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Woods Bagot welcomes new leaders to help drive global expansion

Victor De Baets, Science+Technology leader, has joined Woods Bagot to diversify its core service sectors in Asia.

He has over 25 years’ experience in the design and delivery of projects in the research, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors and delivered a range of major projects in China, Australia, Europe and SE Asia.

Architecture and Design spoke to De Baets about his diversifying in Asia, China’s growing middle class, and the opportunities for Scienece+Technology in Asia.

Your aim is to diversify Woods Bagot's core service in Asia. What are the main challenges with this?

While Woods Bagot has a strong reputation in China across sectors such as retail, workplace interiors and mixed-use developments, we are a new and relatively unknown player in the Science+Technology sector in Asia.

China is a global playing field with a number of major international competitors already servicing this market locally – they are typically A&E firms offering fully integrated services to their clients for these types of projects. Woods Bagot is setting up partnerships with selected specialist firms that will complement our service offering.

Initially, our focus is to service projects established by our Australian studios with some local support. However, we recognise the real need to build our local capability in China within this sector.

What has been one of the biggest changes in China that you will have a significant impact on development in the country over the next five years?

After a decade of strong growth, things are starting to slow down in China, especially the manufacturing, residential and retail sectors. Personally, I believe this is a good thing as it will normalise the economy to more sustainable levels in the longer term – but this adjustment process comes with some pain.

China’s rapidly growing middle class, now counting 300 million but expected to be four times the size of America’s middle class within a generation (or 1.2 billion people), is considering where to invest their money. Real estate prices in China have been falling and the recent crash in the stock market makes anyone with disposable income look overseas for investment opportunities.  

What are some of the key differences working in Science+Technology in China compared to other countries?

The research and hi-tech manufacturing sectors are strongly supported by government investment. In some case the government will co-contribute dollar for dollar (or yuan for yuan) on research and start-up opportunities. China is investing in its future and sees research as a fundamental part of its growth agenda.

Chinese clients are prepared to pay for good design and world’s best practice and technology – this presents good opportunities for specialist design-focused firms like Woods Bagot.

Has Science+Technology become more complex as technological standards have increased?

The Science+Technology industry has always been a heavily regulated industry and it is encouraging to see China and other Asian countries adopting global standards. This in itself presents opportunities for Woods Bagot – our experience with global codes of CGLP and CGMP (Code of Good Laboratory and Code of Good Manufacturing Practice) allows us to offer specialist advice and expertise to potential Chinese clients looking to build facilities that will service the global market.

What aspect of working in this sector do you find most enjoyable?

Continuous learning and staying abreast of new research in biotech, health, clean environmental technologies, nanotechnology and robotics.

What is the most important piece of advice that you've been told during your career?

Always be ready for the future and be nimble enough to quickly respond to changing markets. Also, set regular realistic goals with a clear path on how to achieve them – but be flexible and opportunistic enough to deviate from this path when required…and never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.