Louise Vlatko knows how to work a room
Graduation ceremonies can be solemn affairs, but at the end of Louise Vlatko’s occasional address at the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building’s event this year, the audience burst into spontaneous cheers. It was a response to Vlatko’s frank, fearless and funny account of her construction industry career – and to her uncanny ability to work a room.
A 1994 graduate of the UTS Bachelor of Building (Construction Economics), Vlatko has risen through the ranks of the Australian construction industry in a career that has flourished over 25 years. Her success is built on a combination of her skills, drive and undeniable magnetism, as well as her passion for the field.
“Working in construction is really satisfying because you wind up with something tangible, something that, if you didn’t have your hand in it, wouldn’t be as successful as it is,” she says.
“What I’m very proud of is those projects that have had my DNA all over them – they’ve been successful projects, they haven’t failed, and they’ve been positive experiences.”
Today, Vlatko is the Co-Founder of management consultancy Xmirus, which provides specialist advice to the property, construction and events management sectors. Over the last decade, she’s built a growing profile delivering total cost management consultancy expertise for some of the world’s highest profile sporting events.
Working in construction is really satisfying because you wind up with something tangible.
These include the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan; the 2007 Pan American Games and 2016 Olympic Games, both in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and, currently, the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
“I have been developing and reviewing the temporary infrastructure and overlay scope of works, which includes reviewing the budgets, reviewing the design and delivery, working closely with the stakeholders and reviewing the procurement strategy for the temporary overlay, which is not an insignificant budget,” she says.
“Temporary overlay is basically the things you need to do to host the party. So, it’s not building the stadium; instead, it’s the temporary things. [It’s] like having a 21st in your backyard – you hire a marquee, you hire a dance floor, you hire furniture, you hire the caterers, the entertainment, and then you pack it up and go when the party’s over.”
A quantity surveyor by training, Vlatko’s ability to shift from costing building projects to costing major sporting events was an easy one – “Commercial management and cost management from a construction point of view in sport is a relatively easy shift,” she says – because it calls on a skillset that has great potential for application in a range of professional fields.
But it’s also a reflection of her own capacity to pivot based on industry demand, as well as in response to her own circumstances. The child of immigrant parents, she knew early on that university was a luxury that was far from guaranteed. Rather than give up, she went looking for alternative pathways, and found a quantity surveying cadetship placement with what was then called NSW State Rail.
As well as building on-site experience, at first through the State Rail program and later in the private sector, Vlatko and her fellow cadets also studied at UTS. Since then, she’s built a career-long association with the university, completing an Executive MBA in 2013 and maintaining close connections with her teachers, including Dr Peter Smith, who was her first lecturer in 1988.
“I think UTS is a fabulous university,” she says.
“I really enjoyed doing the degree. You were treated like a grown-up, like the professional that you were, and with a sense of humour, and I think these are the skills you take away with you when you’re working in the real world.”
That sense of humour, particularly, has been invaluable an industry where being a woman, particularly one at such a senior level, is still relatively uncommon. As one of only four female students in her course, Vlatko believes that gender ratios in the construction industry are improving, but that women also need to be strong and strategic when it comes to staking out their turf.
I really enjoyed doing the degree. You were treated like a grown-up, like the professional that you were.
Getting in and getting your hands dirty is also crucial, she says, while being relatable – and able to relate – to everyone on site, from the guy digging the trenches all the way up to the client who’s paying the bills, is critical in commanding respect and being treated respectfully in kind.
“I think you just have to go in with your eyes open. You’ve got to have a sense of humour, you’ve got to be empathetic, you’ve got to have a bit of a backbone and stand up for yourself,” she says.
Above all, though, she’s a real champion for the construction sector, which she sees as being the source of limitless opportunities for people who are committed to putting in the work.
“With over 30-years hands-on experience, I’m still passionate about the industry; I think that’s pretty obvious,” she says.
“You’ve got to like what you do.”
Learn more about the UTS School of Built Environment.