Reflecting on 20 years in operation, we unpack the pursuit of excellence and performance in project management with CEO of Merx Group, William Forwood
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
When APAC Outlook last spoke with William Forwood, CEO at Merx Group (Merx), the leading project management consultancy, he predicted continued geographical growth and the further expansion of Merx’ sector-spanning services.
Today, our discussion coincides with a landmark year in the company’s history, as Merx celebrates its twentieth anniversary.
“Starting out 20 years ago with one employee, I couldn’t foresee that I would still be running Merx two decades later, although we did secure our first major client the day after the business was registered,” he recalls.
With an impressive portfolio of projects centred on partnerships with some of the world’s most iconic brands, Merx continues to “Inspire Spaces” throughout Asia with its bespoke client focused construction and real estate project management services.
“Deep down I had an ambition and a vision to build Merx into a sustainable company and be a market leader.”
Centred on innovation, independence, cost-efficiency, and personality, Merx excels in tailoring its offering to the individual needs of each client, with expertise that have been honed and crafted over the past two decades to ensure a passionate client focused project journey from pre-planning, briefing, design, sourcing and procurement, negotiations, build, relocation and post completion.
“Our primary role is to lead the projects we run and transform our clients’ vision into an Inspiring Space.”
For Forwood, Merx’ trajectory thus far has been defined by a constant drive to grow and improve the company whilst always putting clients and the Merx team first. The CEO promotes an ethos revolving around the three key pillars of services, sectors, and geography. The three pillars are continually reinforced as central to Merx’ provision of project, cost, procurement, and advisory services throughout Asia to the industrial, retail, workplace, and hospitality sectors.
“We’ve constantly expanded in some way during our journey, whether through new areas of business, geographically or our internal process and systems. We have continually set up new offices, entering Malaysia in 2006, Dubai and Hong Kong in 2008, Myanmar in 2016 and most recently establishing alliance agreements in Philippines, Australia and Japan,” he explains.
That same dynamism and agility continues to propel the independent consultancy firm forward today, now a known brand within the industry.
“We’ve been working with industrial and urban infrastructure the whole way and have always been deeply connected to the workplace corporate office sector. Over time we’ve expanded into hospitality, as well as specialist niches including the business jet hangar space,” he tells us.
Throughout 2020/2021, Merx has represented major clients on large developments for prestigious global companies including Metrojet in the Philippines and Bombardier in Singapore, both of which are in their final stages of completion.
In 2018, the company joined the Asian Business Aviation Association, pursuing a promising path into the business jet arena following on from the strengths of its work with Jet Aviation. This was complemented by overseeing the construction of a state-of-the art maintenance facility and hangar with business aviation parking at Clark in the Philippines. As business aviation demand continues to soar in the context of COVID-19, it has proved a timely pivot for Merx.
In addition, within hospitality Merx has recently undertaken several exciting projects, including the master planning role for a Club Med resort in Kota Kinabalu – a unique design centred on ecological principles and sustainable luxury. Similarly, Merx is now in its eleventh consecutive year of working with Marina Bay Sands, the most iconic integrated resort development in Singapore.
In Hong Kong, Merx is engaged in ongoing projects with Morning Star and the Australian Trade Commission. Centred out of Hong Kong, the Macau and Greater Bay geography will be a major focus for geographical expansion in 2022/2023.
Across the Merx portfolio, and particularly in Hong Kong, corporate office and workplace construction projects are the bread and butter of business. “We are now working with our key clients all around the region, which is something we have worked towards for many years. Being part of our clients’ growth and success as they grow and expand throughout Asia is very rewarding for us all”
A significant example of Merx’ growth and stature within the workplace sector is represented by the appointment by Dyson on its global headquarters in Singapore. The iconic innovative company is converting the historic St. James Power Station into a state-of-the-art office and R&D space.
“It’s one of our proudest moments that we’ve been able to win this work competitively and deliver it in our twentieth year. It’s the type of project that may only come along once in a career, being one of Singapore’s oldest buildings with the heritage listed “monument” classification.”
THE MERX DIFFERENCE
Over the past two decades, Merx has created a core identity and built upon its brand values that define the company and what it stands for.
“Our tagline is Inspiring Spaces. That’s what our staff get excited about and what makes Merx tick as an overall business.”
Touching on the motivation behind the company’s staff, it is the human element that runs at the core of Merx’ values and identity - whether it be staff, clients, or the vast numbers of people using the spaces that Merx help to “inspire”.
“We are acutely aware that we are impacting not only our direct clients during the project delivery, but also the thousands of individuals that will ultimately occupy and visit a space. Through our project management we help to create in a collaborative way by managing our projects with the landlords, designers, contractors, and suppliers.
Returning to the company’s 20-year journey, for Forwood it is the people who stand out the most.
“There have been many people that I have had the privilege of not only mentoring but also learning from – it’s that symbiotic relationship with all staff whom I’ve been able to spend so much time with over the years.”
Merx advocates a model of leadership whereby there is active involvement between staff at all levels, centred on collaboration and fostering a close-knit way of working. This guarantees what Forwood refers to as the “active delivery of projects”, and the pro-active involvement of the Merx leaders is a big part of what sets the company apart.
“One of the key differentiators behind our longevity and ongoing success is the style of “active management” from our leaders.
“The shareholders along with the other directors have always been hands on managers in the business, which provides that real drive from those with a personal stake in the company at all times,” he tells us.
Ultimately, it is a client-centric focus that best defines the Merx way of working. The company stands alongside clients, measuring its success based on projects delivered and the subsequent value contributed to their business.
In times of change, whether in the pursuit of new growth areas or the diversification of services, this remains a mainstay.
Aside from diversification, at the crux of driving innovation at Merx are the technologies that the company leverages to streamline and continually improve operations.
“We use a lot of third party, beneficial software. It is a differentiator that not all of our competitors match, and it really makes a difference for our clients,” comments Forwood.
These technologies can be instrumental in monitoring ongoing work and ensuring total control and visibility. Software that provides live camera footage of the sites, allows Merx clients to view project progress with 360-degree photos, helping the clients “walk the site” even when in a different country.
Another prime example is the Merx Octagon platform, which has been integral to both internal development and improving the client experience. As a project tracking and dashboard system, Octagon offers clients total visibility with a single viewpoint to oversee status updates.
It is an area of innovation that Merx will continue to refine and develop.
“In terms of where we are looking to invest in tech, it’s mainly taking that Octagon system into the next iteration - version 2.0 and continuing to work with the best third-party software in the market.
“If we invest in the right way in the back-end processes, not only can we improve the consistency, quality and performance of our teams, but we can also create more time for the Merx team to focus on analytical, client-facing work and business development.”
THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION
Another foundational of Merx’ corporate identity centres on a focus on continual improvement, attained through experimentation.
“Our general appetite to experiment with different products on the market in our industry, identify the best ones, then weave them into our day to day is key to improving how we operate,” says Forwood.
“An intrinsic value of Merx is the idea of “mastery” - seeking to constantly improve,” he adds. Indeed, in the complex realm of project management, where every project consists of a host of moving parts, there is always more to be learnt.
For both Forwood and Merx, this energy shows no signs of abating, and our discussion draws to a close with the same mission of growth firmly at the forefront.
“We’re looking at our strategy for expansion now and putting together a four-year plan, new geographies we’ll be entering via acquisition or organic growth, the clients, and the services we want to provide to those clients.
“Watch this space for 2022.”