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MGAC Impacts: Dorothy Robertson on Spreadsheets, Secret Slope Skills, and Following in Her Father’s Footsteps


Dorothy with her black labrador, Ciara.

The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.

Today, we get to know Dorothy Robertson, Executive Director at MGAC.

MGAC: Hi, Dorothy! Welcome to the Impact Blog!

Dorothy Roberts (DR): Thanks very much for having me!

MGAC: Tell us about your role here at MGAC.

DR: I’m an Executive Director for Scotland, so I’m responsible for the office here and have an overview of just about every project that we do. With my role, I can jump from project work to administrative work to fee invoicing to submission documents to business development.

MGAC: It sounds like you have a lot of variety in your day-to-day!

DR: I do. Deep down though, my heart always belongs to client work, so that’s a real constant for me. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing projects from the early stages through to completion. Remaining heavily involved in the strategy of our projects and getting them up and running is something I really enjoy.

MGAC: And what led you to this role?

DR: Well, I wasn’t always going to be a Cost Consultant or a Quantity Surveyor. I was originally going to be an accountant. I always loved numbers—I love a spreadsheet!

MGAC: When did your career path change?

DR: My dad was an engineer, and one summer, he said to me, “You’re not lying about this house doing nothing. You can come and work in my office for the summer.” So that’s what I did. Through that, accounting evolved into quantity surveying. Finding my way into the industry was in my blood, I suppose!

MGAC: No kidding! So, what brought you to MGAC?

DR: Well, I first came to RLF—which, of course, is now MGAC—27 years ago! I started as a Senior Quantity Surveyor, and even then, the company was really forward-thinking. They helped me push my career forward while I raised my family, allowing me to progress in my career while doing another important job at home—being a mum. Eventually, I became an Associate and progressed my career to where I am today.

MGAC: That’s wonderful. What do you think your younger self would think about your job today?

DR: I probably would never have seen myself doing it! I have four sisters, and I was the real girly girl. I didn’t fit the mould of a very male-dominated industry. The industry is in a really different place now, and we’re seeing more women in these careers, so I suppose the kid in me would think, “thank goodness it has moved and progressed!”

MGAC: Very true!

DR: I also think the kid in me would appreciate the outcomes of what we do. I think people often forget that the construction industry is pretty fundamental to human survival. After all, we provide shelter for humans to survive on Earth! It’s quite an important job. We keep communities running. We bring people together. So as a child, I could probably appreciate that perspective. Adults don’t always remember that.

MGAC: That’s a great way to think about your work! Looking back at your years at MGAC, what about the company has made an impact on you?

DR: This has always been an environment where people could thrive, and their careers could be developed. I always felt there was an opportunity for my career to progress while having a family. And I had great mentors who allowed me to reach my potential. Now, I try to give that back.

MGAC: Glad to hear it! So, what’s keeping you busy these days?

DR: Oh, lots of different things! In Scotland, we have a really diverse project portfolio. I’m working on our national treatment center for the National Health Service. It’s progressing along now, and involves repurposing buildings—taking existing stock, bringing them back to scale, and up to Net-Zero standards. We’ve also got a nice office development in the early stages, an innovation center for research and development that’s part of the university, a cruise liner terminal, schools, a leisure centre, and housing. Next week we are working with our colleagues in Washington, DC on an office development. We go global! It’s a lot of work, and a lot of budgeting at the moment!

MGAC: Putting those accounting skills to work?

DR: Always, but especially right now!

MGAC: Are there unique budgeting challenges at the moment?

DR: Yes! From a quantity surveying perspective, the biggest challenge is budgeting. The construction industry, like so many industries, has seen massive increases in cost due to COVID-19 and everything else that’s happening in the world. It’s been a bit of a moving target, which has made it difficult to navigate. But we put in place everything we possibly can and remain in touch with the market in a way that allows us to advise our clients the best we can, at any given point—even when that point changes over the course of a week. It’s a challenge, but it’s one the whole world is facing at the moment!

MGAC: What have you learned from navigating that changing landscape?

DR: Because I’m experienced in my career, I can keep a level head and realize that this isn’t forever. The world economy will change again, you just have to keep abreast of situations and know that change is going to come. Keeping a level head and leaning on experience allows you to advise your clients, give them comfort, and talk them down when needed!

MGAC: A great takeaway. You’re obviously involved in many projects; what kind of impact do you hope to have with your work?

