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US giant URS takes over Thorburn Colquhoun

AMERICAN CONSULTANT URS plans to double the size of Thorburn Colquhoun's British-based business after buying the firm this week.

URS plans to use its financial muscle to help Thorburn expand its transportation business, extend its geographical presence and compete for bigger projects.

'We are looking to get bigger and to move up the scale in terms of project size,' said Thorburn Colquhoun chief executive Ian Wotherspoon.

The American firm bought Thorburn Colquhoun after a year-long search for a British acquisition (NCE 22 January 1998).

Thorburn Colquhoun employs 460 staff, of which 370 are technical. Last year the firm's turnover was £22.9M. Most of the consultant's income comes from structural engineering and roads maintenance work, although its workload also covers rail, water and sewerage, facilities management, process plant and environmental projects.

URS employs 7,000 staff and last year produced a turnover of $805.9M (£505.6M) from projects in the US and around the world.

URS is multi-disciplinary, and has a strong bridge and tunnel capability. It is expected that some of these skills will feed into Thorburn Colquhoun as it attempts to build up its civils business.

Wotherspoon said he accepted the URS offer because it would enable his business to expand. As a medium sized consultant he felt it was necessary for the firm to grow to survive. 'Generic growth would have taken too long and we would not have been able to make acquisitions,' he said.

He added that URS has the financial resources to fund future acquisitions. This would help Thorburn achieve its aim of raising staff numbers to between 800 and 1,000.

Wotherspoon said that URS was attracted to Thorburn Colquhoun because its ownership structure was relatively simple. 'We are not a partnership, we are a company with a shareholder base that can be easily identified,' he said. Thorburn Colquhoun's relatively young management was also an attraction.

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