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Profile - Getting down to business

A year ago, two of the UK's bestknown consultancies merged. Antony Oliver talks to Mouchel Parkman chief executive Richard Cuthbert.

At the end of August a birthday cake was delivered to every Mouchel Parkman office with a single candle on it. Washing their cake down with champagne, staff were encouraged to celebrate the end of 'Project One', the programme to merge the two businesses.

'The integration process has gone well, ' says chief executive Richard Cuthbert. 'Across the business I'm pleased to say that 95% of staff now consider themselves as working for Mouchel Parkman.'

To get to this point has taken some effort and quite a bit of cash. The whole merger project cost £4.7M - a sum which Cuthbert admits is 'a lot of money to spend' - with most of it, to Cuthbert's obvious dismay, going on lawyers and accountants.

He would clearly rather have spent the money on more visible, more staff-focused things but is resigned to having to jump through certain legal and financial hoops along the way.

There is an up-side to this spend, of course. Creating single systems - the firm's back office system, for example, is now centralised in Liverpool and should deliver savings of £2M a year.

'Project One was a change programme. We ran it as a project so that it was recognisable but it was simply a management project, ' he explains. 'In April we switched on the new accounts system but other issues such as establishing company values take longer.'

To tackle these softer issues, Mouchel Parkman has invested time and effort in staff meetings and workshops including bringing 200 staff together to talk about their own expectations, as well as those of clients, shareholders and partners.

But that was last year. 'What we have said is that after a year no one will hear about Project One again, ' he insists. 'The programme is finished. We now have a business to run.'

And as a public listed company, his satisfaction is not the only measure, of course. Cuthbert is very aware of the need to meet the City's expectations.

'The City analysts already want to see us upgrade our forecasts for the business, ' explains Cuthbert, with something of a resigned smile. 'They seem to think that generating £2M savings from the merger is a soft target, ' he adds.

And having completed this tricky but vital business integration process, Cuthbert is more than happy to tackle the relentless pressure for growth and to lead the firm to deliver lower costs and bigger returns.

The company is aiming high.

Cuthbert wants to take the firm into the FTSE 350 by doubling turnover of £222M last year to more than £500M by 2007. All this will mean raising staff numbers from 4,200 right now to somewhere between 7,500 and 8,000.

Cuthbert is clear that, in a market increasingly polarised between large and small companies, Mouchel Parkman will be among the big. Being big, he believes, will help put him on a more level playing field in joint ventures with contractors or other consultants, as is increasingly demanded by clients.

And though he admits 'the jury's still out' on private finance investment, Cuthbert is happy that scale would allow Mouchel Parkman to take a bigger stake in any opportunities.

Cuthbert's background is many years with Atkins and the comparisons come easily. 'We want to be number one in water, number one in local government, and maybe number one in rail.

Clearly Atkins is going to be one of our major competitors. But we don't want to be Atkins, ' he insists.

'We don't want to be like anyone else - we want to be us. I think staff understand and appreciate this.'

Although realistic about challenging Atkins' position in the highways market, Cuthbert takes heart from the Highways Agency's recent move towards emphasising quality rather than just price.

He is confident that Mouchel Parkman's clearly stated aims combined with good management will help the firm swell its ranks with talented engineers.

'I think that people genuinely want to work somewhere that is profitable and growing, ' he says. 'And we have to manage the whole business well so that people will want to work for us.'

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