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The best businesses are not necessarily those that make the biggest profits

Mark Hansford

Civil engineering consultancy is now truly a global business. If you doubt this - well just look at this year’s Consultants File. The 227 firms listed this year generated a total of £21.5bn in consultancy fees around the world last year.

And when I say around the world, I mean around the world - from Singapore to Saudi; from Canada to Qatar; from Azerbaijan to Zaire.

Last Friday we recognised some of the outstanding individuals, teams and firms behind those numbers in the NCE/ACE Consultants of the Year Awards.

These were business awards, but the best businesses are not necessarily those that make the biggest profits. We were seeking to reward those who are building sustainable businesses; businesses that are built on great people; and businesses that recognise the role of the engineer in society.

The best businesses are not necessarily those that make the biggest profits

We all know the issues. We’ve a global population that is growing fast - from 7bn today to 9bn by 2050. And in 2050, 75% of these people will be living in towns and cities that often lack even the most basic of infrastructure.

For us, good businesses are those that are shaping themselves to help shape a better, more sustainable future. No-one typifies that more than Global Consultant of the Year Mott MacDonald.

Mott MacDonald’s global portfolio currently includes the impressive Mumbai IV water supply and sewerage project. There, the company is part of the team adding 30% extra water supply capacity to India’s largest city, and providing mains sewerage and wastewater treatment for the 75% of the population - 9.2M people - who are not currently connected.

It’s just one scheme in a truly global portfolio of projects: last year more two thirds of its 2013 revenue was generated outside the UK. Its 16,000 workforce is working out of 180 offices in 140 countries. Now that’s what I mean by a good consultancy business - global, sustainable and shaping a better future for us all.

And Mott MacDonald was not the only winner taking a future view. Others impressed with their commitment to skills development.

Our Consultant of the Year with less than 250 employees, BCS Design, impressed the judges with its focus on graduate recruitment and training - no easy commitment for a small firm. And Atkins - named UK Major Consultant of the Year - impressed with its attitude to employing young people and encouraging schoolchildren to join the industry.

In 2013, it took on 400 graduates and apprentices, and it now has more than 200 active STEM ambassadors who regularly go into schools, colleges and youth groups.

All our other winners had similarly inspiring stories to tell. There are big issues ahead, but there are strong signs that we have the makings of an industry to tackle them.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s interim editor

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