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Aecom: Life after Davis Langdon

A string of high-profile staff departures have contributed to what has been a turbulent time for Aecom in recent years. But senior staff insist that the axing of the Davis Langdon brand, bought in 2010, is being offset by the knowledge and data that it continues to hold within the business.

Speaking to Construction News ahead of the scrapping of the historic brand next week, three of Aecom’s leaders insist the move will not affect its standing with clients, and that while some have departed, relationships have been formed with a new crop of global clients as a result of Aecom’s global strength.

“Davis Langdon contains, and it’s not disappearing, probably one of the world’s strongest databases. Understanding that great skillset was one of the reasons why I joined two years ago,” explains Aecom Global Building Engineering chief executive David Glover.

“Yes, there have been some high-profile exits of people but there is an engine room behind those people and [the departures are] making room for others to grow. It’s not stopping.”

Opportunities knock

Former Davis Langdon partner and now Aecom Building & Places vice-president Peter Flint insists that staff coming through have seized the opportunities created by the exits and says building the team for the next three to five years is now the priority.

“There is a need to recreate ourselves and to face what it is that clients need in future”

Peter Flint, Aecom

“When people leave an organisation it brings about some change, but we have had some amazing stepping-up,” Mr Flint says.

“[People leaving] gives others an opportunity. We came to a recession after 14 years of growth. There is a need to recreate ourselves and to face what it is that clients need in future.”

High-profile exits have occurred across sectors in recent years, from former DL global chief executive Jeremy Horner last year to leads in retail (Paul Zuccherelli) and offices (Iain Parker). Mr Flint is reluctant to give assurances that there will now be an end to the departures.

“I would hope that everyone is as excited as we are in the future,” he says. “We have a hugely exciting time in front of us and have gone through the organisational transition.

“We have had 18 Davis Langdon people [who had left] re-join over the last six months. Every organisation is experiencing a quiet upturn following five years of a fairly flat or stagnant situation. What we focus on is our opportunities and the quality of work here is amazing.”

Attracting talent

He points to recent senior appointments including Mark Prior, brought in to head up its programme, cost and consultancy in the Middle East, and Peter Williams, appointed to lead its EMEA building engineering business, as proof that the brand remains an attractive career choice.

Formerly of EC Harris, where he spent 18 years, Mr Prior admits it was Aecom’s ability to “play at a government level” due to the strength of its advisory board that was one of the main attractions for joining.

“It’s not just projects or programmes [you are working on]; it’s almost urban transformation and you don’t often get those opportunities,” he says.

“Clients want to hear from someone with a local accent who understands the issues, so you have to have combination of local and market sector leadership”

Peter Flint, Aecom

Aecom wants to grow in the UK by 10 per cent over the next financial year, and points to roads/transportation, water and environmental management as its biggest potential growth areas.

It will take on another 3,000 staff across EMEA over the next two years, a significant percentage of which will be employed in the UK but will work on projects as far afield as Qatar.

Global perspective

Mr Prior’s role will involve harnessing Aecom’s global centres of excellence around the world to meet client needs, so staff in the US, Spain, and Australia, as well as the UK, will contribute to its schemes he oversees in the Middle East.

Mr Flint says the centres of excellence contain specialists working on a particular market sector but looking at all types of projects, taking data from around the world and trying to “look at what the future looks like”.

“Every client in every city thinks they should know best. They want to hear from someone with a local accent who understands the transport, traffic issues, local procurement, so you have to have a combination of local and market sector leadership,” he says.

“We couldn’t have been on a global framework as Davis Langdon – it’s only with the Aecom platform”

Peter Flint, Aecom

Have clients left as a result of the Aecom takeover of Davis Langdon and the uncertainty of high-profile staff leaving? Yes, Mr Glover admits, but he insists that it is now working on global frameworks with clients for the first time thanks to its new strengths.

Aecom at a glance:

Aecom employs more than 5,300 employees in Europe, across 80 offices in more than 30 countries.

Targeted EMEA growth regions include the UK, Eastern Europe, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Africa.

Joint venture wins in its UK target growth sectors in the last year, include water where with Galliford Try it has won places on three Yorkshire Water AMP6 frameworks worth around £220m, and highways, where with FM Conway it was appointed to the new area-based £1.2bn highways alliance deals.

In London, its roles on iconic buildings such as The Shard and the British Museum continue to bear fruit on new schemes, while appointments this year include buildings as diverse as the Bristol Arena and Advanced Metrology Laboratory in Middlesex.

Work will get underway next year on the Spring Vale development in Hammersmith & Fulham using its off-the-shelf construction concept, Rational House. It provides project management services at Crossrail, and this year won a place on the HS2 engineering services framework for phase two of the scheme.

He points to the fact that the industry is “no longer in that boom period where actually you could make a load of cock-ups and come out the other end with a viable product”.

He adds: “Money is harder to get hold of, people want to manage and understand the risks. You lose some clients, you get some others but you have to believe in the product you’re selling.”

Blossoming relationships

Mr Flint points to new relationships with clients from Unilever and BP to Microsoft and Procter & Gamble that it now works with on a global scale and where it competes with international real estate firms including Jones Lang LaSalle.

“We had worked with [the new clients] in certain places, but couldn’t have been on a global framework as Davis Langdon – it’s only with the Aecom platform,” he says.

“It’s very difficult for a UK partnership consultancy to think they can play at that global framework for those big multinationals.”

Senior leaders of the UK’s biggest contractors recently pointed to a lack of quality advice from cost consultants when asked for views on the industry in the inaugural Construction News Barometer.

“All of a sudden we’re leading the BIM revolution. Are we leading it because of government? I don’t think we are”

David Glover, Aecom Global Building Engineering

But Mr Glover insists that relationships are improving among mature organisations across supply chains and that clients are demanding greater supply chain collaboration.

“I think the industry is waiting to reinvent itself,” he adds. “If you go abroad you see a totally different approach.

“If you go to a French contractor, they will offer you a one-stop shop, with funding and everything else. Our contractors have only just started to do that – they’ve just moved into that space.

“Change is happening. All of a sudden we’re leading the BIM revolution. Are we leading it because of government? I don’t think we are. I think the big contractors looked at it and realised building a building virtually before we build it on site has advantages.

“Go to Japan – the design time is twice the usual length in the UK, but construction time is half. It’s because of that process – it’s a mindset and we are seeing that change come along.”

Collaborative gains

He points to Laing O’Rourke, Sir Robert McAlpine and Balfour Beatty as examples of main contractors integrating BIM into their everyday processes, and says firms such as Aecom need to work with contractors to win projects through collaboration.

“Aecom is seeing far more projects being won like that now,” he says. In the UK, the traditional signs that the market is moving have begun to emerge. Mr Flint points to CVs changing hands and big developers talking about inflation concerns on new London projects.

But be wary of talk of a new boom, Mr Glover adds. “We have taken on a record number of graduates, you see contractors doing the same,” he says.

“I am slightly worried there will be a talent hole later on, but equally I don’t think this is a boom either. This is back to core business as normal.”

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