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December 7, 2016

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Safety, linguistics and communication – in conversation with Penny Latorre

Penny LatorreBen Flint, head of health & safety recruitment at Acre, the market leader in sustainability and safety recruitment, speaks to Penny Latorre, divisional director, EHSQ at Waterman Infrastructure & Environment about the importance of a ‘can-do’ attitude, language skills and never getting too comfortable. This article was originally published on SHP in July 2016.

Ben: Penny, you started your career in environmental law, what prompted the switch?

Penny: Yes, I’m a lawyer by training and started off working in corporate and tax law, but it just wasn’t me. I remember thinking, “If I do this for the rest of my life I’m going to be the most miserable person, ever!” I wanted to do something that made me happy and as I’d always been interested in environmental issues, I decided to do the Environmental Law Masters at Nottingham University. When I finished the course I  got an offer to join a consultancy.

Ben: You’ve got a really wide remit at Waterman: health and safety, investment and corporate responsibility…Was that the case from day one or did the role grow?

Penny: When I started it was focused mainly on environmental due diligence but it grew organically to include environmental management, health and safety, responsible investment and then CSR.  It was very much driven by what our clients needed at the time.  It became a standing joke that when an issue arose that wasn’t the traditional environmental consultancy service, the board would say, “This can be part of Penny’s division” (laughs) so it’s probably a good thing that I learn fast and have a great team.

Ben: That must require a very flexible, enterprising approach. How do you deal with that? 

Penny: The important thing is to have a can-do attitude – rather than saying “It’s not something we do” saying instead, “Let me look into it.” That said, I’m also realistic – there’s no point in saying we can do something if we can’t.

Ben: You have team of about 25 people, what skills and qualities do you look for when you’re recruiting?

Penny: Good client skills are something that I always look for. I’m a firm believer in that the sooner you start interacting with clients the better you become as a consultant. You can’t be afraid to talk to clients – and that includes graduates. People need to learn through doing – by network and building relationships. So you could say as well as core people skills, I look for personality and people who are not afraid of trying things.

Ben: Often, there’s a very scientific mindset and culture throughout an Engineering company, is that the case at Waterman?

Penny: I’m not an Engineer, but I love working for an Engineering company. Waterman has always been very supportive when I’ve come out with “crazy” ideas.  If there’s market for it, they’ve always been happy to say, “Yes, we’ll give this a shot.”  You may not associate that response with an engineering company but they’re always keen to explore new ideas and diversify.

Ben: Waterman’s has such a wide scope in terms of the clients and the areas you work in. Does that breadth and that diversity present a challenge within the team?

Penny:  I think that only makes the job even more exciting. When you’re working on a real estate transaction one day and working for an aviation manufacturer the next you don’t have time to be bored.

Researching new areas keeps things interesting as does mixing with people that have a lot of experience in various different sectors. You put those heads together and wonderful things start to happen.  With my team, I like to take people out of their comfort-zones, and while it may be a challenge, it’s always an exciting challenge and rewarding when you see the results.

Ben: You’re fluent in three languages and proficient in another two. Do you think your linguistic ability has helped you?

Penny: It’s helped a lot with our international work. Sometimes clients call and they hit a point where they’re struggling for the words, so we’ll try it in French, try it in Spanish; it makes them more comfortable automatically.  A lot of clients come to us because they have someone that they can pick up the phone and speak to directly in their own language, without any loss in translation, so there’s a massive positive in that. To not have to depend on people to translate, even if you’re not completely fluent, is invaluable; you’re not constantly interrupting the flow of conversation. I think the next generation is going to really need that ability. It gives them that edge.

Ben: What advice would you give to someone just starting their career?

Penny: If they’re still students, I would say, get in to internships and work placements as soon as you can and try different things to find what you want. I have so much respect for the people that love corporate law but it wasn’t my thing. I think the sooner you realise what you really like, the better.

Creating your own network is really valuable and you’re never too junior to do that. And also, don’t become complacent: find something that interests you but also challenges you. That’s what excites me; I try to take my team out of their comfort zone and give them interesting projects. They’re so much more effective as consultants when they’re engaged. So make sure you get out of your comfort zone from time to time.


Penny LatorrePenny Latorre

Penny is currently the head of EHS Strategic Advice, Management Systems and Due Diligence services at Waterman. She specialises in advisory support to a wide range of corporates, developers and investors including private equity, infrastructure and real estate. Penelope joined Waterman’s due diligence and responsible investment team in 2005 building on her previous experience as a solicitor and legal advisor. She has over 15 years’ experience in the sector and has been actively involved in a vast number of projects, in most sectors and world geographical regions.

She sits in the BVCA’s RI Advisory Board and is a Trustee of the UK Environmental Law Association.

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