How a Person Shapes their Profession: Daniel Leese is the Head of Business Development and Marketing at KOJ Interiors. Prior to his career in Dubai’s construction industry, Daniel was a pastry chef at a Michelin Star restaurant in London, UK.
Do you see client expectations differing along generational lines? If so, how do you adjust your own approach?
Definitely, especially in my role on the marketing and business development side of our business. The traditional approach to my role was to work with clients directly, but spending my days in face-to-face meetings doesn’t work anymore.
A lot of our business today comes from social media – from Facebook and YouTube in particular. These platforms give us plenty of room to educate clients on construction and design, plus the additional benefit of working with a medium that younger clients in particular prefer to work in. Even sketches and plans are reviewed on iPads and phones. Every other interface takes a back seat.
There’s also the matter of building trust. Clients respond to overwhelming choice by doing their research on the market and laying out their own expectations. By the time I meet a potential client, they already have a clear idea of what they want and how they want it to be done, and they’ve shortlisted their options. That means we have to go above and beyond to prove our commitment to the project. By focusing our efforts online, we can start building relationships early on, before a client ever engages with us directly.
How do you prefer to work?
Every project is different in its own right, and that’s a big feature of this business. But I consider clients as friends; people buy from people first, and then they buy the concept. It’s not so transactional, things have to be a lot more fluid and responsive to the needs of the client. In terms of managing my team, I give my people the freedom to think and approach the work in their own way. Again, it’s about trust; if I give them room to explore their own ideas, the results are far more satisfying than if I push my own agenda onto the group. I want them to own their work and enjoy it, and for the client ultimately to see that and benefit from it.
The collaboration between human and machine is already becoming ubiquitous. Do you see that your own approach to design is changing as quickly as the changes you’re designing for?
When we’re recruiting new team members, for sure. Construction is technical at its core, but that outer layer of the business, where we service the client and try to understand them, is far more adaptive and always changing. Unlike 10 or 20 years ago, there’s so much competition, and clients are able to do their due diligence. So it’s crucial that we reach the client at that early stage, and shape their understanding of what’s needed to get their project done. Right now, digital gives us that edge. Online content is accessible 24/7, and it’s consumed only when our audience decides they’re ready to hear what we have to say. And when they’re ready, we make sure we’ll have something to say to them.
Is the future designer also a product engineer; a coder as much as a creator?
Designers are a different breed really, even in our industry. We often invite university students to see first-hand how we design and build, and what’s clear is that designers are great at conceptualizing, at exploring the creative potential of a site, and their process is more refined because they’re working with powerful software, but onsite is where what’s really possible is discovered. That’s likely going to be the case for the foreseeable future.
Do you see yourself staying in your own field for the rest of your career? What else would you like to try, and where in the world might you like to try it?
I started working when I was 14, so I have a good sense of who I am and what I’d like to do. I’ve been out of the UK for five years now, and I love where I am. At the moment, I don’t want to go back. There’s a sense of political disenfranchisement back home, and a sense of self-empowerment here. My long-term goal is to be financially secure, wherever that is. But I also don’t ever want to stop working, wherever that is. What I do know is that I love what I’m doing now. I see a lot of opportunity where I am, and I consider Dubai my home. And the UK isn’t far away anymore, there are dozens of flights a day; family and friends aren’t as far as the mileage suggests.
Do you see your personal development and your professional development as one and the same thing?
I recently started learning Spanish, and I definitely see it as an aspect of my own professional development. I see professional development as a way of opening up new doors, and that in turn impacts my personal development. They go hand in hand.
How do you deal with the expectations placed on you, when emails from clients don’t stop at 5pm but keep coming your way 24/7?
I do try to counter that by focusing on having a positive mindset and maintaining a healthy body. I recently started meditating, and that’s become one way of regaining some mental balance. My mind is working all the time, and I recognize that if I’m not actively working on my own wellbeing, I won’t perform to the level I expect.
When I was in the restaurant business, 20-hour shifts weren’t uncommon, and while I had a lot of passion for the work, the higher up I moved the more I realized it wasn’t the life I wanted to live. The pay didn’t help either; I wasn’t earning enough to live the sort of life I wanted, and that eats away at your motivation. So I changed things. I knew I wanted to stay in F&B in some form, and the construction business gave me that. It also gave me the chance to better balance work with the rest of my life.