Occupation: Nicola is a Director at GVA, a commercial property management and consultancy, based in Manchester
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
Geography and History, I think consistently all the way through School. My first memory of the School was my older sister’s Open Day before she joined, when I vividly remember the then Geography rooms on the C Corridor with their sloped ceilings and maps. No surprise, really, that my favourite teachers were my A Level teachers in those subjects – Mrs Keenan and Mrs McLellan in Geography, and Mrs Head and Mr Davies in History. I even played Mrs Keenan in the Prefects’ Panto … (not my proudest moment, I might add).
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
I left School in 2000 and went to Newcastle University to study a BA in Geography. I left there in 2003 with 2:1 Honours and went on to study a 2-year Masters in Town Planning at the University of Manchester, which I did alongside undertaking work experience for a property company in the Planning, Development and Regeneration team. I achieved a First Class in that degree, and started full-time work as a Graduate immediately afterwards.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
I still work for the same firm that I worked for alongside my Masters degree, 11 years later. I’ve worked my way up from work experience to Graduate to Director in that time, working in the same team throughout, apart from an 18-month period in our London office.
I am a Chartered Town Planner, but, to answer a frequent question, I’ve never submitted a planning application. I specialise in spatial planning and economic development, primarily for developers and landowners. I advise on the development potential of sites, particularly around the economic benefits of alternative forms of development (eg jobs that could be generated), and secure funding for developers looking to bring sites forward. I also advise specifically on office and industrial sites, and am an expert witness at planning appeals and examination on these matters.
What/who influenced your career choice?
I can’t divorce my career choice (often referred to by my friends as 'professional colouring in') from my love of maps, and I can’t divorce that from my grandparents who did so much to fuel my passion for the outdoors (which always involved looking at an OS map!). It is no coincidence, therefore, that I enjoyed Geography so much. I also had two family members who were planners, which probably meant that I at least knew the profession existed, which must have helped when I was trying to work out what to do with my Geography degree at the end of my three years.
What/who has been your biggest inspiration?
My Mum. I imagine a lot of people would say that, but she taught me to work hard to achieve my goals, and her determination that my sister and I would be happy and educated and independent has always been something to look up to.
Professionally, my manager, Iain, has always inspired me throughout the 11 years I have worked with him; the effort he puts in, the attitude he instils in the team, but also how approachable and genuine he is. I have learnt more from him over the last 11 years than anyone else, and I’m very grateful for it.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
There are technical aspects to the work that I do, but I do not believe it is those alone which have made me successful, nor are they things that I necessarily search out in members of my team. I have no doubt that the more important skills are those which shape how you work – your attitude and commitment, how approachable you are, how involved you are in and how much you understand the business, and how you work with other people. Of course, you can also have none of those things and be a very successful specialist!!
The technical skills that have helped me along the way have been my understanding of quantitative data analysis, analysing and understanding places on a spatial basis, written output and presentation skills, and an ability to engage with a wide range of stakeholders – clients, residents, politicians etc. And, of course, my ability to colour within the lines!
What do you like most about your job?
The team I work in and the diversity of the projects that we work on. Both challenge me constantly, which I think I need to keep me interested and keep me learning. I am lucky to work with some fantastic people, in a young and growing team. And, in turn, we are lucky to work on some high profile and major projects – across a wide range of geographies. My role can take me anywhere across the country, with the challenge then being to get to know the client and location as quickly as possible and in as meaningful way as possible to ensure that we are giving the right advice.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
I have just been promoted to Director. This is a huge opportunity for me, but also a challenge. The economic climate remains difficult – the development industry was hit very hard by the recession (and, in fact, by the change of Government) and we are absolutely reliant on developers wanting to build buildings which, in turn, relies on banks lending money and people having access to finance, and a growing economy generally. The role of a Director goes beyond delivering project work, with much greater emphasis on developing more work opportunities, and being more involved in the financial management of the team and business. I find this side of the role very interesting, but balancing it with client expectations, and meeting targets within the economic climate will be a new (and big) challenge for me in my career.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
See my answer to the above question – my promotion to Director. I am extremely proud to have worked my way from Graduate to Director within the firm. Reaching this level is a huge achievement for me, but hopefully not the end of my career progression. It’s a huge acknowledgement of the hard work I’ve put in though, and for now at least I’m reflecting on that and enjoying it!
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
I have no doubt that I would not be where I am today without Bolton School (and I have witnesses to whom I have said that many times). I always articulate it that deep down I need to be challenged and motivated, and without the guidance of the School and the great staff there, I wouldn’t have even done basic things like get my homework in on time. The structure in which you learn and develop at the School, and, critically, the guidance around further study and career options are completely invaluable. And don’t discount the doors that open because of the School’s reputation – which is in no small part due to the hard work and achievement of the pupils and former pupils who study there.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
Get lots of work experience! I think I was lucky really to stumble across a firm whose culture works so well with me. I work for one of many property companies, which operate on a spectrum of their size, how corporate they are, who their key clients are, and areas in which they specialise. The only way to know which suits you best is to try them out. You also learn a lot in work experience that can’t be taught in School or university. Although I did work experience at my firm and never left so I may be a little biased …