DR: Sometimes, we get caught up in the motions of a project, thinking of it as just another building. Every so often, you have to stop and think about why you’re building this building. Over my career, there have been some projects that have really resonated with me, because I could see that what I was doing was going to make a massive difference to somebody. I think it’s important to stop and check yourself every so often and ask, “What is this building going to do? Why are we building it?” When you really think about that, you can get quite passionate about what you’re doing—about the research that will improve lives, the school that will house learning, the shelter being provided, the regeneration of communities and economies. That’s the kind of work that ticks a big box.

MGAC: You bring a lot of enthusiasm to your work. What gives you energy each day?

DR: Lots of things! Women are great multitaskers, and I’ve spent quite a bit of my career juggling. When I had my children, that was multitasking on a grand scale! So, it was always about being organized and keeping a routine. I find the energy for it all because I enjoy my work, and I see how it can make a difference to all sorts of different people. Also, I quite like to see young graduates come in. After a year, they’re running projects, they’re confident, and they know what they’re about. Seeing people grow is really rewarding.

MGAC: Absolutely! On the flip side, what’s your secret to winding down after a busy day?

DR: I drive to work, so my winding down period starts in the car on the way home. I’ll put on the radio, and I’ll just listen to music for that half-hour to 45-minute drive. I missed that during the peak of COVID-19 when we weren’t going into the office, and I’d finish work by walking out of whatever room I was working in to start cooking dinner and doing family things without any downtime.

MGAC: What sets your morning off on the right foot?

DR: I always walk my black Labrador, Ciara (pronounced Keera). She was born in Ireland, so her name is Irish for “little dark one.” She’s ever so cute and not even two yet, so she’s still a puppy. I’m up at the crack of dawn, and the first thing I do after having a cup of tea is take her for a walk.

MGAC: We like to spotlight book recommendations on the blog. Do you have a book that’s made an impact on your life?

DR: I do! A mentor recommended one to me during the pandemic. It’s called No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi, and it’s based on a true story. It’s not the sort of book I would generally pick up, but I loved it. It’s basically about the human spirit and taking ownership of your life, even when faced with adversity. I found it really thought-provoking.

MGAC: Sounds like it! What about a favorite quote?

DR: My favorite quote is something my dad instilled in me. When I became an Associate, I was navigating a new managerial role, and my dad was really ill. Some of his parting words to me were about being a leader. He said, “Never give somebody a task or ask them to do something that you aren’t prepared to do yourself.” He told me that was how you’d earn the respect of your team, and that’s been my mantra in the office ever since. When the going gets tough, I always try and get in the trenches with my team!

MGAC: It’s wonderful that you’ve carried that with you. When you reflect on your career, what do you hope your lasting impact will be?

DR: I hope the team always knows I had their best interests at heart. That I was always there to support them and showed empathy. We build great buildings and do great work, but I hope my lasting impact will be my team knowing I always had their back.

MGAC: That’s a great answer. Now, are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?

DR: Yes!

MGAC: You’re starting your workday. What’s the first thing you do?

DR: Have a cup of tea in the office.

MGAC: And the last thing?

DR: Check my diary for the next day so I know where I need to be when!

MGAC: If we looked at your to-do list right now, what would we find at the top?

DR: I’ve got two submission documents going in tomorrow, so that’s top of the list!

MGAC: What is the weirdest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?

DR: I have letters from my daughter from when she was five (now she’s 22)! She used to write me letters when I was traveling a lot for work. One letter says she missed me while I was away and the other apologises for being naughty!

MGAC: What’s your go-to weekday lunch?

DR: Scottish people, we survive on homemade soup because it’s so cold. So, I usually have homemade soup because we make it by the bucketload!

MGAC: What’s the most-used app on your phone?

DR: Outlook. I know it’s boring!

MGAC: How would you describe your job in five words or less?

DR: Interesting. Challenging. Diverse. Rewarding.

MGAC: What’s your dream project?

DR: I’ve been fortunate to have worked on so many great projects, so I’ll say, anything that’s going to really benefit our community and make a massive difference!

MGAC: What are you known for in the office?

DR: Probably being a perfectionist. You can’t actually achieve perfection, but in striving for perfection, you will achieve excellence!

MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

DR: Some of my newer colleagues might not know that I used to be a ski instructor! I did that for about seven or eight years. I haven’t skied for a while, but I’m a silent ski assassin!

MGAC: Where might we find you when you’re not at work?

DR: Out walking the dog. I’m fortunate that I live in the middle of the countryside, so I could be in the fields behind my house or perhaps walking through the village.

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