From carpenter to CEO, SHAPE Australia‘s Peter Marix-Evans has held a diverse range of positions within the Australian design and construction ecosystem. In the lead up to Peter joining the ‘Design Entrepreneurs’ session of the inaugural FRONT event as a Featured Speaker, we caught up with him to understand how workspaces have evolved – and what’s up next.
Read more interviews in this series here.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your current role, and how did you end up in it? What does your average day at work look like?
Peter Marix-Evans: I am the CEO of SHAPE Australia, Australia’s leading fit-out and refurbishment provider. We have 7 offices across Australia, and are privately owned with 380 staff and turnover in excess of $600 million. I’ve been at SHAPE for 7 years, and prior to that I was with Lendlease for 14 years, holding various roles including General Manager for NSW, National Construction Director, and Head of Environment Health and Safety for Asia Pacific. Prior to that I was with the government, building schools and jails and hospitals. I’m a carpenter by trade, and I started as a carpenter some 30-odd years ago and worked my way up to CEO since then.
That’s such an interesting career arc – you’ve gone from carpentry into the government sector and then into the private sector. What prompted the transition between these three spaces?
When I joined the public sector 30 years ago, [the Department of] Public Works still built schools and hospitals and jails, so it wasn’t that dissimilar to the private sector. Public Works was essentially a major contractor. I just worked my way up in each role that I held, which was not necessarily about being the smartest person in the room, but being the person who would go that extra mile. As I came up through the ranks, my ethos was: do whatever job you were given to the very best of your capability, and then go and ask for another one.
As I came up through the ranks, my ethos was: do whatever job you were given to the very best of your capability, and then go and ask for another one.
Having worked across all these different sectors, how have you seen the commercial sector – particularly in terms of workspaces – evolve over time?
Two things lead change in the commercial sector: technology and real estate. The drive to fit more people into less space is a long-standing commercial reality, and the ability to do so is based very much on technology. If you go back 50 years to when offices were first developed, the size of the desk was suited to the size of the typewriter. That then evolved to larger desks and shrunk again, mainly driven by tech and real estate.
The drive to fit more people into less space is a long-standing commercial reality, and the ability to do so is based very much on technology
We’re also now asking the question of what people actually need to be successful at work. What do they need around them, and who do they need to be working with? This is particularly important as Australia grows and our cities become more and more clogged. It’s nonsensical for all of us to jump in the car at the same time and drive to a single urban hub to do exactly what we could have done in the place we just left. Ten years ago, we didn’t have the tech we have today: I’m talking to you now from my home office, and this morning I had a video conference with my team in Sydney. Later this afternoon I’ll have a video conference with my team in Melbourne. I don’t need to be in any particular office to do that, and there’s no longer a feeling of isolation when I’m not at a central hub. Of course, all of this changes the shape and size of space that is needed at these hubs.
Another thing I’m finding is that we’re starting to see workplaces reflect homes more and more. If you think about it, when we build homes we don’t build a single room that does everything – we have a number of different rooms that are bespoke to different activities. The workplace is becoming very much similar in terms of that blend – you go into a workplace now and there are quiet collaboration spaces, comfortable lounges. It’s not all about rows and rows of workstations anymore.
In terms of creating these agile spaces that cater for different needs, how much have you found that the kind of client you have and how engaged that client is factors into delivering a successful end project?
Very much so. It all starts with the client. The project ultimately depends on the culture of the business, how supportive they are of collaboration, and what their vision of the workplace is. I’d say that the attitude and collaboration between not just the client but the builder and designers is the single most important success factor. This means that building strong relationships is extremely important. Building into your workplace is a catalytic event that allows you to create so much change in your organisation for the better, and because of this I encourage our clients to decide carefully. If you like us, then sign us up. If you like one of our competitors then sign them up. Finding someone who is a cultural fit for your team, for your design team, for your executive gives you the best change for communication, collaboration, and the best possible outcome for that project.
…the attitude and collaboration between not just the client but the builder and designers is the single most important success factor.
What can we expect to see from the commercial real estate sector in future? Are there any emerging trends or ideas that designers should be aware of?
We’re at a really interesting time and I think in the next five years we’ll see some significant changes. The first part of this is co-working, which 5 years ago was something you did if you couldn’t afford office space. Now, it’s something that most – or a lot of – companies seriously consider. I think in future co-working will evolve beyond spaces such as WeWork and into like-minded companies that have synergies to offer each other teaming up to create better real estate outcomes for both businesses and support their employees.
For example, rather than having an accounting firm with 3 floors of accountants, why not bring some of their clients into it, or some of their actuaries, or the insurance people? We need to let go of this idea of “this is my space”, and we’re starting to see this more and more. In the future I predict that the more progressive companies will seek out the businesses that offer synergies to their own – and this takes trust – to allow their staff better access to support and realise greater real estate savings.
I would also add that emerging technologies are certainly going to support a more connected environment, so that teams nationally and globally can actually become teams. I don’t think we’ve even seen the start of where the next level of tech is going to go, and how it can help create a new way of working and give access to a whole new array of people.
Join Peter Marix-Evans and other key industry influencers at FRONT this 9-10 August for more incisive insights into Australian workspace design and where it’s headed to next.
Peter will be speaking as part of the “Design Entrepreneur” session on Friday, 10 August. Register for the session and inaugural FRONT event here.