A week in the life of: Jonathan French, chairman, Woods Bagot Middle East - Gulf Business
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A week in the life of: Jonathan French, chairman, Woods Bagot Middle East

A week in the life of: Jonathan French, chairman, Woods Bagot Middle East

French details a week at his design firm


I wake early at 5am to check overnight emails and review the headlines on the BBC and Wall Street Journal online. At 5.30am I head to the D5 gym at the Capital Club in DIFC, where my personal trainer puts me through my paces for an hour, energising me for the week ahead. I reach our Woods Bagot studio in Business Bay at 8:00am and have breakfast at my desk while catching up with work. Every alternate week we begin Sunday with an ‘all hands’ briefing at 9:00am sharp. Around 80 colleagues in the studio gather to share updates on our projects, pipeline and any other important communications. Our Middle East project planning and executive meetings also happen this morning, helping to organises the studio for the week ahead.


I’m first to arrive at the studio at around 7:00am. Today is a non-gym day, which gives me some quiet time to connect with our global colleagues in Australia. Over lunch I meet with our leadership team, almost a third of which is female – as is more than half of the total studio. We have 20 nationalities in the studio, and one in five speaks Arabic. In the evening I go home via Jumeriah Golf Estates to remove a swarm of Arabian honeybees from a resident’s garden. The Beekeepers Association offers to rehome swarms that would otherwise be exterminated by pest control and we are working with the municipality to develop ethical swarm removals that prevent the deaths of local bees.


I chair the global commercial board every Tuesday at 9:00am via video conference. We review the major commercial undertakings that the company is considering, to ensure that the terms are de-risked as far as possible. We are owned by 70 shareholders and as one of the largest practices in the world we are always mindful that no one is too big to fail. I have a site visit this afternoon to our CoEx project, one of the major components of the Expo 2020 site. The completed building will be the largest single venue on the Expo site.


As every Wednesday, this morning is blocked for design reviews. This ‘on the wall’ review allows for active dialogue and critical review – one of the reasons why Woods Bagot’s design quality is always of the highest order. Tonight, I host a business dinner at the Capital Club for a client and leaders from our sub consultant team. I get home around 10.30pm, though if I don’t have a business engagement I try to get away from the studio around 5.30pm. I don’t want people to think they have to stay late to be successful.


I’m up at 2:00am this morning to prepare for a two and a half hour global executive video call. The global executive runs the practice day to day – the time is dictated by members in the west coast of the US and east coast of Australia. We share the pain – this month I have the early slot. There isn’t time to get any more sleep before I have to be up for the gym so I make some tea and spend an hour painting at the easel in my home studio. Painting keeps my creative side nurtured.


Today starts with a 7am pick up to the airport, ready for my flight from Dubai to New York. I have several global roles and I have to lead some complex commercial negotiations next week in the Big Apple. My wife, Sarah, tries to accompany me on business trips whenever her schedule allows: it’s important that our partners experience global studio life as much as possible and Sarah has accompanied me to Hong Kong, London and Beijing in the past year.


The weekend is a generally reserved for my wife, friends and colleagues. Last night we hosted a dinner for our Dubai shareholders with their partners at RockFish in the Woods-Bagot-designed Jumeirah Al Naseem, so this morning is a lazy start. Every alternate Saturday I teach novice beekeeping at The Sustainable City. It’s a magical time; the sights, sounds and smells of an open hive are a counterpoint to anything else in my life. Without bees there is no pollination, and without pollination no plants.


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