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Goring for growth

Recent reports have suggested the worst of the recession may be passing. Capita Symonds’ boss Jonathan Goring gives NCE his perspective on how to capitalise.

Despite the ups and downs of the current economic downturn, Capita Symonds managing director Jonathan Goring says now is a moment of opportunity.

Business performance right now has to be seen in relation to the competition rather than merely in relation to where you were last year, he says.

On this basis he reckons the firm, which last year turned over £245M, is in an extremely fortunate position and is well placed to meet the demands of business in a recession.

“It will mean a sharpening up by all of us including me and a realisation that we just have to be better at our jobs − work harder and think smarter,” he says. “It’s about riding the storm and coming out on top. You don’t get anywhere by being a pessimist − I think that we will come out ahead.”

Desire to grow

Bringing former Highways Agency chief executive Archie Robertson on board as a nonexecutive director underlines Goring’s desire to grow his business, especially in the markets that will shine (see ‘Archie Robertson joins Capita Symonds’).

Robertson’s presence plus the recent acquisition of smart transport business MMB Consulting will build on Capita’s existing market leading expertise in congestion charging and highways management. It will also give the firm a major route into the growing global market for intelligent transport management solutions.

“MMB continues to be snowed under with work,” says Goring. “We have got very useful crossovers as we already have a technology business and this gives us the opportunity to supplement MMB’s staff − they just can’t get enough good people right now.”

Strategic purchases

Such careful strategic purchases to boost skills in key growth markets is central to Goring’s strategy.

Last year Capita Symonds made three successful acquisitions in the prison and building services sectors and Goring expects to add another couple this year.

“The market is mixed but there are opportunities to shine − if you have anything left in the tank then you should invest it in the areas where you see growth.”

Goring, of course, is not known for being downbeat. And despite having just spent several months and a substantial amount of money on a failed bid to be Crossrail’s delivery partner, he remains confident that the investment was well spent.

“We went into Crossrail with our eyes open. We knew we would get to the other side either having won or having positioned ourselves really well for other commissions.”

Jonathan Goring

“We went into Crossrail with our eyes open knowing that the competition was really strong,” he explains. “We knew that we would get to the other side of the bidding process either having won or having positioned ourselves really well for some of the design and other commissions that are downstream.”

It is a similar strategy to that adopted for the London 2012 project. Having failed to win the programme partner role, Goring has seen the firm win hundreds of millions of pounds worth of consultancy on the back of the relationships built up during the bid process.

And already Capita Symonds has started to leverage its efforts on Crossrail having last week picked up the multi-million design contract for the Western Portal.

“It is a cracking project and if you look at what it means in terms of investments and the benefits downstream it is one of those things that had to happen,” says Goring.

A prospering business

With such major projects underway and the prospect of increased public spending on other infrastructure, Capita Symonds’ heavy engineering business is prospering.

Robertson’s appointment is, he says, key to continuing this careful growth strategy. In particular he is keen to build on the Crossrail bidding experience and extend further into the programme management market. Capita’s financial strength makes this easier, he adds, although Goring is aware that it is a tough and competitive market.

“The market is mixed but there are opportunities to shine − if you have anything left in the tank then you should invest it in the areas where you see growth.”

Jonathan Goring

“We will be following our clients − we will go for stuff that we know and understand.”

This policy of building and maintaining long term relationships is at the heart of Capita Symonds’ philosophy.

Goring says it is key to the continued success of the firm’s local authority business.

Despite fears of a potential public sector slowdown, this revenue is holding up well and he anticipates that it will continue to be a growth area for the sector.

The ebb and flow of business

Of course the economic downturn has impacted on the business, particularly in the commercial building and planning sectors. Across the business Goring said that he had to lose perhaps 250 out of 4,000 staff.

But he points out that in reality it was little more than the “ebb and flow of a normal business” as some parts of the company grow and others contract. Going forward he expects this to pattern to continue.

“In terms of staff we will probably be neutral but I think that our civils business will grow and part of our local government partnership business will definitely grow,” says Goring. “We expect to be more profitable next year.”

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