In the first of a series of ‘Meet the Expert’ articles, let us introduce to you Ken Fraser, our Glasgow based Construction Project Management expert. His experience is honed in all things project management so he also knows a thing or two about quantity surveying, tax and capital allowances, risk management and public sector procurement.
After working as a consultant with Ron Thomson, Stuart Gray and James Gibson for ten years, Ken officially joined the Thomson Gray family eighteen months ago. His role is to lead our new and vibrant Glasgow office. His experience and skills have been the linchpin in growing the office – in terms of services offered and staff employed and plays a pivotal role in strengthening Thomson Gray’s reputation in the West of Scotland.
In this interview, we dig deep into Ken’s passions and inspirations. We’ll discover what Ken loves about working in the industry, what personal values he has developed throughout his working life, what he thinks the looming BREXIT means for Thomson Gray and perhaps most importantly of all – where he loves to go on holiday, and who with.
As Regional Director for Thomson Gray, tell us how you got to this point
My background is in quantity surveying. I graduated about forty years ago and have been RICS qualified for 35 years. I’ve worked for a few large construction companies – including David Langdon, who were bought over by ACOM.
I’d worked as a consultant for many years – which is how I started working with the Thomson Gray directors. We worked well together and I could see they were building something really great in the industry.
Then I was invited to work on secondment with the Scottish Government in procurement. There was a lot to learn from this side of the process – very valuable stuff but I did miss being part of something more tangible. When the secondment came to a close I joined forces with Thomson Gray officially.
What do you love about your job?
I love being part of a process. Part of a team that pulls together and creates something, a building, together. In the end, you can look at it and say ‘I was part of that’. I’d set out in the world to get involved in making things. Buildings and constructions. The idea of leaving something behind pleases me. My role here in Glasgow is a natural progression of that.
I’m too old to go out and construct things now – so I’m pleased I can be part of it all in a different way. Thomson Gray is a young organisation. What I’ve learned throughout my career is now shaping others to do what they love. I feel immensely satisfied with that.
What’s it like to work for Thomson Gray?
You know everybody here. It’s really friendly. And there’s lots of team building, officially and unofficially. Working together on large, complex projects brings its own team building, but we have opportunities to get away on team days and weekends. In fact, we’re just back from Amsterdam*.
The directors – James and Stuart – feed so much into the business which is refreshing. There’s an expectation here. We won’t settle for the bare minimum and we set our client’s expectations very high which is why we can offer large scale construction project management. We may be young, we may be small but our offering is anything but and everyone in the company puts in the effort to keep that going.
What Thomson Gray projects are you most proud of?
Setting up the Glasgow office will be my lasting legacy. I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done in such a short space of time – but I can’t take all the credit for it. Thomson Gray foundations are strong and our team are hard working. Leading it all to this point and beyond has made me very happy. It’s not easy when a company is based in a city like Edinburgh, but we mirror the Edinburgh office and our reputation in Glasgow and the West is growing.
Looking back over my career there are a lot of projects I’m proud to have been part of. Ask anyone in the construction world, in quantity surveying circles – we all want to have some big classics in our portfolio and one I’m particularly proud of is the V&A in Dundee.
What jobs keep you awake at night?
I’m sure everyone will agree with me here – when a project is going well you sleep like a baby!
One thing I will say is that when Thomson Gray have said they’ll achieve something for the client they’ll achieve it. If it needs more resource, so be it. I believe our reputation with our clients is very strong – and you get to that point with clients by pulling everything out of the bag when it comes down to it.
What would your colleagues say about you?
I joke that I’m the old man asleep in the corner, but they really don’t treat me like that at all. They ask for my opinion, they include me. The banter in the office is great – we go down to the pub after work for a pint. Communication is very open in Thomson Gray, it’s open and free and I really enjoy that.
With a career that stretches over 40 years, what are the greatest lessons you’ve learned?
I always say to people I work with ‘never fall out or be too confrontational’. No matter what the situation is. It should be sorted out civilly. Apart from anything else you’ll never know when you might need their help in the future.
As a construction project management expert, what’s changed since you started? How do you see the industry going?
When I started everything was so much slower. We had to rely on the post to move through the paperwork and process of a project, so often you would have a few days grace before the next step. It meant that people had time to complete their work before the next thing came in. People could leave when they were finished and go home to their families.
Now, everything is fast. When you send an email you expect a reply immediately and it all moves forward quickly. It can lead to stress, and to a breakdown in communication, ironically. That’s been a big change but I see it turning back on itself again.
There’s a push toward sustainability – to reducing travelling, to sourcing sustainable materials and working through a project, taking everyone into consideration. A more holistic approach is what’s needed to get a sense of balance and I think we’re getting there.
What does BREXIT mean for the work of Thomson Gray?
Well, like everyone, I think our approach is to take the viewpoint of watching and observing. Really what else can we do till it’s sorted out?
I think there will be some issues around sourcing materials from the continent, but I’m an optimist. I’m not sure all of the doom and gloom – from both sides – is worth paying attention to. The greatest issue for all of us in construction in Scotland is that that procurement legislation in Scotland is all governed by Europen legislation. So we’ll have to pay close attention to that. And I hope we don’t give up on the safety net for protecting workers.
From a personal perspective – if we do come out of Europe (and I think it’s likely), then I hope it will all still be open us. I’d like to nip over there without it being too much hassle.
Away from the concerns about politics and construction projects, what do you do to unwind?
I bet you think I’m going to say golf here! I’m very poor at golf! No, my release is – and always has been – musical theatre. I sang when I was a student and have carried it through my life. My kids love it too – I’m proud to have handed that on to them.
Can you name a favourite production?
Guys and Dolls. Definitely!
What drives you forward?
The most important thing for me is connecting with my family and friends. My kids are at university in Oxford and St Andrews, so it’s always great to spend time with them. Especially at Christmas, and if I can get away with my son for a skiing trip then I’m happy with that.
Outside of work, my life is changing. Our lives are changing – my wife and I have a little more free time these days. This is very new for us and we’re enjoying it. As a society, we should spend more time looking after each other, spending time together.
Life is precious. Time is precious.
Who inspires you?
People who believe in something and stand up for it. Trying, even in a small way, to make a difference.
I’m a great believer in being honest with yourself. If you can do that, then you’ve succeeded.
Who do you think we should interview for future ‘meet the experts’?
Definitely our directors – Stuart and James. And then what about a young apprentice? It would be great to get people across the whole spectrum.
Want to discuss a project with Ken?
If you’ve got a potential construction project management issue and you think our construction project management expert can help – get in touch with Ken Fraser and we can talk things through.
“Meet the expert” is a series of articles where we celebrate the individuals who make up the Thomson Gray family. To make sure you don’t miss out on future articles, and all the Thomson Gray news, join our mailing list for updates.
*For clarity’s sake we should point out that Ken wouldn’t give any gossip whatsoever about the Amsterdam trip. Spoilsport!