"There are opportunities here that you’re unlikely to find working for a specialist firm."
Duncan Gibb, Director & Head of Asbestos Consultancy has been a part of our business for more than 20 years and has seen Tetra Tech evolve entirely over this time.
Specialising in asbestos, he discusses how he handles his busy role as a Director, his love of working on historical buildings, and how he sees his asbestos consultancy expanding well past the UK in the future.
After completing a degree in Environmental Science, I began work as an Environmental Analyst for a smaller consultancy which specialised in asbestos, before making the move in 2002 to what was originally White Young Green Environmental (this later became WYG and then Tetra Tech).
Initially, I joined as an engineer and my work was mostly site-based, before getting my surveyor qualifications and moving up the ranks to my current position as Director. I’ve been able to grow as the business has changed, and over the course of 20 years, I’ve seen it change so much. From the incorporation of the Environmental function into the wider business, to our eventual merger with Tetra Tech, everything has meant we’ve become so much more aligned as a company.
At my previous consultancy, I also worked alongside Nathan Holloway (now Managing Director of Asset Management at Tetra Tech) and Dan O’Connell (another Director in our asbestos team) and since joining this business we’ve grown the asbestos team together. I’m incredibly proud of how the team has grown – when I joined it was a team of six, and we’re now at 36.
My days are pretty hectic, filled with regular meetings with our senior team of five, overseeing our bids and tenders, providing consultancy support around technical delivery and advising on and allaying any client concerns.
While I keep hands on with clients I have longstanding relationships with, through supporting problem solving and drafting technical contracts, my role as a Director means that I don’t have as much time to do survey work like I used to. However, I try and get out with the junior staff whenever I can to do an asbestos survey with them. Not only do I want to make sure I get to know my team directly, but they can benefit from my experience and I can benefit from their fresh perspectives coming into the industry too.
I did a degree where I was working a lot outdoors and knew that I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all the time as a career. This job means you don’t have to be – you get to go out on sites, visit places and see inside interesting buildings that most people would never get the opportunity to. As a lot of our work tends to be on heritage builds, there’s a lot of history to discover and often, they’ll be included in films and television programmes that I’ll then recognise.
Dartmoor Prison was a very interesting project, that I really wasn’t expecting to be as fascinating as it was. It dates back to the early 1800s and you got to see all the history of it and parts which aren’t seen by very few prison staff.
Working on the Olympic Park remediation was another career highlight too because of the magnitude of the project and the legacy it has left on London.
Certainly they’ve helped with qualifications. I’ve been supported and encouraged by Tetra Tech to do more or less every technical certification available to me such as my chartership and MFAAM, as well as learnt a lot of softer managerial skills to help lead my team in the best way.
Most of all though, I’ve been able to develop with the company as it has grown and there’s always been something new to learn. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been in the same company for two decades as its evolved so much, but it’s still had the consistent values and culture which I’ve always valued.
I’ve travelled with work too, getting experience of working outside the UK and visiting amazing destinations. Now we’re part of Tetra Tech’s global group, opportunities for this are only likely to increase, and I get to work with new colleagues in America and Australia and learn from their expertise too.
There are opportunities here that you’re unlikely to find working for a specialist firm. We want multiskilled, well rounded consultants who have knowledge and understanding of things outside of their niche and it’s impossible not to soak up knowledge when you get exposure to so many different types of projects and professionals. We also pride ourselves on only bidding for interesting work – quality over quantity – so our people have opportunity to work on exciting, challenging projects rather than the commonplace.
We’re also a really close-knit team and prioritise doing away days and socialising as a team to maintain this. As our people are out on their own doing surveys for a lot of the day, it’s important that we all still feel connected and trust each other.
Asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999, so all our work now is legacy building work – the biggest question I need to ask as an asbestos specialist is how our industry maintains buoyancy as the pipeline slows down.
Personally, this doesn’t scare me at all – I see it as an exciting challenge. While there may be less individual projects, they’ll be more complex to solve. We also can’t limit ourselves by looking solely at the UK. Asbestos may have been banned here but it’s still being used in countries across the world, who will need our expertise to help manage this legacy risk. Working for an international firm already means we’ll be able to support this really well and so I look forward to what the future has to bring.