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Setting sights on growth

One of the UK's leading engineering consultancies has been reborn as an independent operation

Hyder Consulting is emerging from within Hyder plc, formerly Welsh Water, with a new hunger to compete in world markets. A management buyout restores independence to the infrastructure consultant after years spent under the wing of a large parent company.

Hyder Consulting has a ú120M ($177M) turnover and employs 2,500 people. The company's first action will be to move its head office back to Victoria in London, the traditional home of UK engineering consultants. There the link with the past ends, as Hyder Consulting is setting its sights on delivering the most totally client orientated, leading edge service ever offered by a UK consultancy.

The company will be wholly owned by its managers, who are confident enough in the prospects to stake their own money on its future. The five year goal is to create a ú200M turnover company which is the world's consultant of first choice, not just for engineering.

'We work in rapidly changing and demanding markets in which you have to be adaptable and responsive to client needs, ' says Hyder Consulting managing director Tim Wade. 'Design excellence is not enough; being prepared to invest to ensure the best solutions are available for your clients is paramount. The new focus is on finding out what your clients need and delivering value to them.'

Hyder Consulting remains a major force in the consultancy world, currently ranked 7th in the UK, and has offices in most of the major markets worldwide. The company has a history stretching back 150 years, incorporating Freeman Fox & Partners, John Taylor & Sons and Sir Bruce White, Wolfe Barry & Partners.

Nonetheless, today's managers know that traditional sources and ways of securing work cannot be relied on. The company was the single biggest supplier of design and supervision services to the Highways Agency in 1994, before fluctuations in the market and government spend caused demand to diminish until recently.

The water industry has seen similar fluctuations in spending power, with Welsh Water's regular 30% contribution to turnover reducing to around 5% in the current year. According to Wade, the relationship also hindered the company's ability to provide consultancy services to other water companies within the UK.

'Hyder Consulting is regarded as the leading water and wastewater consultancy and has held the top spot for the last five years, ' he says. 'Despite the fluctuations, the company has modified its target markets and maintained a healthy turnover.'

Wade says the company is implementing programmes that will develop and stretch expertise outside its traditional markets through extensive training, opening the way to accelerated growth and opportunity.

The plc status proved to be a double edged sword, holding back Consulting's growth but forming the foundations for the growth anticipated in the next few years.

The company was able to invest heavily in state of the art technology and can now boast a globally integrated IT infrastructure. Its consulting staff can work from just about anywhere in the world, reducing the cost of physically locating them close to a site.

'Increasing efficiencies such as these have enabled the cost base of the company to be reduced without reducing the quality of advice and expertise, ' says Wade. 'Even the policy of maintaining a presence in uncertain overseas markets such as Asia Pacific has proved beneficial in the long run.

While it drained the company of resources during the collapse of the 'tiger' economies, Hyder Consulting is now ideally placed for their anticipated recovery with the added benefit of an established brand.'

There is an even bigger change in the way the company secures its business. No longer does the company look for projects - it looks for clients.

'Client relationships are the key, ' Wade says. 'We have a lot of major projects under way but we cannot live off the big bridges any more. Clients want lump sum competitive quotes these days and we have to be able to give them these quotes quickly, so our internal systems have to be up to scratch. At the same time, we have to be able to produce a better design or idea.'

Hyder Consulting will be managed by the Executive Board, all of whose members are shareholders, as are the top 70 professionals and managers.

'As people come through the company they also will have the opportunity to take stakes, ' says Wade.

Any business venture is risky, but Hyder Consulting is robust in balance sheet terms. Wade concludes: 'As part of Hyder plc we were not growing and we were not making money. Now we are free to drive the business with no distractions. ' Mass defection of Hyder bridge team, see News

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