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Viewpoint: Size isn’t everything, it’s quality that counts

With the acquisitions of Babtie, Scott Wilson, Faber Maunsell, Gifford, Whitby Bird and now Halcrow by larger foreign firms, the trend towards consolidation has been impossible to ignore for quite some time.

Consolidation is not inevitable

But it’s far from inevitable that the remaining independent, British-based consultants such as Mott MacDonald will follow suit.

There is no doubt that greater scale would benefit some, but by no means all, areas of Mott MacDonald’s technically and geographically diverse business. Our strategy takes that into account − we know where we need to grow and how we need to do it.

Mott MacDonald is well equipped to achieve its aims. The company has no net external debt and has been cash positive for many years. We are very risk aware but not risk averse − after all it’s our money we’re using.

And our leadership team is very experienced. When it comes to managing a business through recession, we’ve all been there and got the T-shirt.

Although the UK market has contracted, we’ve more than compensated by expanding our international business which now accounts for almost 70% of our revenue. We’re still growing, albeit more slowly than we were before 2010.

“We’re unshakably committed to our model of employee-ownership”

Many of the international markets where we’re strongest are in very good shape, including India, Australasia, large parts of the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Our businesses in the US and Canada also show strong, profitable growth. Highly profitable oil and gas upstream and downstream work continues to grow and is now over 10% of our overall business.

Even in the beleaguered UK, we’re doing well in the regulated power and water sectors.

In short, although we’re slightly less profitable than our 2009 peak, we’re in good shape financially. And we’re unshakably committed to our model of employee-ownership − which means we have no external shareholders to worry about.

Mott MacDonald will be a player in the consolidation game for sure. But it’ll be on our terms. Our ethos and culture are very important to us.

There are like-minded internally-owned firms out there and we continue to pursue conversations that could lead to mergers/acquisitions such as those we’ve successfully undertaken in the past with Ewbank Preece and Franklin & Andrews in the UK, Killam in the US, and latterly Hughes Trueman and Mortimer in Australia.

For us scale isn’t the whole story − it’s delivering excellent value and service for our customers that’s our driving passion and the foundation of all our plans.

  • Keith Howells is Mott MacDonald Group chairman

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