Trainee Quantity Surveyor to Managing Director, Andrew Gallacher has built an incredible career, working on some of the best-known projects across the UK. We caught up with him to talk about the importance of people skills in getting the job done.
Tell us about your career journey to date
I started my career in 1999 when I was offered a full-time job as a trainee Quantity Surveyor (QS) during my studies. I worked 3.5 days a week and studied at university the other 1.5 days – from my perspective, it was a great opportunity to get relevant work experience and learn at the same time. I found it really motivating to be able to see live construction projects, be based on site, and witness the construction process from first spade in the ground to handover. I was also fortunate enough to work with really great people, 3 of whom I still work closely with to this day. It was at my first job that I met Scott Smyth, Soben’s Founder and Group CEO.
Following the completion of my degree and trainee QS post, I moved to another regional contractor to take up the role of site QS. It was increased responsibility, I had to make my own choices, learn from mistakes, and make important decisions to drive financial success for the projects I was involved in.
I then had an opportunity to work with a Tier 1 national contractor on a large PFI schools programme. Again it was a step-up in experience and project complexity and size. It was a fantastic learning experience and allowed me to develop people and commercial management skills in a corporate environment. It was then that I was offered the opportunity to work with Scott again, who by this time was a commercial manager with a main contractor. That was an easy decision given my past experience of working with Scott. In my early career, I was always looking to learn and work with the best people.
After a spell with an excellent regional fit-out business, working in a fast-paced multi project environment, I joined Turner Group in 2009. It was an opportunity to work in a new sector, commercially responsible for the delivery of all planned, reactive and project works on the MOD estate across Scotland, including RAF bases, army bases and other facilities up and down the country. I started with a small team of two, but by the time I left, had full commercial and operational responsibility and a team of 130. It was a transformational time in my career and gave me essential people and business management skills to complement my construction and commercial QS background. I had the good fortune to work with an exceptional managing director at that time and still reflect regularly on the lessons learned from him.
I had kept in touch with Scott, and our paths crossed again when I needed some support with tendering for some projects we were looking to win. It was the first time I had come across the professional approach and exceptional quality of Soben’s work. During that time, I was open to a change and Scott was looking to grow Soben. He asked me to come and support that growth journey, listening to Scott’s vision to establish Soben in the UK consultancy market and grow internationally was inspiring which made the decision to join an easy one. I joined as Associate Director in 2016 and I am proud to now be Managing Director of one of our EMEA business units. My role now is focused leadership of our UK and international teams, ensuring client satisfaction across our service delivery, contributing to business strategy as a member of our group board and business development with new and existing clients.
When I started at Soben, we had 15 staff members, and looking at where we are now, I feel so proud to be a part of the journey.
What has been your favourite project you’ve worked on, and why?
We have been fortunate at Soben to be involved in the HS2 programme of work since 2018. We have worked on many aspects of the main rail sections and 4 of the main stations. The scale and ambition of the scheme is truly remarkable, it is the largest and most complex infrastructure scheme the UK has every tackled.
Whilst all the HS2 projects have their merits, my favourite project has been Old Oak Common Station which we’ve been involved in since 2019.
We supported the main JV partner on the scheme with full pre-construction services across all building and building services elements, continuing to support the client on the scheme as we move through the construction phase. We have also been able to introduce other services we knew would be suitable for this project, such as whole life costing, carbon accounting and cost assurance.
Being able to visit the site regularly I am always amazed at the scale of the project and how the teams work together to deliver this critical infrastructure asset.
What has been the most challenging project you’ve worked on, and why?
Whilst challenging, it has also been the most rewarding. I have been involved in many construction projects over my career and they all have their unique challenges in terms of budget, programme and quality. However, since being at Soben I have had the opportunity to establish and grow 2 of our international offices in Asia. Bringing together a diverse group of people, understanding their values, supporting their training and development and ensuring they understood the requirements of working with Soben. It has not been without its challenges and needless to say a few mistakes have been made along the way.
I recognised that telling people this is how it must be done is not always helpful. Listening, understanding what works well for individuals and teams and aligning that to what we are trying to achieve as a business it vitally important to achieving success. Hiring the right people who can work in our structure and lead by example is also massively important, alongside empowerment and celebrating their individual and collective successes.
It is also particularly important to get the correct operational leadership in the countries you are operating in out with the UK. People you trust and who understand our core values and commitment to what our client’s needs are. We provided a structure and a framework to operate in, developed and implemented processes together and ultimately, we now work together as one team. It is very satisfying to see the team grow from 8 in 2018 to over 80 today. It is a project that is continues and we all recognise we consistently need to evolve and improve to ensure we deliver what the needs of the business are.
What has been a defining moment of your career?
The first time I managed people at Turners. Working with people is a huge part of what we do and building relationships is so important. I actually met Soben colleague, Ian Tucker, at Turners and it’s great to still be able to work with him today. There’s so much value in working with excellent people, and he’s definitely one of them.
Another defining moment was when I became a Managing Director at Soben – I hadn’t even turned 40 and I felt so proud to be offered such a position and lead a great team. To be a part of a business going in the right direction is humbling, being able to work with a lot of talented people has helped.
Did you ever envision yourself as a Managing Director of a construction company? If you weren’t a construction professional, what would you be doing?
No! Haha – I never for a second thought when I started as a Trainee Quantity Surveyor that I would be where I am now. I was always ambitious, keen to learn, and always worked extremely hard. I did not set goals to reach certain milestones at a young age, I just always wanted to be true to myself and make the best possible career.
I would love to say a professional footballer but those who have played with me over the years would tell you that’s not my calling. At school I was always good with numbers, and I knew I would be working with them in some capacity. I did play in a band with mates through my teens, but rock stardom fizzled out when we all went off to university!
What career advice would you give your younger self?
Take time to choose the career you think is best for you, your first choice is unlikely to be the one that you end up pursuing. Once you have figured that out, work-hard, listen to experienced people and always be open to learning from critique. Commit to everything that you do and always meet your promises.
To find out more about Soben’s specialist services in EMEA you can contact Andrew on the details below:
Managing Director – Specialist Services, EMEA