With a career spanning over 20 years, Derek McFarlane started as a Quantity Surveyor and is now the Managing Director – Consultancy for UK & Europe. We caught up with him to talk about his journey, standout projects and secret dreams of becoming a race car driver.
Tell us about your career journey to date
From a young age I was always fascinated with buildings so I knew it would be in this direction.
I did my Quantity Surveyor BSc at Glasgow Caledonian University and worked my way up. I worked as a QS for almost three years, before becoming a Managing Surveyor and then a Commercial Manager.
I then went on to work as a Commercial Director where I was responsible for a £200m business unit operating in Scotland and central London. My portfolio included major construction projects in healthcare, commercial office developments, residential, student accommodation and university campus redevelopment.
Since September 2021 I’ve been at Soben as the Managing Director – Consultancy, UK & Europe. I joined Soben at a very exciting time, with the Group expanding services in both the UK and new geographies. My role is to develop the provision of consultancy services to clients both old and new and I very much relish the opportunity I have, to be an integral part of driving Soben to future successes.
You’ve worked on many projects over the years – which two stand out for you?
The first that comes to mind is the construction of the Royal Albert Docks in London’s East End. This was a Commercial Office, for which Soben actually provided the pre-construction pricing; and here I am now! The Royal Albert Docks is a 4.7 million sq ft development, mainly offices, combined with residential, retail and public space too. The project was hugely successful and transformed London’s third business and financial district into a hub for companies looking to reach new markets in Europe.
The second would probably be the Berlin Data Centre Campus for Vantage Data Centres. Soben supported delivery of the first phase of a wider development at the Berlin II campus in Mittenwalde, Germany. This was a two-storey facility which offers 16MW of IT capacity to hyperscalers and large cloud providers. During this project we had a fully engaged team working in tandem with our client and the general contractor, which allowed us to deliver a high-quality product and a delighted client.
What has been your favourite project you’ve worked on, and why?
My favourite project was the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, a £600m publicly funded new build hospital in Glasgow, UK. The project was delivered on time and under budget with an honest approach. There was a hugely diverse team, with high levels of trust. We worked nimbly and collaboratively to jointly approach and solve challenges. Working on a project that will have so much impact and meaning to people is very humbling.
What has been the most challenging project you’ve worked on, and why?
A challenging project I’ve worked on would probably be The Glebe. This was a super prime residential build in the heart of Chelsea, London. The build consisted of eight residences ranging in size from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet (an adjacent townhouse extends to 21,000 square feet); six individualized swimming pools; a two-ton “guillotine” window—the largest of its kind in Europe; and one acre of land. I would only say it was a challenging project due to it being around 10 years in the making, then covid striking towards the end of the build. It was most certainly worth it, as this is now London’s Most Luxurious New Development.
What have been the defining moments of your career?
I don’t recognise any specific ‘moment’ that has shaped my career, more a series of events and experiences that cumulatively have influenced my path. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in private practice, for sub-contractors and main contractors, with many talented and inspirational people. I do take great satisfaction from enabling the development of junior staff and watching them gain experience and ultimately fulfil their own ambitions.
Did you always want to be a Quantity Surveyor? If you weren’t a Quantity Surveyor, what would you be doing?
So, my dad worked as a Site Manager, I can remember from a very young age going to site with him and always being fascinated with how buildings were put together. This interest in buildings and an analytical/maths brain meant training as a Quantity Surveyor was a simple decision for me.
I was very close to starting a degree in Forensic Science! But if I didn’t do that, I would have loved to become a race car driver – I’m not sure how well I would have done but that was honestly my dream job!
What career advice would you give your younger self?
I can genuinely say that I have enjoyed my career in construction to date. I would remind myself that asking questions is a positive habit. I remember as a young QS my boss telling me that no question is a daft question. He told of a time he had been attending a meeting and was unsure of terms being used. He therefore asked for explanation, only for another two attendees to say they didn’t understand either…. So always have the courage to ask for explanation or help when it’s needed.
More generally – My son is currently in 7th year at school and is still deciding the precise path he wishes to take when he completes his time at school. My advice to him is to follow a path that plays to your strengths and most importantly do something you enjoy. We spend a large portion of our lives working, so it’s vital that you are doing something that continues to challenge and excite.
To find out more about Soben’s consultancy services in UK and Europe you can contact Derek on the details below:
Managing Director – Consultancy, UK & Europe