From corps to corporate – an interview with our President Max Joy CEng FIMechE
In this special interview to mark Armed Forces Day, President of Sweco UK and Ireland Max Joy, shares his journey from military leader to corporate leader.
On a proud military career…
I joined the Army a long, long time ago in 1988 and I was commissioned as an officer into the Corps of Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME). During my career I was fortunate enough to have many opportunities to develop myself academically. I completed a Mechanical Engineering degree, a Master’s degree in Defence Technology and I also studied Defence and International affairs. Later on in my military career I also became a professional programme and project manager, working on delivering the equipment programme for the Army.
My 28 years in the Army coincided with some amazing events around the world such as the fall of the Berlin Wall when I was first posted to Germany, the end of the Cold War, the conflict in the Balkans, the end of the troubles in Northern Ireland and then of course 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am very proud and privileged to have served in the Army, having deployed on military operations around the world, accompanied by men and women with extra-ordinary talent, commitment and bravery.
I was sad when I decided to leave the Army, but it was the right time for me and perhaps more importantly, it was the right time for my wife and our two sons.
We had had a fantastic time in the Armed Forces, but we also spent a great deal of time apart. Emotionally it took its toll on us as individuals and as a family. But whilst I’m sad to have left the Army and the camaraderie that comes with being part of the military family, I love being part of Sweco, which has given me a renewed purpose and vigour and enthusiasm.
On the transition to corporate leader…
Ultimately in my view, leadership is about just being authentic. It’s about being true to yourself – and true to others. If my leadership team and all our people in Sweco feel that I have a connection with them, know that I’m willing to listen to them and support them, understanding their needs and challenges – they will trust me. And if they trust me, they’ll support me, and my vision for Sweco and for them individually.
Countless times in the army I had to rely upon that bond, relationship, and that mutual respect and trust. It was hard to ask young men and women to do things which they knew, and I knew would put them in harm’s way. And that was tough at times, but as I said, it’s about the bonds we formed. We trusted each other, believed that we were the best, and we were a great team because of that belief.
That is why I believe authentic leadership to be so powerful. But this must be accompanied by a willingness to accept accountability. It’s about always doing the right thing, making tough decisions and accepting responsibility for them. And in my experience, the toughest decisions are invariably not the easiest or the most popular ones to make.
On diversity & inclusion…
I said earlier that I was proud and privileged to serve in the army and I stand by that. However, there were some things that at the time I didn’t think anything of, but when I look back now, I think to myself, ‘why were we like that?’.
If I use diversity and inclusion as an example, when I joined the Army in 1988, there were very few women. Serving was a predominantly male environment. Not only that, homosexuality was not even permitted in the Army. If you were ‘found out’, you were court-martialled and discharged. In addition to that, there were very few people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. What a waste of potential talent that was!
When I left in 2016 things had thankfully changed enormously and as a result, the culture in the Army was much better. The recruitment and retention was much improved, but more importantly, the Army as a war-fighting organisation was considerably more capable. Despite this progress though, there is much more it could, should and to be fair, is doing to become a truly diverse and inclusive organisation.
When we served in other countries, and I noticed this particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, it really did open my eyes to the cultural differences, and perhaps more importantly, the need for us to all understand each other. It’s imperative that we all have a willingness to open our eyes, to learn and to have a willingness not to be scared of cultural and religious differences.
Diversity and inclusion in Sweco is important to me and we, like the Army, must do more to improve. Building a culture where respect for others is within our DNA, will enable everyone to thrive and be the best they can be. If we harness the talent of the best people, our business will succeed and this will enable us to transform society together, with our partners and client.
And so, when I look at Sweco, I think we’re making great progress, but there is much more we can do. I’m really pleased with the progress we’ve made on LGBTQ+ and the communities and forums we are building. I think the Disability Confident initiatives we are undertaking, as well as those connected to the Armed Forces Covenant, are helping us make particularly good progress, but I’m less pleased with our representation of women in senior positions in our business and I’m determined to improve this.
One specific initiative we have, is our Armed Forces group – led by one of our technical directors, Doug Marsh, who previously served in the Royal Navy.
When I left the service I worked in a highly unionised heavy industry plant as a planning engineer, and to my surprise I found the skills I had learned in the service highly applicable, particularly adapting to change and dealing with people. I have since worked in many different industry sectors and the transferable skills such as technical, analytical, communication, leadership, organisational and interpersonal have served me well. One thing my military service did teach me was how to plan to achieve an end goal whilst being able to adapt to changes on the way.
Doug Marsh Technical Director – Energy, Water & Environment (ex-Royal Navy)
Sometimes when I reflect upon this topic and how it has manifested in my career, it upsets me because many people in the military struggle with mental health issues and, without wishing to go into too much detail, as serving soldiers in the Armed Forces, we all experienced things that live with us forever. They were invariably fantastic experiences, and that is why I served in the Army for so long. But there were also some dark times, and these were tough on all of us, as teams and individuals. Most of us, me included, have needed some support, physically and emotionally.
But I consider myself lucky. I wasn’t subjected to intensive combat for sustained periods of time. Whereas some of our infantry soldiers were. So in a relative sense, my need for support was minor, and I have been able to lean on my family, my friends and my military network.
I think in the past, mental health issues were seen as a weakness. And there was a stigma around seeking help, and support was limited, and many people suffered in silence. And, we ought not to dodge this. Mental health challenges can destroy individuals, families, and friendships.
It’s important that we seek help, whatever our walk of life, and here at Sweco I am encouraged by the work we are doing to help our colleagues raise concerns and to reach out for help.
On bringing military and corporate worlds together…
In 2021, Sweco signed the Armed Forces Covenant and in doing so, we joined many of our clients and partners who previously pledged their commitment to support the members of the armed forces.
I think by signing the covenant – which we’ve now achieved ‘Bronze’ recognition for, we’re helping to ensure that members of the armed forces and their families are treated fairly in the workplace and are fully integrated into the wider community. It also supports the values shared in Sweco’s Social Mobility Plan as well as our Diversity and Inclusion plan.
As service personnel, we have numerous skills. What is sometimes misunderstood, is that whilst the context is very different, the skills are most certainly transferrable. The challenge for any service leaver is to identify the transferrable skills, search for civilian roles that match and write a compelling CV. The challenge for any prospective civilian employer is being able to see through the contextual differences, recognise the transferrable skills and have the confidence to sift a service leaver for interview. I have helped both service leavers and prospective employers with this, and I can honestly say, often this has resulted in job offers.
By joining the Covenant, and by some of the activities being undertaken by our Covenant group, we are helping ex servicemen and women navigate the transition to civilian life.
Moving on from the military – top 5 transferable skills
What are the main transferable skills or qualities that our ex-Armed Forces colleagues can bring to corporate organisations? This is a really difficult question to answer. What are the skills that I look for in Sweco, and what am I certain that service leavers possess:
- Leadership– Military members understand the value of good leadership, whether leading or being lead.
- Accountability– Service personnel take accountability for their own actions and those of others.
- Teamwork– Loyalty and dedication to team members by putting the team’s needs ahead of their own.
- Planning– Innovative and strategic thinking when planning for potential circumstances, especially risk.
- Humour– The ability to maintain a good sense of humour, when appropriate, to lighten moments of stress.
We are proud to be a forces-friendly consultancy and reinforce the value we place on the skills and expertise talented service personnel have developed in their military careers, which vastly enrich Sweco’s diverse culture. If you’re making the transition from military life to a corporate career, you can explore our opportunities below.