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DOUBLE TAKE

CONSULTANTS

The merger of Mouchel and Parkman has created one of the country's top 10 geotechnical consultancies. Ground Engineering finds out how the two teams are integrating.

When Mouchel and Parkman merged last summer their geotechnical departments were, on the face of it, very different. There was some head-scratching over how best to make use of the 80-strong combined team.

'By early September, we had started looking at the differences in how the geotechnical teams operate - and there were some important distinctions, ' says geotechnical director Jonathan Gammon (pictured below right with co-director Julian Maund).

Parkman worked mostly for external clients, particularly regional development agencies, whereas Mouchel's geotechnical group was essentially an internal support service for the company's client-facing divisions, such as highways and rail.

There was another important difference, as Gammon readily concedes: 'At Mouchel we were very risk averse, particularly when it came to contaminated land.'

By contrast, Parkman had a strong geoenvironmental team and bringing the two together has already created new work opportunities.

Maund, who headed Parkman's geotechnical team, explains: 'The two companies complement each other well, which has increased the breadth of services available, so that we can provide a greater service to clients than previously offered.'

In fact, little more than six months into the merger and the growing collective workload is greater than the sum of the parts.

Gammon says: 'Parkman's considerable contaminated land experience means the whole group is no longer risk-averse when it comes to contaminated land.'

This, Maund believes, is one of the reasons the merger is already working well for the geotechnical division. 'Mouchel-of-old previously passed this work on to subconsultants, but now the group has the experience in house.'

Perhaps of longer-term significance, particularly for former Mouchel engineers, is the fact that the combined geotechnical group is now a business centre in its own right.

As an in-house support service, Mouchel's geotechnical department was essentially a back-room operation and did not actively pursue work. Post-merger that has all changed and the process is creating something of a buzz.

Gammon says: 'We are very excited by the new-found business development and marketing focus that stems from the external client dimension.'

Even so, the internal support service will remain important and if the merged group's growth goes according to forecast - from 4000 staff in 2004 to 7000 staff in 2007 - demand will increase significantly.

This will be reinforced if Parkman's policy of insisting that any project with a geotechnical dimension has input from the geotechnical team is adopted among the enlarged group.

Of the 80 geotechnical staff (a relatively modest 2% of the organisation), Mouchel brought in about 50 engineers and Parkman 30.

According to GE's 2003 geotechnical services file, that makes Mouchel Parkman the seventh largest geotechnical consultant in the UK. Only Arup, Mott MacDonald, Atkins, Babtie, Halcrow and Scott Wilson, employ more. In terms of geotechnical staff Mouchel Parkman is very much at the top of the next batch of companies, which includes the likes of Hyder, Enviros and WSP.

Geotechnical staff are concentrated in Mouchel's former office in West Byfleet, Surrey and Parkman's offices in Sutton Coldfield, Elsmere Port, Bristol and London.

Collectively they operate as the largest component of the 160-strong environmental team, which also covers risk assessment, contaminated land remediation and environmental impact assessment.

This month sees the adoption of a common accounting system throughout Mouchel Parkman and full financial integration should be in place by the summer.

Maund believes this will help break down the barriers to full integration of the environmental team and allow easier movement of staff across the old company boundaries, although he says this is already happening to some extent.

While Mouchel Parkman has a focus on public sector clients (see below), Maund is keen to emphasise that the geotechnical department is keen to develop other client groups, from large organisations such as British GasSecond Sight (British Gas) to housebuilders.

The company is working more with main contractors under design and build contracts.

Gammon says this is no bad thing, since 'contractors increasingly drive new techniques and solutions'

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