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Can the principles of successful construction inspire Pan-African growth? Professor Sam Laryea believes so. 

Samuel Laryea posing for a photo during his PhD graduation ceremony

Ghanaian himself, Sam Laryea grew up in the close-knit communities spanning Ghana and Nigeria. Now a Professor and Head of the School of Construction Economics and Management at South Africa’s Wits University, Sam is a firm believer that successful construction is the building block of Africa’s future prosperity.

Interested from childhood in factors leading towards growth, design and stability, Sam’s drive has always been recognised, and he was often given leadership roles while at school. 

“Good leadership has always motivated me.

“I also had strong motivation from my dad. He was a building engineer, so I grew up knowledgeable about construction. As well as benefitting from his valuable contacts and knowledge, I gained a strong appreciation of the importance of construction in society.” 

Coming to Reading

Sam first came to the University of Reading in 2006 as a visiting PhD student from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi. He was keen to study at Reading’s School of Construction Management and Engineering in order to move his PhD forward.

“After writing to the Admissions Office, I was excited to receive an email from the Head of the School. I was very happy that they had taken the time to write to me personally.”

“Reading provided the exact academic environment that I needed.”

The Government of Ghana funded Sam’s initial three months at Reading. The PhD that he brought to the University was unique, using ethnomethodological  methods of studying society and its problems. As well as the academic excellence on offer at the University of Reading, Sam was able to work with national contractors in both Ghana and the UK to observe existing tendering and bid-building processes.

“This is the time that my PhD really started to come together. I was in the exact academic environment I needed to realise my career ambitions. The University staff were warm and helpful, to the point of inviting me to their homes for dinner with their families.” 

“Connecting with some of the world's leading academics in construction management made me feel welcome and gave me confidence.”

Sam enjoyed the friendly nature of the School; the “smiles on everyone's faces”. It proved easy to exchange ideas and friendship with staff and students. He made significant progress with his PhD during this period and sought further opportunity to study at Reading. His work had so impressed his supervisors that he was awarded full funding by the University. He transferred his PhD to Reading full-time, enjoying the environment and appreciating the academic standard. 

Sam says that studying at Reading was “transformative” and extols the “amazing time” he had here. But he has always been clear that his future lies unshakeably in Africa, where he aspires to contribute to Pan-African growth. 

To build on this, he initiated an important project in Africa: the West Africa Built Environment Research (WABER) Conference, encouraged by his supervisors and the University of Reading. He worked with Professor Will Hughes, editor-in-chief of the most influential journal in the construction management and economics field and also colleagues in the School of Construction Management and Engineering including Professor Chris Harty, current Head of School. The aim was to mentor young local academics and help them develop their work by providing an opportunity for them to interact with experienced international academics and receive constructive feedback and advice.

“It was amazing working with them. Giving them this opportunity was like watching a pressurised bottle opening up! Something fantastic was happening in their region and they responded with great enthusiasm and talent. Such a rewarding and important experience for us all.” 

Sam enjoys a career grounded in today’s world, yet he always has an eye to the future of Africa

While Sam’s research and teaching are very much rooted in the physical world, he is also passionate about the social aspect of his field and its potential to improve lives and futures. He mulls that politics may be on the agenda one day.

“I think where countries come together to work, you see the greatest success; for instance, the EU, the US and countries in Southeast Asia.

“Countries in Africa have been trying to come together to form strong political and economic union and so far there have been mixed results. Yet there's strength in unity - an ability to create shared prosperity. We need to build an environment here in Africa in which young people can study and eventually create their careers and futures. We need to keep their talent and success here, to build a prosperous future for Africa.” 

The University of Reading helped set Sam up for more than just academic success

“I met my wife at Reading, sitting outside the library, having lunch,” Sam smiles. “You can get your PhD and find love as well!

“Ask, and providence will provide.”

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