Derek Pollock and Douglas Kennedy
Halcrow's new chairman and chief executive.
Halcrow may have just revamped its corporate image and logo but its new management, which officially takes over control of this historic firm on 1 May, intends to build on traditional values.
That said, new chairman Derek Pollock and chief executive Douglas Kennedy also intend to boost the firm's modernising trend. Recently this has included doubling investment in information technology and tripling investment in staff training.
'We want to be the leading infrastructure provider worldwide,' declares Pollock. 'We are not saying the biggest but certainly the best.'
Previous chief executive Pollock takes over from retiring chairman David Lloyd. Pollock does not see any benefit in taking the firm away from its core engineering solution roots. He maintains that retaining its independent status allows Halcrow the freedom to choose what it gets into more carefully.
'Because we are independent we are not driven by short-term interests,' he says, referring to his desire not to follow the lead of other consultants into public listing and diversification. He is, however, always on the lookout for firms to acquire provided 'they offer the quality and breadth of service'.
Although Halcrow has a very strong foothold in the home market - its stake in the Channel Tunnel Rail Link puts it at the heart of the biggest job in the UK - 65% of its fees last year came from overseas work. Much of this workload has come after years of patient waiting, working with banks and governments to identify schemes and ways to finance them.
'We continue to develop ideas with a large number of clients and like long-term relationships,' says Pollock. 'We intend to be more selective about what we get involved with.'
Between them Pollock and Kennedy have 61 years with Halcrow. The firm's five-man board now boasts more than 90 Halcrow years. So while they are increasingly taking on staff with specialist skills, neither foresees the day when business school graduates will replace civil engineers.
'Three years ago we changed the way we recruit,' explains Kennedy. 'Quality of our graduates is higher than ten years ago. Graduates will have to be more broadly based as careers will be more broadly based.'
But he is less convinced about whether the recent education and training reforms by the Engineering Council will serve to improve university output and the standard of engineers.
'Graduates need to be higher quality people but I question whether the current mechanism is the right approach to achieve this.'
Ensuring that Halcrow's workforce, which stands at about 3,200 in 70 countries, is up to the quality demanded by clients is the ultimate goal. As the firm's only asset, having the best staff is also accepted as the surest way to boost income. Halcrow's income has grown by about 30% in the last two years with turnover at £132M. While the board's goal is to keep growing, it is also keen increase profits above last year's figure of just over £4M.
'It is a fact that we are working in an industry that does not deliver high enough margins,' says Pollock. But he adds: 'As an independent firm it is important to be able to show that we are delivering better quality.'