Angus Robertson tells Sonia Soltani how he followed his heart to the city that never sleeps
How did you end up working in New York?
It's a bit of a long story. It was a personal move as I met someone who lived in New York. At the time in 2003 I was director of Lovejoy Company and we'd been in talks with EDAW, which wanted to buy us. The acquisition didn't happen, but I wrote to the chief executive to see whether there would be any chance of working in New York. I had a phone interview and he asked me where I wanted to work. So here I am.
What are the professional perks of working abroad?
Here there is less of a need to create a paper trail. In the UK we assume we're going to be sued on everything. I was spending a quarter of my time making sure that I had letters to avoid any court liabilities. Here it's less of a concern. Surprisingly there is less of a blame culture. Of course if something goes terribly wrong, there will be a court case, but everything is done to avoid it.
How is your mastery of American English?
It might not be a new language but there are definitely a number of things that are very different such as the use of certain words, the different meanings. I had to learn how to use certain words instead of others to be understood more quickly. However having a British accent is a useful tool, especially on the marketing and business side. People think you're a special person and give you a great deal of respect.
What's the best thing about living in New York?
The resources in New York City, both professionally and culturally. There is such a fantastic design culture. You have access to everything, museums, world culture. It is such a metropolitan city. You can find English, German, Korean food 24 hours a day, although my best meal out since I've been here was ribs, which were so delicately cooked, followed by key lime pie. The main cultural difference is the medical system. It is so difficult to get insurance. In comparison, the NHS is a dreamland.
What can the UK construction industry learn from the USA?
Some interesting things about the business culture. Everything here is a lot more informal, there is much more opportunity for discussion during meetings. People here encourage conversation. In the UK we are more concerned about sticking to the agenda.
Name: Angus Robertson
Qualifications: Degree in Landscape Architecture from Heriot-Watt University/ Edinburgh College of Art in 1986
Employment history: Worked for Property Services Agency and then for Travers Morgan Planning in London. Moved to Lovejoy Company where he worked for 15 years. Is now a landscape and urban designer at EDAW, having moved to New York in April 2004
Lives: Glen Ridge, New Jersey – “Wide streets, lots of trees, and 25 minutes to Manhattan!”
Hobbies: Watercolour painting, gardening, squash, coaching local under-12s baseball team
For more insights into the challenges of working abroad, log on to the Flight Path series of interviews with construction's ex-pat community at the building4jobs site (link below)