By the time she was 17, Christelle Soto-Suarez knew she wanted a career in construction and that she wanted to live and work in different countries.
Those dreams and ambitions have taken her from her native France to the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Gibraltar, and finally to Canada.
“I had opportunities and I took them,” said Soto-Suarez, who speaks French, English, and Spanish, and has held senior positions including project manager, project manager assistant, project co-ordinator, a scheduler, a claims manager, and a claims consultant.
That diverse background has provided her with a knowledge of and perspective on the challenges and intricacies of construction from both the technical and legal sides, she says.
I’m a multi-career, multilingual, international construction professional with nearly 25 years of experience,
— Christelle Soto-Suarez
For the past five years she has been a director within the construction solutions practice division with the Toronto office of FTI Consulting and serves in two distinct capacities.
As a consultant preparing construction claims on behalf of clients, she and her colleagues analyze project documentation such as schedules, progress reports, meeting minutes, change orders and drawings.
She also prepares and writes independent expert reports on construction disputes that have to be unbiased — even if her conclusions don’t coincide with the client’s perspective of the dispute.
“We do not refer to who may be responsible (for the dispute) and we do not make rulings.”
Her personal and professional path, which would eventually lead her to Canada, began in high school.
“It all started as a 17-year-old having to decide what studies I’d undertake after my Baccalaureat (the French exams done at the end of high school, and required to enter a university program), knowing this would have a major impact on the rest of my life.
“I had two criteria to make my selection: be able to earn a living after two years of studying and expect to like the type of work I had chosen. That is how construction ended up being one of the options left, and the one that appealed the most to me.
“I didn’t think twice, I saw an opportunity to continue studying construction in the United Kingdom thanks to a connection between my university in France and one there. All I saw was that it was my opportunity to have a chance to realize my dream,” says Soto-Suarez, adding that she gave little thought about the inherent challenges, including her limited English.
Despite those obstacles, she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Building Technology and Management and then a Master of Science degree in International Construction Management from a second university.
Later she furthered her education by obtaining a Master of Science in Construction Law and Dispute Resolution from a third British university.
“It (the degree) gave me an understanding of English law.”
After completing those programs, she obtained employment with a British consulting firm in France and worked as a project manager assistant and project co-ordinator on a fiber optic networks installation project.
After it became apparent the firm would be shut down, she resigned, eventually obtaining employment with a British contractor in Gibraltar which needed someone to do scheduling, and compile delay claims due to multiple design changes, plus speak both Spanish and English.
“They needed someone who could communicate with the Spanish contractors, who did not speak English, and the project manager who did not speak Spanish.”
Later progressions in her career path included a project management role overseeing the refurbishment of luxury retail stores in France, Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Then the project management work slowed down and she ended up doing more scheduling.
“My curiosity resurfaced when I became involved with a small delay claim — so much so that I kept an eye out for advertisements for such roles.”
Ultimately, a new employer offered her a contract manager’s role with a client in Germany which was building power plants in India.
Thanks to that experience she was able to immigrate to Canada with a permanent employment contract as a claims manager on a Siemens Canada Limited high voltage transformer construction project in Alberta. That was in 2013.
With those projects reaching completion in three years, “it was time for another change,” says Soto-Suarez on her acceptance of a job offer from FTI Consulting.
“I’m a multi-career, multilingual, international construction professional with nearly 25 years of experience in the construction industry, working on a wide range of construction and engineering projects. And I built my own fairly unique profile by following my own path based on my interests,” says Soto-Suarez, in summing up her career.
As well as writing and posting several articles, including one on why women should consider a career in construction, she has documented her “four step journey to Canada” on her LinkedIn profile.