Our People: An interview with Joe Russell

Joe Russell

Role: Senior Quantity Surveyor
Office location: Aldwych, London
Joined the team: June 2020

Why Base?
After 10 years as a quantity surveyor, I came to the realisation that the aspect of my job I found most enjoyable was dispute resolution. I commenced a Master’s degree in Construction Law and Dispute Resolution and subsequently joined Base to gain more experience in this field. I spoke to Duncan and Danny at the start of the pandemic and found myself inspired by their vision for the company and their bold attitude at a time when most in the industry were battening down the hatches. Since joining, I have gained valuable experience assisting quantum experts in adjudication, arbitration and litigation proceedings.

Where did you work previously?
I was working in the UAE prior to joining Base. I had been there for 4 years, working as a consultant quantity surveyor on some of the exciting ‘world’s first’, ‘biggest’ and ‘best’ projects that you’d associate with the region. My wife and I hugely enjoyed our time there, but we felt the pull to come back home when we were expecting our first child.

What do you feel you bring to Base?
I’ve often been told that I’ve got a calm demeanour when under pressure. Even if this only runs skin-deep, I like to think it has a reassuring effect on others! Aside from that, I’m quite detail-oriented.

I enjoy going into the data to get to the root of the issues and the challenge of summarising them in the simplest way possible. Since becoming chartered in 2014, I’ve also enjoyed helping others on this journey. Seeing the progress towards a significant milestone in a candidate’s career is a particularly rewarding part of the job.

What would you consider to be your area of expertise?
Much of my experience to date has been pre- and post-contract quantity surveying consultancy work in the residential sector. I’ve worked on the full spectrum of residential developments, from high-rise, to prime, to large-scale affordable schemes. I have mainly been involved with JCT forms of contract, but also FIDIC and, to a lesser extent, NEC.

What are your career aspirations for the future?
I would like to continue to gain experience working on quantum expert witness commissions and in the preparation and assessment of claims, with the aim of becoming a testifying expert witness and adjudicator in the future. I’ll admit that the thought of cross‑examination seems daunting to me at the moment, but it’s a step-by-step process and I believe this feeling will lessen with experience.

Do you have an accomplishment that has shaped your career?
Becoming a chartered quantity surveyor is the obvious accomplishment for me. I was keen to drive the process to progress in my career to allow me to take that first step on the housing ladder. It was difficult as there is a real breadth of knowledge required but I very much enjoyed the challenge. I’ve always tried to embrace being outside of my comfort zone.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?
I was on secondment as a commercial manager in the UAE on a large redevelopment project. I was not involved from inception, so my first task was to review the quantity surveyor’s cost plan from the previous project gateway. Unfortunately, this contained significant exclusions which had not been appreciated by the developer’s management. It fell on me to break the news and, regrettably, this led to the cancellation of both the project and my secondment.

What did you learn from it?
I look back and think about what I could have done differently in that situation. Breaking the bad news was uncomfortable and disappointing to management, but it limited the developer’s spend on project fees and enabled them to move their focus onto projects that were financially feasible. I learnt that you’re not always thanked for your efforts as a quantity surveyor but, at least personally, I feel a sense of pride that I maintained my integrity and professionalism in a difficult situation.

Mental health is really important and thankfully becoming more discussed. Most of us working in offices live a comfortable, largely desk-bound existence and I struggled with this early on in my career. […] Different things work for different people, but I currently find that a combination of a standing desk, cold morning showers and (fairly) regular exercise does the trick!

If you were provided with a soapbox to give a speech on any industry related topic, what would it be and why?
Mental health is really important and thankfully becoming more discussed. Most of us working in offices live a comfortable, largely desk-bound existence and I struggled with this early on in my career. I read somewhere that humans are the only species that build a cage for themselves, and I agree with that to an extent. It took a while for me to work out strategies to combat that lethargic feeling – especially after lunch. Different things work for different people, but I currently find that a combination of a standing desk, cold morning showers and (fairly) regular exercise does the trick!

What would be your biggest piece of advice to those starting in the industry today?
I think to take pride in what you do and to treat any exercise that you’ve worked on as one that will go straight out to the client without being checked by senior members of staff.

Clearly this won’t be the case but as a quantity surveyor, errors often come back to bite you, so checking your own work is an important skill to learn. Of course, you should always ask if there is anything you’re unsure of but try to avoid forming a dependency on others to perform checks you could do yourself.

Hobbies/Interests?
What are those?! I’ve got a toddler and am in my final year of an Master’s degree in Construction Law, so I’ve struggled to find the time recently. Unfortunately, my 5 a-side football team has ceased to exist as we’ve reached an age where the team have dropped like flies due to injuries. The obvious next step is golf but it’s a difficult one to sell to my wife!

What motivates you?
The feeling at the end of a day that I’ve completed what I’ve set out to do and to a standard that I’m happy with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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