Jim Sinclair: 35 years and still going strong

Jim Sinclair Profile Photo Jim Sinclair walked through our doors as a young Quantity Surveyor in 1982; 35 years on he is still a vital member of the team. We sat down with Jim to chat about his time with Aquenta and what has kept him with one company for most of his career.

What made you want to be a QS?

A family friend had a construction company, and as a teenager I generally spent holidays labouring on his building sites. It was a very good source of much needed income even if it was hard work. I pretty quickly realised that the guys who ran the show had a much easier time of it than the ones like me doing the hard work, so I decided then that behind the desk was much more desirable than in front of the desk. It did foster an interest in construction though, and coupled with my mother’s desire for me to attend university, I enrolled in a degree course in Building. The rest as they say, is history.

What is your favourite project you’ve worked on? Why?

It is very difficult to pick a favourite out of the hundreds that I have had an involvement in but if I had to choose I think that the refurbishment of the Queens Square Law Courts (QSLC) would be the one, closely followed by the New Air Combat Capability (NACC) project.

QSLC lasted almost 12 years from the early budget estimates to completion of the construction works, and being such a high profile project it was quite demanding for its’ entire duration. NACC is still ongoing after more than 6 years, and has been just as demanding.

I think they have been enjoyable because of the demands they put on us, which forces us to step up and push ourselves to get the outcome required. Both jobs have stretched me at times (and the other staff working on them – sorry for that guys) but in the end they make us better QS’s.

When you started out 42 years ago, there were no computers and technology was minimal.  What have these changes meant for you?

A quick explanation for those who may think have found an arithmetical error. Yes, it was 42 years – I spent 7 years working as a QS in Scotland before taking the plunge and relocating to Australia.

Where to start with this one? I think I could write a book about the challenges / headaches that technological development brought (relax though – it isn’t going to happen). Sufficient to say that it is a double edged sword. Gone are the days of pencil, paper and scale rule to be replaced by Everest, Buildsoft and now CostX. All the checking and double checking of computations replaced by the blind trust that the computer is always correct. Remember, the technology can only deal with the information you give it so unless you are perfect, check and check and check again.

On a personal level I guess it resulted in me being referred to – not as a Senior QS – but as the IT guy, and maybe in the end that isn’t such a bad thing.

What was your first job at Aquenta and who was it working for?

I can’t honestly remember my first job but I suspect that it was one of the many hospital projects that were active in the Sydney office at the time. I became involved in variation assessment for a few of them at that time. I think the first Bill of Quantities I had an involvement in was the redevelopment of the Royal Military College at Duntroon in Canberra. If I recall correctly, Warren Paris was the team leader on that project. Warren was always the dapper QS about town in his safari suit complete with shorts and knee length socks.

I don’t think it was very long before Eric Liddell (in Brisbane at the time) discovered that I was a profitable resource for him to use, so he kept sending site services trades to me in Sydney for measurement.

Tell me about the office environment at that time – where did we have offices, what were our services and how many people did we have?

Sydney office, then it was Cameron & Middleton, was at 40 Miller Street in North Sydney (with the recent Jacobs relocation it seems I have come full circle) and it had a fantastic view of the harbour bridge and harbour.

The office had two Directors, an Office Manager and about fifteen staff I think. We were extremely busy in those days and worked very long hours most of the time. There were occasions when some staff actually slept for a few hours in the office instead of going home.

BOQ’s were our main business back then and were all done on paper, to then be typed manually, by the one person in the office who could type. Because of the number of copies that government clients requested we then sent the master copy out to be printed. I recall one delivery of 50 copies of a ten volume BOQ to the then Dept. of Housing, weighing in at 1.2 tonnes. The printer had to hire a truck for the delivery run. At that time, we also had offices in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

What was your favourite era/decade? Why?

I am not sure I have a favourite. Each year/decade/age brought its own challenges and rewards, but I guess I did have a penchant for producing BOQ’s. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of planning, managing and finally delivering these documents, which demanded extreme accuracy and adherence to a very strict set of rules, if they were to perform the function intended. The redevelopment of RAEME (Royal Australian Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) at Holsworthy, had a head architect, three precinct architects each with their team of services consultants and us as QS. The BOQ took a team of 4-6 staff almost three years to produce, from thousands of drawings.

So I guess it’s the 80’s which gave me the most satisfaction.

What does your job entail now?

Up until we moved from Chatswood, it might have been a better question to ask “What does your job not entail now?”.

It would have to be a hotch-potch of mentoring, peer reviewing, cost planning, IT “guru”, general handyman, and occasionally as a piece of the furniture, (you know like that old dry leather covered chair that you keep moving from office to office and can’t quite bring yourself to throw out). Throw in a little business development and administration work and each week becomes a series of unplannable and uncontrollable tasks. Unorganised chaos in other words.

What is it about Aquenta that has kept you here for 35 years?

The money – no it can’t be that. It’s probably just the enjoyment that comes from a settled environment with clients and colleagues you like working with (did I just say that?), and doing work that is always varied and mostly interesting. I like continuity (have a love/hate relationship with change) so have never subscribed to the philosophy of change for it’s own sake. Over the years the business seems to have attracted (or fostered) a fairly high proportion of employees who stay for a while. The relationships that come from that type of environment are ones you can trust and rely on and invariably keep you coming back for more.

What is one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the company? Jim playing pool

From a philosophy perspective, it would have to be the coming of the corporate culture, firstly with Currie & Brown, then more strongly with Amec and now with Jacobs.

From a work practice perspective, it is undoubtedly the coming of the computer age which has revolutionised the way we do things, and also what we actually do. Computer software is gradually replacing the skillsets that QS’s traditionally provided, so we have to learn to adapt and position ourselves in the new environment.

I wonder how long it will be before we are using drones to carry out site and building inspections from the comfort of our cosy offices?

What is the best advice you’ve received? And who from?

That would unquestionably be from Stuart Maxwell, twice a Director of Sydney Office, and mentor extraordinaire, who once advised me that when I stopped enjoying coming to work in the morning, it would be time to find a new job. I have never forgotten that typical piece of Maxwell logic.

What is your greatest achievement? (Work or Personal)

Being married for 40+ years would have to rate as an achievement (for both of us – yes, she couldn’t get rid of me either), or more recently surviving in an office dominated by green & white eyed monsters.

Seriously, I don’t know. Completing our projects successfully is what our clients expect us to do, so I don’t think they necessarily rank as great achievements. Maybe (as far as I know), never having had a client who didn’t want to work with me again could be the greatest achievement.

If you could pass on one piece of advice for the younger generation coming through the company, what would it be?

Two pieces of advice, both equally important. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Both enable you to grow.