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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

George Taft

George Taft

Secretariat1310 Solihull ParkwayBirmingham Business ParkBirminghamEnglandB37 7YB

Thought Leader

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

George Taft is highlighted by commentators as an individual who “provides high-quality quantum work across a wide range of fields”.

Questions & Answers

Mr Taft is a managing director of Secretariat International, and a leading quantum expert who has been engaged on some of the world’s largest and highest-profile projects and disputes, such as the Panama Canal Expansion. He has testified on many occasions as a party-appointed or tribunal-appointed expert witness. Mr Taft also frequently acts as expert adviser or independent auditor on behalf of banks and donors – for example, on the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement project.

How have your early experiences working with contractors onsite helped to shape your career?

I have always considered the early part of my career, when I worked for major contractors frequently based on site as a project quantity surveyor, as invaluable. I saw live issues, and commercial issues arising from multiple impacts on a wide variety of civil engineering and building projects. It also introduced me to the issues one faces in dealing with complex commercial issues.

To what degree is it beneficial to have worked on both sides of the fence in construction matters?

I have found it extremely beneficial. Working as a quantity surveyor for a consultant (typically on behalf of an employer) differs in many respects from working for contractors; both bring different challenges. To work only on one side can sometimes make it more difficult to see things from the other side’s perspective. In my experience, there can be dangers of unnecessary polarisation that come about from a failure to listen to and understand the position of the other side.

In your career you have worked on many substantial infrastructure projects. What particular challenges arise in this kind of work?

The most significant challenges I have found on very large infrastructure projects include the scale and complexity of such projects, combined with the range of risks that they are exposed to. There are countless examples of such projects experiencing substantial escalation in cost due to the combined effects of risks and other impacts (whether employer or contractor-owned) manifesting themselves. The challenges from this are often compounded by the fact that when there are numerous issues causing an impact on the construction process, the causes and effects frequently interact and become immensely difficult to disentangle.

On very large infrastructure projects, the profile of such schemes in the public eye can make large cost overruns and the resolution of claims even more difficult than would otherwise be the case, and the need for political will can become paramount.

How does your role as an assessor appointed by tribunals or disputes boards differ from your typical expert work?

Whether one acts as an expert appointed by a party or tribunal, the primary duty should be to provide an independent expert opinion to assist the tribunal to the best of one’s ability. As a party-appointed expert, however much one seeks to provide an independent view, in practice it is not unusual for an expert to be more familiar with his or her own side’s position and it can be a genuine challenge to fully appreciate the other side’s position. This issue can be compounded by how an expert is instructed; conversely, this challenge can be overcome to some degree through joint expert meetings.

When acting as tribunal-appointed expert, these issues of being more familiar with one side or being influenced by instructions do not arise. Instead the challenge is how to help the tribunal to reach a concluded assessment of the quantum that properly considers both parties’ experts positions (which may differ significantly), and is also likely to be reliant on what may be a multiplicity of tribunal findings on individual liability and factual issues.

Arbitration is an increasingly globalised field. Why do London-based experts still hold such a strong place in the global market?

London has long been a major international centre for the legal profession and also for construction professionals from numerous disciplines. The reputation of the legal system and the support provided by many professional institutions, such as the RICS and the ICE, have provided a tremendous platform for the positioning of UK experts and lawyers in the construction industry, and particularly London-based experts where there is such a strong community of both lawyers and experts.

To what extent does culture affect the work experts produce?

I have seen differences in “culture” that can influence the work undertaken by experts, sometimes significantly. For example, there are some geographies where cultural expectations make it uncontroversial for an expert to be seen as one-sided. This can lead to expert evidence being presented more aggressively or persuasively, as if trying to advocate the case. I have also experienced cultures where the nature of interactions, sometimes due to politeness or other cultural norms, mean individuals avoid expressing disagreement. This can give the impression that people are in agreement, which can lead to an analysis or opinion that might not have been tested had the assembly of the evidence and analysis been more fully critiqued.

What advice would you give to younger construction experts starting their careers?

