In our latest Career Spotlight, Soben’s Director Mark Smith shares his exceptional journey across the Atlantic to the United States, and his insights on the fascinating world of Construction and Data Centers in the US.
Could you tell us about your career journey to date?
I completed my Quantity Surveying (QS) degree at Leeds Beckett University in the UK. During my studies I had the opportunity to work in the United States for a year, so I spent six months in Chicago and six months in Boston. This experience piqued my interest in the US construction industry, and I decided to stay a little longer.
I later returned to the UK and joined Gardiner & Theobald as a graduate Quantity Surveyor. Then in 2004 I joined Mace and got my MRICS qualification while working there. I spent the years between 2008 and 2014 working for different UK companies such as Thomas and Adamson, Peel Ports, and AA Projects.
In 2014 I got the opportunity to come back to America with Turner & Townsend and I moved with my family over to Houston. Five years later and seeking a change from Houston’s weather, I received an offer from Cumming, allowing me to choose from several offices across the US, and since both my wife and I share a passion for skiing, we decided to settle in Denver.
While I enjoyed my role there and I could’ve done so for the next 10 to 20 years, I desired more significant challenges. I wanted to go into business and keep growing, and that’s when Soben approached me.
I spoke to Joe and Scott, and I had the opportunity to get involved with a startup business right from the beginning. It was too good an opportunity! It’s been challenging with a lot of hard work, but it’s great fun and we’ve got great projects going on.
How was your experience moving from the UK to the US?
The first time I did it I was young and single, so relocating was straightforward. The second time proved to be more challenging as my family had grown. However, the biggest challenges came when we moved within different states in the US, especially as our kids got older and we had to handle more belongings.
Despite the challenges, we have enjoyed the adventure of moving and exploring new places together.
How is the US construction industry different from the UK’s?
Besides getting used to the ‘cost per square foot’ and ‘cost per square meter’ measuring side of things, the biggest difference for me is the influence of the contractors. In the UK, quantity surveyors are integral to the initial protocol, whereas in the US general contractors tend to have more influence.
The contracts and procurement part is very similar, with just some differences in terminology.
Overall, I’d say it’s different but not too different.
What are the things about the United States’ construction industry that you appreciate the most?
I think seeing the explosion of data centers in the country is phenomenal. They are becoming essential for big corporations and even for everyday aspects like healthcare. The need for data centers is phenomenal, and when you look at how the biggest tech companies are building, it’s unbelievable. The impact they’re going to have in the construction industry is huge because there is so much work going on and it’s difficult to say when it’s going to stop. You might think a data center is just a warehouse, but in reality, they are huge structures with unbelievable power demands, and construction-wise they’re incredibly complex. Understanding their impact makes this industry truly exciting to be a part of.
What has been your favourite project you’ve worked on and why?
About 15 years ago I was involved in the construction of a new campus for Chevron in Midland, West Texas. At the time, oil companies were competing for top talent, and they wanted to have the best work environment. The investment made in that building, when compared to today’s costs, was astonishing. I was deeply involved in the project from the first spade in the ground up to completion and witnessing the client’s satisfaction with the end result was truly rewarding.
Which project has been your most challenging project and why?
We did a hotel in San Antonio, which technically wasn’t complicated, but we had to deal with a particularly challenging client. Although the project was manageable, convincing the client and obtaining their approval to move forward throughout the different stages of the project made it complex and challenging.
What has been a defining moment of your career?
Moving to the US. I’ve spent half of my 20-year career in construction here, and while I enjoyed my time in the UK, the quality of life and the opportunities I’ve found here have made a significant impact. My family is the most important thing for me, and here I found a fulfilling career that allows me to enjoy life daily with them.
Did you ever envision yourself being a construction professional?
When I was 16, I was playing soccer and I wanted to pursue a career as a professional football player. At that time, I never thought I would be living in Colorado years later. Working in construction has been great, but I never saw myself doing it.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Seeing my daughter face the pressure of choosing colleges takes me back to when I was young and playing soccer. I remember that’s what I wanted to do, and then I got injured and I panicked over not knowing what my life was going to look like and what my career was going to be. My advice for younger people would be to not worry about what career you want to get into, but rather focus on what you’re passionate about. You will spend a lot of time and years of your life working, so make sure you do something you love.
Also, don’t worry about money. Money will come, the salaries will come. There’s more to life than money so you need to focus on living life while you can.
Soben has open opportunities across the United States for construction professionals and is now sponsoring E-2 and E-3 visas for UK citizens. Take a look at our open roles in the United States at www.sobencc.com/careers
To learn more on how Soben can help you develop your projects, contact Mark on the details below: