Monday Q&A

Scott Wright

Heather Holbrook is a partner at Thomas & Adamson and leads on major projects such as the transformation of Glasgow's Met Tower for the long-established Edinburgh consultant

What is your business called?

Thomas & Adamson

Where is it based?

We have offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London, as well as in UAE.

What does it produce/do?

Thomas & Adamson (T&A) has supported leading organisations through the challenges of procuring, delivering, and operating built assets since 1935.

Our core consultancy services include project management, cost management, building surveying, and construction safety services. We also offer many specialisms, including bespoke mechanical and electrical capabilities.

Currently, we are playing a key role in supporting Bruntwood SciTech through provision of cost consultancy services in the redevelopment of the iconic Met Tower in the centre of Glasgow into a dedicated digital and tech hub.

To whom does it sell?

We cover pretty much all sectors for both public and private sector clients – from education to retail, sports and leisure to life sciences and commercial property to full urban regeneration and master planning.

Some of the more notable projects we have worked on in recent years include the landmark development of the UK’s first Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh where we provided project management, principal designer and quantity surveying services, spearheading the £47m transformation of Meadowbank Sports Centre in Edinburgh into a modern, state of the art indoor and outdoor sports facility and the ongoing construction of global financial institution JP Morgan Chase’ technology base in Argyle Street, Glasgow.

How many employees?

We have 86 UK employees.

Why did you take the plunge?

I started working with a quantity surveying firm straight out of school who supported me to complete my degree part-time. It was tough juggling both, but it gave me a good work ethic - I’ve always felt on-the-job experience is so much more valuable to me; there is only so much you can learn from a book.

I joined Thomas & Adamson in 2013 as a graduate quantity surveyor. The diversity of projects here is something that I have loved. Since joining, I’ve played a key role in projects for clients including Tesco, real estate giant Hammerson, Osborne+Co, aerospace engineering firm Leonardo and Jaguar Land Rover over the years. I’m now leading the teams delivering both JPMC’s European Technology Hub on behalf of Osborne+Co and the transformation of Glasgow’s Met Tower into a digital and tech centre on behalf of Bruntwood SciTech.

In February this year, I was promoted to partner at Thomas & Adamson. I’m really proud of myself and my journey over the last 10 years since joining as a young graduate.

What do you least enjoy?

I get frustrated when things are not progressing as quickly as they should. Planning has been particularly challenging of late which often leads to projects being in a state of limbo until a consent is granted.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We all know there’s a massive skills gap shortage right now, so there’s no better time to talk about the various routes to employment and raise awareness of construction as a viable career path for all genders and backgrounds.

I like to think that Thomas & Adamson is a place where people can grow – after all, I am proof of this. I see myself as a mentor for students, trainees, and younger staff – I enjoy playing a part in inspiring and empowering the next generation. I want us to develop the best talent in the industry, futureproofing us as the built environment continues to change. Not only will this help us to organically grow the business, but it will also ensure that our clients are being serviced by the very best in the business.

What single thing would most help?

More awareness of the industry at grassroots level is hugely important, particularly before young people go to high school and start thinking about selecting subjects. I was recently talking to a Primary 7 class about different roles in the sector and when asked about the construction trade, all they knew about were careers such as joiners and architects. They had never heard of a quantity surveyor or project manager, and how subjects such as maths can lead to successful careers in this space. It was great to be able to tell them it’s not all hard hats and construction sites and open their eyes to just how many opportunities there are.

We also need to make sure that young people are aware that there are avenues into the industry such as apprenticeships and part-time degrees while getting hands-on work experience. That’s an eye-opener for some of them - that they can earn money and study at the same time.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

Learning to see the bigger picture has changed my outlook. In our line of work, every pound can be a prisoner, but it is important to not lose sight of the overall objectives of clients and your business. Taking a step back can sometimes be the best way to make progress.

Where do you find yourself most at ease?

I’ve done this job for so long now it is like second nature to me. I’m most at ease when I’m juggling multiple tasks and meetings.

Otherwise, it would probably be in a spa getting a massage!

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

When I was in school, I wanted to be an architect, but that plan was laid to waste when I realised I can’t draw! However, I wouldn’t change my current role for anything now.

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler – Albert Einstein

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

I’m more into podcasts these days. Most recently I’ve been enjoying Steven Bartlett’s The Diary of a CEO. I even pre-ordered his new book when it was released! He has some great, insightful guests – I always come away with a new piece of information. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to expand their worldview.

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

Throughout my career I always thought I had to prove myself – being a female in a male-dominated industry you need to have something about you. I’ve come to realise that I don’t need to always prove myself. I’m in the position I’m in because I deserve to be. Sometimes looking back at what you have achieved can be the best way to overcome this.

What do you now know that you wish you had known when starting out in your career?

One of the key skills I learned early on is that you need to embrace change. In quantity surveying, no two days are ever going to be the same. You’ll always have a curveball thrown at you. Learning early on how to deal with that will put you in a good position to progress through your career.