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Arup named NCE / ACE Major Consultant of the Year

It was tight at the top this year in the battle to be NCE/ACE Consultant of the Year. But a good year financially, with fees up 31%, a strong, all pervading, ethos and above all a stunning 12 months on the project front means the top accolade this time goes to the Arup Group

The billions of people watching the Beijing Olympics last summer enjoyed the sports but almost more important were the astonishing structures created for the events that helped make the Games the most remarkable ever. The stadium, the water cube, the CCTV building, even Terminal 3 at the city’s airport were all lauded and applauded. All were Arup designed and they helped transform Beijing’s landscape and reputation. In turn, the Beijing Games  reminded everyone of Arup’s vision, skill and willingness to push the boundaries of design.

As everyone struggles with the fallout from the banking crisis, being an internationally recognised brand can only be a good thing.  Arup is as affected as everyone else by recession and announced in January that it would have to lose 400 staff.  But it is determined not to be defeated by the black clouds of 2009. The buildings and property market may have created a wound but the business is now determined to remind the world, at a time when infrastructure is  top of the agenda, that it can create infrastructure solutions that will “shape a better world.”

Stonecutters Bridge in Hong Kong, with its 1,018m main span is one example; the spectacular new 38km Hong Kong-Zuhai-Macau bridge,  which the firm won in joint venture two weeks ago is another.  Roads, railways and airports are almost as big a part of the Arup business as buildings and the firm is expecting to grow all its civils sectors in the next two years. Leading clients in 2008 included Hong Kong’s  MTR, Dublin Airport Authority and Network Rail. The firm is a leading player on the 2012 Olympic site and is on the Crossrail framework list.

But as Arup chair of global infrastructure David Singleton admits, the UK is becoming increasingly competitive. It is infrastructure work around the world that will provide Arup’s engineers with new challenges in the months to come.  “We are very positive about the States, for instance, “ Singleton says.  “Our infrastructure business in the US is busier than it has ever been and if state funding follows the federal commitment (in the stimulus package) we’ll be extremely busy.”

The firm was pleased with its work in Beijing but over the last 12 months in the UK it is as proud of its commitment to sustainable construction, citing delivery of the first zero carbon home to reach the “code for sustainable homes” level 6 as a major achievement. The firm has also pursued its own internal low carbon agenda.

Arup chairman Terry Hill’s worry for the next 12 months is that “clients will be tempted to ignore the long term imperative to deliver sustainable solutions in order to get through the economic crisis as they may find themselves under pressure at a later stage to comply with regulations, particularly in relation to energy efficiency and reduction of carbon emissions,” he says.

But he believes the change in United States government will “act as a catalyst for renewed vigour in the world and new commitment to sustainable development”.

This explains why the firm sees environmental consultancy as a growth area for the next two years.

Key facts

Total staff 10,521

Turnover £725.6M

Fees £716M

Overseas turnover £382.4M

Fees transport £226.6M

Fees building £281.9M

Work in hand £687.6M

Work in hand UK £227.4M

Work in hand SE Asia £100.7M

Work in hand North America £94.1M

Greatest growth to 2011 UK civils design, environmental

Greatest growth to 2011 overseas civils design, airports

Finalist: Grontmij

This year marks Grontmij’s promotion to the premier league of UK consultants: just five years after being runner up in the Medium Consultant of the Year category, the company has achieved the same accolade in the Major Consultant category – something only a handful of firms have done. This has been achieved by a canny acquisition policy combined with organic growth, taking staff numbers in the UK to a total of 1,300.

That growth has seen Grontmij expand its traditional expertise areas of water and transportation, and also add to its capabilities – particularly through the acquisition of building services specialist Roger Preston.

The company has always been known for its open culture, which was further consolidated by a “process improvement process” in 2007, designed to get employees even more involved and to bring positive changes to existing processes. Other initiatives – including leadership excellence and management development modules – are targeted at helping people excel at every level.

As the company grows, so does its emphasis on sustainability – both in design and in its corporate and social practices. It has appointed a new director of sustainability and carbon management, who is overseeing carbon measurement throughout the business and who has signed Grontmij up to the Global Reporting Initiative for measuring corporate social responsibility.

With workload diversifying, Grontmij’s current projects list now includes a new low carbon student centre at Oxford Brookes University and a “shared space” initiative for Ashford, Kent, centred around “de-ringing” the town’s ring road. At the same time the firm has framework contracts on the Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow, and is lead designer for the consortium delivering the upgrade of the M80 in Glasgow.

Finalist: Mott MacDonald

Mott MacDonald’s continued growth is underpinned by a solid financial basis and a “family” ethic. The firm is employee-owned, and last year’s 22% growth in fees was accompanied by increased investment in staff development and training.

These initiatives appear to be paying off, with the firm’s people and projects winning over 100 awards in 2008, including being ranked eighth in the 2008 Sunday Times “Best Big Companies to Work For” listing. Furthermore, this is the third year running the company has grown by over 20%.

Mott MacDonald is not overly exposed in the property sector, which is hardest hit by the economic downturn, and is likely to weather the worst of the crisis in the UK with a wide range of long term framework contracts, including the Building Schools for the Future programme and flood prevention planning for the Environment Agency.

Unlike many of the UK’s top consultants, the company has not been on tenterhooks waiting to see if it has landed a share of the Crossrail action. Mott has been involved in the scheme for some time, designing the underground lines, acting as multidisciplinary consultant for the Central Tunnels and Stations East, and advising on systems and rolling stock.

Elsewhere in London, the company is lead consultant for the Victoria Station upgrade, a complex engineering project that demonstrates Mott MacDonald’s skills across a wide range of disciplines, including geotechnical skills, major projects experience and the ability to manage multiple and sensitive community and stakeholder

Over the next few years Mott MacDonald intends to develop its staff even further through new training and development schemes, and to continue growing in all its major markets.

The Major Firm Award is sponsored by Polypipe Civils, the UK’s largest manufacturer of plastic drainage, sewer, cable protection and water management products for the construction and civil engineering markets. As a UK based manufacturer the business has invested heavily in its operations to provide unrivalled expertise, technical knowledge and the widest range of products.