A long long time ago….
I qualified from Nottingham Trent University with a degree in Estate Surveying. My first job was as a development surveyor for Clowes Developments and this is where the valuation elements of my course really started to make any sense (If my valuation lecturers are reading this then I did pay attention …honest!) I then moved to Henry Boot Developments in 2000 as an Assistant Development Surveyor , I managed to pass my APC at the first attempt in 2000 (after genuinely revising really hard) and then progressed through the ranks, becoming a Director in 2008, just at the start of the major recession which was great timing! I did however learn how important it is to properly manage your way out of a bad situation, rather than just accepting the worse.
In 2014 I decided to have a complete change and moved into the public sector to Head up the Estates department for Essex and Kent Police, it was a real eye opener and probably the best move I have ever made, as the work was hugely interesting, fast paced and it taught me the importance of managing complex stakeholders and delivering solutions through asset management rather than just seeing assets as issues and problems. I can still remember the sense of relief taking a working police station and converting it to a fully functioning accredited forensics laboratory within 8 months, it was a real team effort, whilst being exhausting and rewarding in equal measure. After a stop at the Valuation Office Agency where I was Director for Estates, Procurement and Continuous Improvement, I am now the Director of Estates and Facilities for Highways England and look after a huge portfolio of circa 1250 assets across the country, our portfolio spans traditional offices, 24 x 7 x 365 control centres as well as depots, outstations for our traffic officers and a large portfolio of land, commercial and residential buildings acquired for our road building schemes. I think we cover pretty much every sector of the market, in every region of the country and seeing the variety and challenging nature of the work really helps ignite our surveyors interest.
I was committed to becoming a Surveyor since I was about 13 years of age……. just not for the right reasons of actually wanting to be a surveyor! I was about 13 or 14 years old when the boom in the late 1980’s meant several large insurance companies were buying up estate agency practices. My mum worked in an estate agency and the owner who was a Chartered Surveyor was eventually bought out for a million pounds, now that’s a lot of money, but back then it was retiring to Barbados and living on cocktails money, so my juvenile brain made a link – become a surveyor and get a million pounds, career path sorted!
I did do some work experience and really enjoyed it and more than anything I saw this wasn’t a career you spend stuck behind your desk. Getting out and about and looking at buildings is the best part of the job. Needless to say, I am still waiting for the million-pound cheque to arrive, but by now I have the surveying bug so it worked out well.
In terms of advice to anyone starting out on this amazing career I would say, just soak up as much experience and variety as you can, but don’t be afraid to give your view, if you are sitting in meetings thinking, “I was going to say that” or “ I wonder if I should mention that “ then please just say it. You are at the forefront of the latest teaching and techniques and that “first 6 months pair of eyes” is invaluable. After a short period, you will become accustomed to “the way things are done around here”, please be brave and challenge constructively and politely as that will enhance everyone’s career and capability.
I think it was Winston Churchill who said – “first we shape the buildings and then the buildings shape us“, being the architects of the change is a phenomenal privilege. At Highways we are just about to take more than 6,000 colleagues through our Estates and Workplace strategy changes which will see us occupy fewer but larger premises across the country, we will be bringing together our corporate, depot and outstation teams as well as providing space for more than 1250 supply chain members to work with us more closely and drive efficiency and outcomes for the road users. To do this we will be investing heavily in all our accommodation types to drive more collaboration and change the way we work forever. It’s a big responsibility as traditional change and transformation pieces usually focus on policy and procedures and people will try and find a way to work around the change and revert to the way they have always done it. With a building however, there is no escaping the challenge of having to change the way you work, so effective communication, transparency and a real understanding of the needs of the space users is essential. In some respect, the actual property transaction is the easy bit!
In terms of a “top tip” it would be to always be true to yourself. When I took my APC in 2000, I was revising really hard, valuation was still a knotty area for me so I did some extra work with a senior surveyor who really improved my ability, most surprisingly at the end of our sessions he suggested that for the interview I “wear a tie, that looks like an old school tie, unless you can tone down the Derbyshire accent” (p.s. throughout the entire APC interview – I never thought they considered my tie colour once!) I am proud to say that the civil service and the RICS is tackling things like social mobility, gender, LGBT+ and mental health and making really positive strides. Surveying is a career for anyone who is prepared to put the work in. No two buildings are the same and no two people in our profession are the same and that’s great!
Also, please don’t be afraid to be bold – my favourite building is Portcullis House in Westminster, now I know most people with any taste actually can’t stand this building, but that’s kind of the point. Never set out on any endeavour to create something beige or bland. Do something that makes you have an opinion on it, drive the conversation and debate. If you want to create buildings that stand the test of time, try and incorporate something that gets people talking!
So please pick surveying as a career as its exciting, no two days are the same and you can get out and about. The friendships and shared knowledge creates a real high performing team feel and you’ll be part of a profession that are the experts in a commodity that effects everyone’s lives every single day.
Twitter – @Greenwayjames1 (be warned its mostly pictures of my Dog) Linked-In just search my name.