Following on from our first interview in our new ‘Meet the Expert’ series, let’s meet another Thomson Gray expert – Wesley Bathgate. Wesley or Wes as he prefers to be called, joined the Thomson Gray family as a Senior Project Manager in February 2017 having worked previously for Thomson Gray as a consultant. Wes was subsequently appointed as an Associate in the Summer of 2018 with the responsibility for Project Management functions out of the newly formed Glasgow Office.
As a Project Manager, Wes is a self-confessed wearer of many hats – often working on several conflicting tasks. Directly at the centre of various projects, Wes is the go-to contact for clients, design teams and contractors. He works hard to pull everyone together in a positive, co-operative way – ensuring everybody involved is motivated, informed and valued.
In this interview, we discover where Wes’s values and inspirations come from and who has influenced him most in his career to date. We uncover his prediction for the industry in the future and how Thomson Gray will negotiate the challenges, and we find out more about his favourite coastal escapes when it’s time for rest and relaxation with his family.
As Associate Project Manager in the Glasgow office – paint us a picture of a typical day.
There’s a lot going on every day! Lots of phone calls and emails – and information to decipher. I need to prepare for meetings – with clients, project teams and various user groups which I usually chair. Client reporting (formal and informal) takes up a big part of the day – managing the client’s needs and priorities with the progress of the project itself. And in between all of that, I balance out competing demands from contractors and the design team who all need guidance or a decision. It can get tricky at times – as I need to be both judge and jury for making decisions.
It sounds like a lot to keep on top of. How do you structure your day – do you have any secrets for keeping organised?
There’s generally a routine and pattern in projects, which we follow, albeit every project has its own requirements. We tend to work to activities and milestones (RIBA or Business Case Stages), set by our clients. It’s my job as Project Manager to create a framework and structure for the team to work within and hopefully allow them to perform to their maximum. We also use a pattern of regular meetings – and that helps us keep on top of the series of actions.
I must, however, be flexible – as Project Manager, it’s usually my phone that goes first whenever there’s a problem, question or a change in approach required. I must be able to act on them, so it’s important to keep that in mind – flexibility is essential.
What parts of your job do you love?
I was brought up in the Scottish construction industry. My late father, James Bathgate was Managing Director at Maxi Construction for a number of years so you could say it has been in my blood. I’m passionate about the construction industry – there are a lot of excellent designers and engineers out there who contribute to innovation and design, as well as skilled contractors who make the dream a reality. Being a small part of that process brings me satisfaction.
The real motivation for me is client satisfaction. Being able to support the client and guide them through the construction process, working with them to navigate from beginning to end is very rewarding.
What Thomson Gray projects are you most proud of?
I have delivered a number of projects at Thomson Gray in a variety of market sectors. The one that comes most readily to mind is the restoration and reinstatement of the Ross Fountain in West Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. The project, undertaken for The Ross Development Trust, involved working with a Grade listed structure in a World Heritage Site, which was challenging. I played a small part in the overall project with the rest of the design team and specialist contractors. I’m proud of the result – as is everybody involved. I get real satisfaction out of a project when you can visibly see the output of your effort.
I’m also fortunate to have delivered a series of health care projects, particularly at St John’s Hospital. There are several challenges on a day to day basis working on a healthcare project, but it’s worthwhile. The buzz is seeing the development of a project and the Clinical Staff’s reaction when the project is handed over, it’s wonderful. You feel like you have made a difference.
With such a varied and hectic role, is it easy enough to leave your work behind you at the end of the day?
To be a Project Manager you always want an element of control. And I can find it tricky to let go aspects of my projects to others. It is, however something I am working on! I place a great emphasis on building personal relationships with my clients, so I’ll take on their concerns and try to negate them.
Because of that, I do assume a lot of the issues that my projects face, I take them on personally. I try to stand up for my project team and support them, even at times when there are issues or there’s been a mistake. Ultimately, we’re a collective, all part of one team and we all need to pull together to deliver the project.
You’ve worked in the industry for over 17 years. What values or life lessons have you learned in that time?
I strongly believe in open communication, respect and trust. Respect is an important one. I have learned that strong leadership from the front is the best motivation for your team. Ultimately, you need to earn the respect of those around you first. For example, I lead teams with highly regarded architects and engineers – I don’t profess to be a specialist in their field so instead, I try and respect their opinion and create an environment where they can perform.
What advice have you got for people coming into the industry as PM?
There have been big changes since I started working in it. Communication has changed a lot. When I started it was all letters, fax and phone calls. Now it’s email – which has its benefits of course. I feel sometimes there’s an erosion in written communications– sometimes to the detriment of the project. We all do it – myself included. Forwarding emails, copying people in and sending off quick responses when a phone call or short meeting would be far more effective.
I think the challenge for the next generation coming through is around communications and technology. Finding a balance between the use of technology and maintaining the core communication skills clients and colleagues respond to. Greater use of collaborative forms of contract like NEC should help the next generation deal with projects in a less adversarial manner with the focus very much on mutual trust and co-operation between parties.
What will Thomson Gray do to support younger colleagues find that balance?
Thomson Gray places a strong emphasis on staff development and training, in particular, the RICS Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), which they support all disciplines in obtaining. Thomson Gray also support the Project Managers in obtaining NEC Accreditation to enable them to administer this increasingly popular form of contract better.
The Directors work hard a Thomson Gray to promote a positive culture throughout the business and try and look after the staff. An example of this was taking the staff to Amsterdam last October to celebrate 15 years of Thomson Gray.
What would your colleagues say about you?
You would really need to ask them! Hopefully, they’d say I was someone you could get along with easily. Professional, but with a bit of banter – which is very important. I’d like to think I’ve got a positive approach to my PM style – I’m all about collaboration and working together to deliver. Hopefully, people notice that and enjoy working with me.
I also hope they’d say I’m an approachable team player, that encourages younger staff and helps them to develop. Thomson Gray has a strong culture of learning and encouraging staff development at all levels, particularly their APC. It’s amazing when new people come into the team – we can all learn something new as much as we can teach them.
Where do you take most of your inspiration from?
I’ve worked with a series of strong Managing Directors throughout my career to date. My late father James Bathgate, John Heaney, David Lawson, Martin Bell, Stuart Gray and now Ken Fraser – Regional Director for Glasgow. I respected each of them for their professional and personal integrity but have also witnessed how they lead from the front in their organisations. Those characteristics inspire me. And their values have influenced my own – hard work, commitment, integrity, trust, honesty and professionalism.
How do you relax out of work?
My wife, Emma is a trained Counsellor and she’d say I don’t relax enough! I have 2 daughters aged 13 and 10 so like most parent’s my spare time is often spent supporting their various activities. We also got a dog last year so there is now no excuse for sitting on the sofa at night. To be honest I don’t often switch off from work. It goes back to taking the projects personally. I do manage to shut off when I’m on holiday. I place great value on family holidays because of that. My go-to destination is the North Coast of Northern Ireland. Portballintrae, in particular, is a wonderful place. We’ve had some great holidays there over the years. The Antrim coast is the Giant’s Causeway territory, so it’s all about beach, scenery, water. And of course, the positive associations around feeling relaxed.
Want to discuss a project with Wesley?
If you’d like to discuss your project with Thomson Gray’s Associate Project Manager in Glasgow then get in touch with Wesley Bathgate.
“Meet the expert” is a series of articles where we celebrate the individuals who make up the Thomson Gray family. Be sure you keep up to date with future articles and all Thomson Gray news by joining the mailing list.