Annabel Crookes Director, Legal at Laing O’Rourke is a veteran of managing legal and risk to yield positive outcomes for construction businesses.
Harnessing her over 22 years’ experience in the construction industry, Annabel Crookes sits on the Australian executive committee for international engineering and construction company Laing O’Rourke.
Crookes’ career has seen her become an executive director of a global engineering and construction business, currently leading Laing O’Rourke’s legal, risk and company secretarial functions in Australia, whilst also sitting on the Project Leadership Groups for projects across Australia. She leads various pursuits as executive sponsor and supports and champions business initiatives at the company.
Most recently, Crookes was appointed as President of the Australian Constructors Association (ACA), the first woman to hold the position in the association’s 28-year history.
Growing up in a family of builders, Crookes says she used to visit construction sites every Saturday to look at the projects her father was working on. “I think it was in my blood to work in the construction industry,” she says. “But instead of going down the typical engineer or builder path, I chose to study law.”
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Upon finishing her law degree, Crookes scored a job as a Senior Associate for a private law practice before looking for a role with more responsibility and authority. In 2007 she made the move to Laing O’Rourke and for the past 16 years has held several leadership positions within the company.
“I found my home with Laing O’Rourke – I get to work on amazing projects and build amazing things, and I’m part of a multidisciplinary and collaborative team,” Crookes says.
“My role includes working with the team to review bids and making sure that we’re selecting the appropriate jobs that meet our strategy,” she explains. “We set and review our strategy together and every week we monitor the operational performance of projects, undertaking a dive deep into each project.”
“I have a strict role of managing legal and risk, but also have accountability for the whole lifecycle of each project.”
When Crookes joined Laing O’Rourke, she was their second in-house lawyer before moving into an interim Head of Legal role. The following years saw her move up the chain in a number of different leadership and strategy roles, including human resources, strategy, senior leadership roles on projects and acting as the executive sponsor for the organisation’s Reconciliation Action Plan, before stepping into her current position in 2011.
During her now 16 years with the company Crookes says she’s worked on a large number of diverse projects around Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the Middle East.
“I think that’s the best part about our business,” Crookes adds. “We might be building a railway like the Inland Rail Project, or a commercial tower like our North Sydney head office which we currently reside in.”
“The projects I’m most proud of being a part of are the long-term collaborative projects where we work closely with our partners and form a deep relationship – two great examples of this are our 10-year partnership with the Novo Rail Alliance where we’ve been able to work together to solve and deliver many different projects in one, and our current project removing level crossings in Victoria in partnership with the Victorian Government. It’s been extremely rewarding.”
Crookes’ achievements extend far beyond the successful projects she has helped deliver, spending the past 10 years increasing the engagement and profile of lawyers in the construction industry. Traditionally, lawyers in construction companies are brought in to solve a problem and aren’t necessarily at the coalface to help shape successful outcomes early.
In conjunction with the leaders and Managing Director at Laing O’Rourke, Crookes has worked to showcase the broad skills a lawyer can bring to the table. “Lawyers aren’t just one dimensional,” says Crookes. “They’re clever, they are problem solvers who can help unpack complex problems – it’s this potential that needs to be unlocked to help support new and exciting ideas.”
The management structure at Laing O’Rourke, according to Crookes, is what sets them up for success. All lawyers at the company sit on senior management teams and are a part of the senior leadership team. She says this structure results in better outcomes for the business, promoting diversity of thought and opinion as well as creating the fertile ground for an engaged legal team.
In 2011, Crookes headed the development of Laing O’Rourke’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) – designed to value, include and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices so they are heard and better inform the decisions made across the business. Now the executive sponsor of the RAP, Crookes explains the various pillars of the plan have a lot to do with education.
“The first step is making sure we acknowledge the challenges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face in our industry. We provide an environment where we can employ First Nations people and ensure they have long term, rewarding careers with our business. Valuing and understanding the cultures of everyone in our organisation is extremely important to us here at Laing O’Rourke,” she says.
“We support and develop Indigenous organisations through our supply chain, and also support the communities in which we work, ultimately trying to make a difference in everything that we do.
“We are currently delivering projects in Redfern and Central Sydney, amongst one of the largest inner city Indigenous populations. We’ve been working hand in glove with the local community and elders to ensure their concerns have been heard and their options for participation are easy to access. We do this with every project we deliver.”
Crookes has also been an active member of the ACA, serving as Director of the Board and Vice President since 2019 and Company Secretary since 2020, until her appointment as President in November this year. Her time at the ACA has included chairing the commercial board committee and siting on the Construction Industry Leadership Forum – helping to create a voice for the ACA through deep relationships with government agencies, clients and the construction community.
“We know that these relationships are critical to achieving positive change in the industry,” Crookes asserts. “Things like collaborative contracting and addressing hyper-price escalation are now becoming common place as part of some of the initiatives the ACA has spearheaded.”
Looking back at her achievements, Crookes says she wants to change the misconception that you have to be an engineer to be in construction.
“If you’re looking to enter the construction industry do your research, because there’s so many diverse roles and opportunities,” she adds.
“I never quite imagined I’d end up in the role I am in today, with such a fantastic construction company.”
This story originally appeared on Inside Construction Magazine.