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Atkins reshuffles to diversify

REORGANISATION OF Britain's biggest consultant, WS Atkins, will lead to a major overseas push and further diversification of its UK business, according to new deputy chief executive David James.

The revamp was announced last week and takes effect from 1 April. It will see Atkins' 8,000-plus staff in the existing two sector structure broken into three UK divisions and a separate international section.

The existing Engineering & Management division will divide into Transport, headed up by James, plus a separate Management & Industry group led by Richard Jarvis.

Property, with about 1,000 employees, remains as it is, continuing a growth strategy under chief executive Michael Jeffries' chairmanship.

James will also have special responsibility for the International division. He said he intended to grow this business rapidly through acquisition.

'We intend to push the international turnover from about £65M to around £250M in three years,' he said. Atkins is cash rich at present with £98M to spend. Following the collapse of its bid to merge with international fee contractor Bovis (NCE 7 January) these acquisitions are likely to be in the form of a series of medium size firms, rather than one large merger. 'There is more than one way to skin a cat,' said James.

In the UK, the new structure will allow diversification to continue. A re-organisation five years ago saw Atkins move firmly away from pure civil engineering and more into facilities management, management of local authorities, privatised hospitals and prisons, and even, more recently, payroll management.

Regional management in 75 offices across the UK will also be brought under the national structure. This is intended to provide major clients such as Railtrack, the Ministry of Defence and the Highways Agency with a national corporate service which is delivered locally, James told NCE.

But while he accepted that Atkins' growth was unlikely to mean more opportunities for civil engineers he insisted that there was no 'blood letting' around the corner.

The point, he said, was to 'shake things up a bit,' and particularly to give younger talent the chance to come through.

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