It is important for younger professionals to take their time in advancing their career. There is no substitute for experience – particularly experience of a wide variety of projects and claim-and-dispute scenarios. I would encourage young professionals planning to act in an expert capacity to gain experience working on both “sides of the fence”. I would discourage the natural tendency to launch into expert work too soon. A huge amount of valuable experience can only be gained as a practitioner.

What challenges will construction experts face in the coming years?

Perhaps the greatest challenge, one that is already manifesting itself, is the ability to gather and analyse enormous quantities of data. The remarkable advances in IT have assisted in collating and processing information, but the sheer volume of data and the speed in which it is made available is frequently not matched by clear, structured presentation. An expert is typically expected to find relevant information and know sufficient details to be able to speak to any issue pertinent to the analysis undertaken; at times, this can be an almost impossible task. There is an increasing need for experts to be honest and open about what is achievable, and for clients and their legal teams to understand these issues and be mindful of the risks that can arise – particularly if information is poorly managed or timetables are unrealistic.

Global Leader

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

George Taft is "well respected" by peers who dub him an "excellent expert with lots of experience".

Biography

Mr Taft is a managing director of Secretariat, based in the UK. Secretariat specialises in providing independent expert advice on construction projects in the areas of programming and scheduling (delay and disruption), quantum analysis  and general damages.

Mr Taft is a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors with 30 years of experience and has been engaged as a quantum expert on some of the world's largest and most high-profile projects. He is typically appointed on large construction disputes with complex quantification issues. His areas of expertise include costs of building construction and major civil engineering, including piling, dewatering, tunnelling, rail, concrete and steel structures, together with large-scale earthworks and offshore and marine works.

Mr Taft has been cross-examined on numerous occasions in a range of dispute processes (particularly international arbitration and litigation in the English High Court) and has also had wide experience of witness-conferencing. His experience as a practitioner indifferent areas of the construction industry, whilst working for both contractors and employers, has enabled him to provide valuable insights when acting as a quantum expert or when advising on the resolution of or avoidance of disputes.

Mr Taft is regularly appointed as a quantum expert on a wide range of major construction disputes throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. He often acts as a party-appointed expert but has also been engaged as an independent assessor by tribunals or dispute boards for example, on the Panama Canal Expansion and the Bosphorus Crossing.

Mr Taft also frequently acts as expert adviser to clients outside of formal dispute processes; and also independent auditor on behalf of banks and donors supporting investment on programmes such as the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement project. He provides clients with forensic quantum analyst services; consultation during alternative dispute resolution processes; claim assembly, defence and negotiation; and advice on valuation methodologies.

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Peers “highly recommend” George Taft for his considerable experience working on numerous types of construction matters involving building projects as well as civil engineering projects.

Biography

Mr Taft is a managing director of Secretariat International, based in the UK. Secretariat International specialises in providing independent expert advice on construction projects in the areas of programming and scheduling (delay and disruption), contract review, cost and damages, and productivity and inefficiency.

Mr Taft is a chartered quantity surveyor with 28 years of experience and has been engaged on some of the world’s largest and most high-profile projects. He typically works on large construction disputes with complex quantification issues throughout the world. His areas of expertise include costs of building construction and major civil engineering, including piling, dewatering, tunnelling, rail, concrete and steel structures, together with large-scale earthworks and offshore and marine works.

Mr Taft has been cross-examined on numerous occasions in a range of dispute processes (particularly arbitration and litigation). His experience as a practitioner from different areas in the industry, whilst working for both contractors and employers, has enabled him to provide valuable insights when acting as a quantum expert or when advising on the resolution of or avoidance of disputes.

Mr Taft is regularly appointed as a quantum expert on a wide range of major construction disputes. He often acts as a party-appointed expert but has also been engaged as an independent assessor by tribunals or dispute boards such as the Panama Canal Expansion and the Bosphorus Crossing.

Mr Taft also frequently acts as expert adviser and independent auditor on behalf of banks and donors supporting investment on programmes such as the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement project. He provides clients with forensic quantum analyst services; consultation during alternative dispute resolution processes; claim assembly, defence and negotiation; and advice on valuation methodologies.

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