THE firm has taken on the decommissioning of Chernobyl, set up shop in the Middle East and is now expanding in the US where it has doubled revenue in the space of two years.

Alastair Wallace, senior partner at Edinburgh-based property consultancy Thomas & Adamson, has hailed the growth of its US arm, PlanB International, which is a link-up with an Oregon business headed up by former staffer Euan Pollock.

The company hopes to further capitalise on the skills-base that is nurtured in Scotland and transfer it to the US to fill an expertise gap in the way the US construction market operates.

The move would pave the way for UK staff working across the US western seaboard.

The firm is spreading through states such as Oregon, Washington and California working on massive sites valued in the billions of dollars.

It has already linked up with major global corporations in the US and is in the process of formalising its relationships with the US over the turn of this year.

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The firm expects to grow its North American format so that it will be able to feed on the Scottish and UK talent pool.

Mr Wallace described how the business has weaved its way across the world, starting in Edinburgh in 1935, and supporting the construction and commercial property sector through procuring, delivering and operating built assets since.

He said: “The business started many, many moons ago in Edinburgh, and then grew from Edinburgh to Glasgow, then down into London. So it has quite a strong foothold in the UK, and we employ about 100 people in the UK.

“The majority of them, 80, are in the Central Belt of Scotland, with 20 in London.

“When it comes to the UK, we think the big growth opportunity is down south.

“Both in terms of that market, but also to protect the size of the business up here, because an awful lot of things that happen up here no longer come from pure indigenous Scottish based organisations, whether it be developers, money behind it, or whatever it is.

“In order to protect what we have here, and hopefully try and grow what we have here, the growth south of the Border is really important to us.”

He said: “Ten years ago in the height of recession we took a mad turn and we decided to go over to the UAE, and we started an office in Abu Dhabi.

“Since then, we’ve grown it up into Dubai as well, and we’ve now got a nice little business that’s doing rather well between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and doing a whole load of really exciting stuff, and it’s sitting at about 20 people over there.

“We’ve got an office over in Kiev in the Ukraine. The big thing that we’re doing just now is we are consultants on the decommissioning of Chernobyl.

“So, we’ve been doing that.

“But one really unique thing that came along a decade ago now, was an opportunity to move into the US.”

It came about when Mr Pollock happened into the Edinburgh office on a trip back to Scotland after emigrating the US some years earlier.

Mr Wallace said: “He popped into the office, he had a conversation, and it was along the lines that he and a couple of other guys had set up a small little niche business called PlanB.

“They had managed to get their foot in the door with a couple of really exciting clients.

“They were starting to get work, but they were really struggling to service it, and they were struggling to service it because, America doesn’t actually do what we do as a profession.

“They had one main client, who is the world leader in semi-conductor innovation.

“We started supporting them, and this happened for a couple of years.”

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A move towards the formalising of the arrangement brought a series of projects in the arena of “$1.8 billion production halls”.

“I think a small project was something like $550 million.

“So these are not small projects.

“They said ‘this is the workload that we’ve got coming through, we’d really love you guys to be part of it, but we are concerned about the relaxed nature of the arrangement.

“Effectively, you’re under a lot of heavy visa restrictions.

“So the way to sort that out is, we created a new company which was PlanB International, which is based out in Portland, Oregon, and Oregon is where this client is based in terms of headquartered, obviously they operate throughout the world.

“PlanB International is the three founding partners of the office company, they own 50% of it, and T&A back in the UK, we own 50% of it.

“That is a mechanism that allows us to jointly pursue work together, and jointly recruit, and employ people, and also have a slightly better way of having people going in and out of the US, and likewise coming to the UK.”

Mr Wallace said: “Since then it’s just been continuous growth, in terms of the client base, the type of service, and the geographic.

“This year out in the US, we’re up to doing round about $10m of turnover, and we’ve got round about 65 members of staff.

“So the main office is still in Portland Oregon, but we have a small satellite up in Seattle, and we’ve just opened an office early this year down in Phoenix, Arizona.

“We have more than five, less than 10, we have physically relocated, or people have asked to be relocated out to the US in terms of T&A employees from here in Scotland have gone, and are now in senior leadership roles, junior partners, associates, out there.

“Again, it’s given us a great opportunity for recruitment here, because it just gives you something different to offer potential employees.

“You’re offering the opportunity to work for what we think is a great business here in the UK, but they can also work on exciting projects overseas, and they can also not just travel overseas, but if it’s appropriate for all us, there’s opportunity to relocate potentially.

“So it just opens that recruitment door, it gives us an edge on a lot of other people in the marketplace back here in the UK, and specifically in Scotland.”

As well opening new markets with less competition, the move allows the firm to continue to build its UK operations without solely competing in the tight competitive markets both north and south of the Border.

READ MORE: Edinburgh experts head Chernobyl monitoring team

“We are currently looking to change the company structure out there, which would mean that we would move from being a 50% owner, effectively increasing our investment in it, and if we, as a UK company, have an increased investment in the business out there, again it opens up a different type of visa, which would allow us to continuously look at recruiting here, but to either go and support the work that we’re doing in the US, because you cannot find the skillsets, or the opportunity to find the skillsets that we need, does not greatly exist in the US.”

Mr Wallace said: “While we’re sitting at 65 people, we might want to grow it over the next year to 100.

“It’s very, very difficult to find them in the US.

“So in order to find them elsewhere - here in the UK - we’re having to look at changing that company structure, changing the ownership model, which will open up another visa route, which would allow us to do almost effectively a recruitment campaign here to support the growth of the US.”


Q What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

A For business: The UAE (Dubai and Abu Dhabi), and the US (Portland, Oregon). Both are very different, but great places to go. Portland possibly just "pips" it, as it is also a place I could imagine living in.

For leisure: Every place for leisure tends to be good. However, we have gone several times to Morocco in recent years; great weather, facilities and very friendly.  We also had a family golfing trip to Spain recently, which was excellent, except the level of competition become a bit fraught at times.

Q When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

A Like all children I wanted to be a sports star - football or golf, but that was short lived. Then, I wanted to be a fighter pilot for the Royal Navy - that was slightly longer lived, and I did my flight aptitude tests and officer selection. However, the power of the "scale rule" was too much for me by then!

Q What was your biggest break in business?

A I have only ever had three jobs; the first two provided the platform for the rest of my career.  My biggest break was receiving a call and joining T&A.

Q What was your worst moment in business?

A The start of the crash in 2008 and the consequences thereafter.

Q Who do you most admire and why?

A In business, my first boss, George Martin; he was the utmost professional (but still very personable) and was the "captain of the ship". Generally, my father (not that I would tell him that) - his work ethic and drive to succeed constantly inspires me.

Q What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? What was the last film you saw?

A Books - Something by Lee Child or Ian Rankin. Music - my taste in music is so bad, that I am only allowed to listen to what my children download. Film - Much to my children’s disgust, I’ve reached a stage where I prefer Mortimer & Whitehouse Gone Fishing!