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Ken Dalton: Name dropping

This week, the name Faber Maunsell ceases to exist, as the global restructuring of consultancy giant Aecom gathers pace. European boss Ken Dalton explains the significance to Mark Hansford.

Large skips will appear outside Faber Maunsell offices around the UK today, as anything that bears the name is smashed, shredded or recycled and new notepaper, mugs and pens are brought in bearing one name only – that of parent company Aecom.   

It is more than just a name change. The move is part of a wider global restructuring that the firm hopes will bring a significant step-change in its operations and, fundamentally, keep it expanding during the global recession.    

The change will also provide much needed clarity to global clients who could be faced with up to 20 different business cards from Aecom’s multitude of trading companies and 43,000 employees.    

The firm will now work from a traditional matrix structure with the globe split into five regions – Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia & New Zealand and North America. Europe is split down into three subregions – UK and Ireland, other European Union countries and the former Soviet states. Every region works within the same eight sectors – transportation, water, environment, building engineering, energy & power, programme management, planning and design and government services.    

Each business line will have a boss, and will form a board, able to share expertise globally. “It means we are agile, and can share work and knowledge,” says Aecom Europe managing director Ken Dalton. “It allows us to bring excellence to the client and creates great excitement for the business.”    

What we do have is the ability to draw on skills from around the world, and from that pool we have got some very high quality people

Ken Dalton, Aecom

He cites examples such as cable stayed bridges and tall buildings, where the company’s expertise is based in Hong Kong and China; and sustainability and building engineering, where the centre of excellence is in Europe. In all cases, the new structure means expertise can be easily transferred.    

“By doing this we get another dimension to our growth by increasing cross-selling,” says Dalton. “Wherever we operate we can offer clients a one-stop shop.”    

Indeed, through a PPP investment venture with French bank Crédit Agricole, and the many Aecom companies, the firm can now offer project finance, planning, design, facilities management and project management – pretty much every step in the construction process except the construction itself. “We are definitely not a contractor!” jokes Dalton.    

But the company is definitely everything else, in a big way, everywhere in world. Recently ranked number one in the world in pure design, transport, general buildings and water environment by US-based engineering magazine ENR, Aecom is a truly global player – and this global mentality will steer it through the recession, says Dalton.    

“The global economy is obviously struggling, but in the circumstance, being part of a global firm has helped enormously. We have been able to move people [around the world] and that movement will help them grow in their jobs,” he says.    

The firm, like most, has had to make some redundancies, but this global movement has limited the casualties. “We have regrettably made around 120 redundant in the UK and worldwide we have had to make more, but we have been able to move 60 people around the globe, which has been really helpful. “Fundamentally, globally we are still recruiting in parts of the business. Transport is booming, water and environment is holding up, as are schools and hospitals.”    

Dalton also insisted the firm will not turn its back on graduate recruitment as the recession bites. “We usually take on around 230 graduates in the UK each year, we most probably will not take on that many this year, but it will still be in excess of 100. In the last recession, people didn’t recruit graduates and there was a skills shortage down the line as a result,” he says.    

And a shortage of skills is something Aecom can ill-afford, with some high profile project wins putting it in the spotlight. This includes its involvement in the Transcend consortium which recently won the programme partner contract for London’s £15.9bn Crossrail project. Criticism has been levelled at the Transcend consortium for its American dominance, but this is something Dalton dismisses.    

“Transcend is 40% Aecom, 40% CH2M Hill and 20% Nichols Group, with Turner & Townsend, Unipart and First Class Partnerships as our sub-partners.    

That group employs 6,000- plus people in the UK and the majority of people in Crossrail offices are UK folks. But what we do have is the ability to draw on skills from around the world, and from that pool we have got some very high quality people.” In particular, Aecom’s programme management work on New York’s Second Avenue Subway and work on designing the new £1.35bn permanent Port Authority Trans-Hudson terminal at the World Trade Center site demonstrate the firm’s credentials for the job.    

Big wins like Crossrail would lift the mood in any firm, so it is perhaps unsurprising that Dalton is cautiously upbeat about the future.    

“There are little things happening out there that make me believe that things are no longer getting worse, and may be stabilising,” he says. Fingers crossed that he is right.   

HISTORY OF AECOM

In 1990 Aecom was formed after management buyout (MBO) of Ashland Oil with three main businesses – architectural practice DMJM, marine and transportation consultant Frederick Harris and water specialist CTE. The companies had 3,000 staff.    

  • 1996 Debt for MBO paid off, allowing Aecom to start acquisitions and global expansion – a provision of the loan for the MBO. Since then each year Aecom has grown by at least 20% Annually
  • 2000 Maunsell becomes first international acquisition, with 3,000 staff worldwide, 600 in the UK and 2,000 in Hong Kong
  • 2001 Oscar Faber acquired and merged with Maunsell to trade as Faber Maunsell
  • 2004 First restructuring exercise sees 30 trading companies reduced to 12 and Aecom adopted as “family name”. Faber Maunsell changes its name to Faber Maunsell Aecom
  • 2007 Aecom floated on New York Stock Exchange
  • October 2008 More acquisitions pushed the number of Aecom trading companies past 20. Global restructuring begins, with United States and Canada trading companies becoming Aecom
  • May 2009 Faber Maunsell is first European trading company to rebrand as Aecom
  • October 2009 European roll out completed, with Edaw, ENSR, ERA and EarthTech all changing their names to Aecom

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