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way… Be inquisitive, trust your intuition and ask for feedback.

I’ve also learned that a productive workspace is a place where colleagues are able to make choices that satisfy both personal and work commitments, recognising that these are not set in stone and may continue to change over time.

That was the thinking behind our new London office hub which has been designed as a place for collaboration, shared ideas, social interaction, and in a way that supports the health of employees. 

To help other progress through the company… Mentoring and reverse mentoring are really important to me. I mentor people from many different backgrounds providing for a balance of our community.

I ask colleagues I mentor to give me something back – by encouraging them to challenge my language and perceptions if needed and ask how they feel the conversation went at the end of the session so I can constantly learn and better support people.

To further strengthen our culture of diversity, inclusion and belonging, we’ve been continuing to support a wide range of key initiatives. A refreshed global employee engagement survey for example is now providing a more regular and standardised mechanism for us to give honest feedback, anonymously, about our experiences as Arcadians.

Importantly, since its launch at the end of last year, the process is driving improvements across our business and helping us to make informed decisions on our future for a more inclusive and people-led experience.

I need my HR director to… continually challenge me and leadership peers in all aspects of our business, not only through the lens of our people.

From the people team I look for… Our people first approach is all about building something for our people, by our people, and we are committed to attracting the best talent and providing the fantastic opportunities to learn, collaborate and – importantly - work on some very exciting projects.

We constantly strive to improve our employee experience and people first culture as we know that an engaged workforce is happier, motivated and more productive.

This was reflected in our recent hat trick of wins at the 2021 Best Company Awards: Best company in London, #2 in the Engineering and Construction sector and 3rd place in the UK Best Big Company to work for national ranking. 

"I believe everyone has the potential to become CEO."

My biggest mistake… In my earlier career, recruiting people in my team who thought like me rather than reaching out to bring a more diverse, in all aspects, leadership team together.

More HR directors would become CEO if… I believe everyone has the potential to become CEO, it’s how you apply your skills that really counts and having a growth mindset.

It’s important to remember though that your career journey may involve a step to the side or even a step down to get to where you want to be.

In a previous role, I was group commercial director and despite my seniority, I had never run a business. So I stepped back, and moved to a small business role which I led and then grew.

I’d advise anyone to recognise where their gaps in their development are and invest in those areas for the long term, not just for short term gain.

My top leadership tip… To look at the business through the lens of your people and shareholders and to balance the needs of both wherever you can.


Mark Cowlard is UK CEO of Arcadis


This piece appears in the July/August 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.