News and Events

Anne McNamara 1 February 2021

Building Women: Amanda Fisher - Blazing the trail.

Welcome to Building Women. The place where we celebrate and learn from trailblazing women who are building innovative businesses and careers. This is a space to understand the power of overcoming obstacles. Because overcoming adversity is what ultimately builds success. Every month I will be asking a new interviewee what they have overcome to build the life that they have now.

Today I’m delighted to be talking to Amanda Fisher, CEO of Amey.

When Amanda discovered that her dream career as a Merchant Navy was off-limits for women, she didn't lay down her arms. Instead, she found a workaround. Undaunted, she joined the third cohort of women ever to be accepted to Sandhurst, one of the world's elite military establishments. 

After eight years in service, she transitioned from the army to business. A rare mix of perseverance, ambition, and drive has allowed her to carve out her own path for success. When we met, she was the only female Managing Director at Balfour Beatty. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic started, she had accepted a new role as the CEO of Amey, becoming one of 5 women leading the top 100 UK construction companies. 

In our conversation, she reflects on her army days, explaining how the skills built back then help her thrive in the business environment today. She speaks at length about the challenges of overcoming societal norms and gender bias and tells how she's learned to command attention and respect in a man's world. It's my great pleasure to introduce Amanda, a trailblazer who trusts her voice and makes it heard.

10 things I’ve learned from Amanda:

Drive on, soldier

“I wanted to be in the Merchant Navy. At eight years old, I went on a cruise with my parents and saw the pursers job, which was the catering manager on the water, and I thought that's exactly what I wanted to do. When I learned what I needed to do to become a purser, I found out they didn't take girls. So I went on to do my A levels and went to the University of Surrey to do hotel catering management. Because I knew that with time, things would change...and they did. I got into Sandhurst and became an officer.

Talent wins games, but teamwork wins wars

“One reason I like turnaround businesses is because I can see what needs to be done. But equally, it's very practical. You go back to the core of what is, recognize the problem, do the analysis very quickly, and then just get moving. And you don't have to have all the answers. They will come by working with others as a team. And that's what the military also teaches you.”

Lead from the front

“Now, it's a very different generation. People will no longer be told what to do by leaders who don't connect with them. There’s always been this sort of hierarchical leadership in the past when it comes from the top down. And leadership now is much more about being part of the organization and influencing not dictating. The sort of command and control approach that has prevailed for many years is not effective. It’s out of touch.”

Leaders serve

“Leaders need to merit their authority. I was appointed, and I have a responsibility to the people that I'm serving, because that's how I see it, that I am serving them. So I have to do the best I can. Maybe it is more of a female trait that we are, we sense more, and are able to cut through in times of need and understand what really matters.”

People create value

“I think far too often, people forget where the value in the business is created, it's not in the stuff that we build, or what we do, it's in the people that are going to stay with us, the people who are actually creating that value. If people are given freedom, they work smarter and harder, and they give more of themselves. I always thought, `If I could do that with 17,000 people, my goodness, then we have got a strong, strong organization.’”

Articulate your own value

“Whatever you're talking about, whatever you're doing, you're actually in a position of selling. Whether it’s about what you've done, your attributes, the company, the piece of work you're doing, you've got to present it in a way that you're selling it. I realized that you can't please everybody all the time. What I needed to start doing, was to offer something of value to people, but something that mattered to me. I started to present myself differently. And within six months, I was made the Managing Director. Because I was helping others recognize what I was doing, as opposed to hoping that I would be recognized.”

Cut to the chase

“I have a saying I say, give me the punchline fast. So if you're going to present something tomorrow, the punchline is if I get that, or if whoever you're presenting to gets that, then you don't need to talk anymore. You can say, ‘Look, I've delivered an improvement.” If they need to know more, then you tell them the next piece of information. People lose interest after a minute or so; you've got to hit it with: ‘This is the impact, this is the value, this is what you need to know, this is your takeaway, and then you can have the conversation.”

Navigate your way through the things you can't change

“I suppose you can have an influence and control certain things. And then there are things you cannot. I don't worry about things I can't control. And when I use ‘control’, I'm saying that I can't really influence other people's behaviors and whether they put obstacles in the way. I can't do anything about that. But what I can do is navigate your way through them.”

Timing is everything

“It doesn't matter what you think about it in life; for me, it is about being able to recognize when the timing suits you as an individual. Opportunities might have come up before, or there might have been a situation you've seen, but the timing wasn't right. I suffer from the same insecurities as all women do, ‘Am I  good enough, can I do it?’ I tend to focus more on the things that I know could go wrong rather than right. But when the timing is right, you have to know that you've got to take it, hold your nose, and jump right there with a parachute.”

Be yourself

“My advice is to be yourself. It sounds really, really simple. But be yourself. I always say, ‘Take yourself to work. Be true to who you are.’ If you back yourself, that will take you through. People forget that, they are trying to be something else, they are trying to be what they think the organization wants. It takes a lot of courage to be yourself and do the things you genuinely believe in.”