Angus Robertson followed his heart and ended up in the city that never sleeps
CV: Angus Robertson, 42, is a landscape and urban designer at EDAW. He moved from London to New York in April 2004 after having worked for Lovejoy Company for 15 years.
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, I started to look for work in New York. At the time in 2003 I was director of Lovejoy Company and we'd been in talk with EDAW that wanted to buy us up. The acquisition didn't happen, but I wrote to the CEO of EDAW to see whether there would be any chance of working in New York because of my personal reasons. I had a phone interview and he asked me where I wanted to work. So here I am. I started to work in the EDAW office in London in January 2004 and three months later, once my visa was sorted out I moved.
Was it difficult to adapt?
The visa issue took quite a long time to sort out. I had to go back and forth between the UK and the US. It was quite complicated, but at the end all turned our okay.
Did you have to upgrade your skills to take up the job?
Not any formal training, but we are encouraged to be more creative, to think outside the box and push the boundaries of design.
What about the professional perks of working abroad?
Here there is less of a requirement of creating a paper trail. In the UK we have the assumption that 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. The people work more as a team between the different companies. This is surprisingly 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. People are really encouraged to be team player.
Did you have a cultural shock?
New York is the vertical form of London, which is spread out and flat. There are so many towers and skyscrapers. Culturally speaking, people on the street are as rude as in London.
This is surprisingly less of a blame culture. People are really encouraged to be team player.
We usually ask people who've moved abroad whether they learned the language of their new country. What about American English?
It wasn't 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. Coming from the British culture is an advantage.
Do you miss British culture and home?
I do miss my friends and family but I go back a couple of times a year. I was there recently for my mother's 80th birthday.
Is there anything you don't like about New York?
Everything here is very car-bonded with these big parking areas and people taking their car to go everywhere. It's not exactly a pedestrian city. As for the subway, it's very confusing, it's very poor on signage, there is not any logic, not enough information and it stinks. It's very easy to get the wrong train.
Have you considered moving to another place?
No, but never rule anything out….
What advice would you give to people tempted by working in New York?
A general rule on working abroad. Take time to understand the culture, don't make any assumptions, try to understand how people work. Keeping an open mind is very important. Being flexible and adaptable is the key to success.
Having a British accent is a useful tool, especially on the marketing and business side. People think give you a great deal of respect.
Have you had any bad experiences since you moved to the Big Apple?
Not a bad experience as such. I haven't been mugged…. The main cultural difference is the medical system. It is so difficult to get insurance. In comparison the National Health Service is a dreamland.
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.
What has been your best meal since you moved?
A meal with my brother when he came to visit me. We went to this place that served ribs which were so delicately cooked and for dessert a key lime pie which is a cheesecake they do in South Florida.
What do you see from your office window?
The Empire State Building. It's such a landmark. But my favourite building has to be the Chrysler Building.
What can the UK construction industry learn from the US?
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 are encouraging conversation. In the UK we are more concerned about sticking to the agenda.