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Consultants File Awards 2010: Medium Firm Award

Winner of the medium sized consultant category is JBA Consulting, which has proved itself to be a canny operator both in boom times and in the recession. The firm is also using the downturn as an opportunity to grow.

Winner: JBA Consulting

It is third time lucky for flood risk and environmental specialist JBA Consulting. After being shortlisted for Medium Sized Consultant of the Year on two previous occasions the company has this year bagged the top prize.

JBA has shown a remarkable stability in good times and bad, growing steadily in the UK and internationally. The company now ranks in the top five flood management consultancies in the UK, despite being much smaller than its main competitors. It is also picking up prestigious commissions around the world.

JBA has also taken a very canny approach to the recession, using reserves built up in the boom years to fund expansion into two new offices.

Chief executive Jeremy Benn says the company has taken advantage of the depressed job and office rental market to get best value for money, and the new bases in West Sussex and South Wales give the firm complete coverage of the UK and Ireland. They have also enabled JBA to temporarily relocate staff, rather than make redundancies.

JBA has shown remarkable stability in good times and bad, growing steadily.

Benn says the expansion has been very successful. “We have managed to fill all the required positions from a large pool of good quality applicants and secured office rents on highly favourable terms.

“We are well-placed to exploit the recovery − particularly in south east England where we believe growth will be earliest and strongest.”

Investment in the future is a priority for JBA, and the company has maintained the same level of graduate recruitment for the last three years, despite the recession. It has also increased internal R&D spending by 50%. At the same time, turnover and profit are up on last year.

Benn describes the current market as “challenging”, with “unusually high levels of uncertainty, risk and complexity”.
Among the challenges is increased credit and litigation risk, which JBA is tackling by strengthening internal controls and paying particular attention to contract conditions.

“The current market is challenging, with unusually high levels of uncertainty, risk and complexity.”

Jeremy Benn, JBA

Unusually for a firm of its size JBA has appointed an in-house legal advisor to ensure it protects its intellectual property rights and does not fall foul of the trend towards non-standard contract conditions.

Benn is adamant that “opportunities remain for innovation and to increase market share”. He says the firm is exploiting its intellectual property, the competitive exchange rate and the UK’s lead in flood management to win new work in the euro zone, as demonstrated by the recent completion of a set of flood hazard maps for the whole of mainland France.

It also plans to grow in facilities and asset management and expand the environmental consultancy side of the business, which currently accounts for less than 6% of income.

Signs for the immediate future are healthy. JBA went into 2010 with £5.8M of forward orders, and in the last year it landed its first water company framework, providing specialist modelling services to Yorkshire Water. The two new offices are already trading above expectations and the firm has even managed to reduce its carbon footprint.

Key facts

Staff 239
Fees £12.9M
Fees UK public sector £7.2M
Fees flooding and coastal engineering £12.2M
Work in hand £4.12M
Top three projects France flood map; Irish planning system; flood risk management and flood warnings for infrastructure (UK)

Finalist: Roughton

The E Wing refurb at Wandsworth Prison

The E Wing refurb at Wandsworth Prison

If you’re looking for diversity then Roughton can certainly oblige. Recent project wins include the rehabilitation of Nigeria’s main line rail network, a highway upgrade in Kazakhstan, and the refurbishment of E Wing at Wandsworth Prison.

This diversity reflects a strategy to beat the recession by taking the business into new sectors − including rail − and new geographic regions, including central Asia. Although employing fewer than 200 staff, Roughton is punching above its weight in the UK and overseas.

The fee for the 3,000km Nigeria rail upgrade alone is over £2M for 18 months’ work, contributing to the consultant’s fee income of £9.25M in 2009.

The World Bank-funded South-West Roads project in Kazakhstan involves upgrading a major highway linking Europe and western China, and will net the company a further $7.8M (£5.2M) over four years.

Roughton has tackled the world wide recession by equipping itself with technical skills and market knowledge. This has included investment in in-house training.

Roughton is a multidisciplinary engineering consultancy that operates in all main civil and structural sectors but which specialises in transportation and project management. Last year 90% of its fee income came from jobs overseas, and the firm anticipates 20% growth in non-UK markets next year.

Although income from UK projects fell last year, the company expects to see 10% growth in the year ahead, with business picking up in the buildings sector, as well as in water supply and drainage.

Roughton has tackled the worldwide recession by equipping itself with technical and managerial skills and market knowledge. This has included investment in in-house training courses and workshops and improving contract financial reporting and control, as well as restructuring the senior management team.

So far the strategy seems to have paid off.

Key facts

Total staff 198
Fees £9.2M
Work overseas 90%
Predicted growth sectors Buildings, water supply and drainage, civils design, rail

Finalist: Strainstall

The Blackfriars station contract was hard-won

The Blackfriars station ground monitoring contract was hard-won

Despite the recession, 2009 was the most successful year in the 44 year history of structural monitoring and testing consultancy Strainstall. The firm puts this down to the diversity of the markets in which it operates, as well as a flexible approach that delivers bespoke solutions for individual clients.

One of the company’s highest profile projects in the past 12 months has been the ground movement monitoring at Blackfriars station redevelopment in London − a large scheme that Strainstall worked hard to win.

The Blackfriars win was part of a wider strategy to identify growth markets and has led to a focus on geotechnical and structural monitoring.

Although the technical aspects of the contract are routine, the challenge for Strainstall has been the scale of the project − the largest it has ever undertaken − and managing and planning the work with specialist subconsultants. The monitoring will run throughout 2010 and 2011.

The Blackfriars win was part of a wider strategy to identify growth markets, which has led to a focus on geotechnical ground movement monitoring and structural monitoring, Strainstall is also investing in R&D, including developing new measurement methods and forming alliances with industrial partners.

Overseas, Strainstall is active in most territories, and anticipates significant growth in both Western Europe and Brazil over the next two years. It has installed the structural monitoring system for the Central Market project in Abu Dhabi, both at ground level and on the key vertical structural members of the project’s three towers.

Key Facts

Total staff 227
Fees £6.2M
Work overseas 51%
Predicted growth areas (UK) Rail, power
Predicted growth areas (overseas) Foundations, buildings


The Medium Firm Award is sponsored by Griffiths and Armour

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