Many go into the construction industry because their dads did, but only a handful have one as famous as Robert Adam. Emily Wright met him and son Jamie to find out whether the agony outweighed the ecstasy
Jamie Adam, 24, runs the development and new homes department at international estate agent, Jackson-Stops & Staff. Robert Adam, 58, is an influential and well-liked figure at the forefront of the classical revival movement.
Jamie, did you want to go into construction when you were growing up?
J: I did briefly want to be an RAF pilot. At school, I remember it was so competitive with the whole “what does your dad do?” thing. Everyone thought it was really cool that mine wasn’t a hedge fund manager or a stockbroker, but an architect.
R: Did they really? I’d never thought about that. I suppose what I do is somewhere between being Van Gogh and Bob the Builder. I guess that’s quite cool.
Did you always share an interest in buildings?
R: I have to admit that we do have a lot of holiday photographs of Jamie following behind me carting camera tripods about outside historic buildings.
J: [rolling his eyes] Every bloody year ... But he designed the house I’ve lived in since I was seven and he used to bring me to the site every weekend to show me how things were progressing. That was what inspired me, I think. It was amazing watching a hole in the ground develop into a country house.
R: After that, you were really rather overly interested in buildings. When we were driving somewhere you used to stare out of the window to spot them. Then you used to point them out to us with a little speech on what you though about each one.
J: Umm … yes, perhaps I was a bit of an odd child.
How did you get into the industry?
J: Dad got me my first bit of work experience. It was just before my A levels and I went to shadow one of his clients, a surveyor. I did an advanced GNVQ in planning and environment, then he got me a two-month placement with Beaulieu Homes, one of his clients, during my gap year.
After that, I went to Westminster University for a term while working part time for them. But I only worked for them for a year – I was headhunted by another major estate agent, Lane Fox, and I decided to drop out of university.
I thought the experience would be more valuable than completing my degree, so I joined as an assistant in the land and development department when I was 20. I was made redundant two years later, but I got three job offers in a week. I couldn’t believe it.
He’s always embarrassing! From picking me up at parties to joining me in meetings with clients and telling filthy jokes, he is an embarrassment
So Jamie, has the family name opened doors for you?
J: It certainly doesn’t hinder my business having Robert Adam as a father, but people might automatically assume I am doing well or am popular just because of who my father is. That’s quite galling when you’ve put in a huge amount of work. Everyone would take a bit of a leg-up given the chance, but it doesn’t mean you’ve had an easy ride. I made contact with my second employer at a breakfast meeting completely off my own bat.
If people used to look at me and think, “Oh, he’s done well but probably only because of his father”, they certainly can’t now. My career moves for a long time have been nothing to do with him at all.
R: He has done all the right things, got himself known in the industry.
Did you ever find it uncomfortable?
J: At Beaulieu Homes, it was pretty bad. In meetings I would always be introduced as “son of Bob” and that got pretty tiresome. I think they did it because they wanted to validate me to clients through him.
Does it ever embarrass you?
J: He’s always embarrassing! Always. Parents are embarrassing full stop and he is no exception. From picking me up at parties to joining me in meetings with clients and telling filthy jokes, he is an embarrassment.
What do you think of each other’s work?
J: I like most of my dad’s buildings but some are just a bit wacky for me. The Solar House at Wakeham in West Sussex, for example. I can understand it, but I wouldn’t necessarily choose to live in it.
I have gained a lot more insight into other areas of the industry through him in terms of planning entire projects and I can come home and ask his opinions on things, which helps me understand the system better.
R: I never minded what he did if it made him happy – as long as he didn’t want to be a wife-beater and a drunkard. Lots of people don’t find the right job for years and Jamie got to it very quickly. I’m glad he didn’t follow me into architecture, though – we would argue all the time.
J: We already do!
R: True, but at least we can have our own little areas of expertise. If we’d been fighting it out talking about the same area of the industry – God, that would have been horrendous.