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McAlpine writes 'PRS bible' as it draws up five-year plan

Sir Robert McAlpine is putting together a ‘PRS bible’ as it seeks to woo investors and win work in the sector with clients seeking to diversify their portfolios.

In an exclusive interview with CN, chief executive Paul Hamer said the group will publish a five-year strategy from 1 November, as it plans for “what the next 150 years look like” under the McAlpine family’s ownership.

Among the company’s plans is the creation of a data-led ‘bible’ for the private rented sector.

The group hopes to further develop its build-to-rent expertise, adding to more than a dozen projects so far including significant schemes such as Nikal’s £100m Exchange Square in Birmingham and the £80m Clippers Quay for Grainger in Manchester.

Mr Hamer said: “We are creating a McAlpine bible of PRS that captures all our delivery data and allows us to estimate PRS opportunities far more robustly […] whether the scheme is ‘this high, this type of spec’ and so on. It will allow us to engage very early with clients in the cycle.

“We have a number of clients thinking about whether it would be a good addition to their investment portfolio.

“Rather than just talking about projects it means [we can say] if you, the client, are thinking about investment in the sector, here are the variables you need to consider.

“How high will you go? How quick do you want to sell it (or keep it)? What type of fit-out do you require? We’re going to take our data and get it to work for us.”

The contractor will launch a new five-year strategy from 1 November and Mr Hamer said it was his “minimum commitment” to the business to see it through as CEO, after which point he wants to continue to be a “part of the McAlpine family”.

He said there had been “zero” conversation about whether the company could exist outside of McAlpine ownership in the future.

He was speaking to CN days before the contractor announced it would quit the energy-from-waste market after problem projects in the sector contributed to it reporting a £23m loss.

The contractor, which celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, has set a target of securing 50 per cent of its London revenue through construction management and Mr Hamer said he was targeting 4 per cent margins for the business overall.

He added that the company wanted to win more public sector work and that it would consider working on high-end residential projects in London, despite the well-known losses it incurred building luxury apartments on Fitzroy Place for Exemplar in 2015.

It will attempt to win long-term partnership work, primarily through joint ventures in the civils infrastructure space, including bidding for Highways England work in joint venture with Amey, and has targeted winning new nuclear work at Horizon’s Wylfa site as part of the Construct Energy JV with Costain and Hochtief.

Mr Hamer said the company wanted to be at the forefront of recruiting people from all backgrounds to the industry and said it had to “work every day to put blacklisting into the past”.

“We do that by making sure everything we do as an industry is ethical and transparent,” he said. 

The contractor’s executive board has three McAlpine family members on it and a new senior leadership team is made up entirely of non-McAlpine members. However, Cullum McAlpine continues to chair a ‘supervisory’ board made up of family members.

Just one of the 15 board and leadership team is female: Karen Brookes, head of people and infrastructure. Mr Hamer said he was mentoring two women in the business and that, despite its gender pay gap (30 per cent), McAlpine had “no glass ceiling”.

“My job is to give those two mentees the confidence to say you are quality individuals that add significant value to our business – there’s no glass ceiling. 

“If they aren’t excited about the opportunity and they leave this organisation, that would be a disastrous loss of value and we won’t let that happen.”

Almacantar boss Mike Hussey referred to McAlpine as a “dinosaur” in a tweet in February, adding that he wouldn’t trust the contractor “to deliver a pizza” after the developer won a £1.1m legal row over Centre Point Tower.

Asked whether he believed the company was still seen as ‘traditional’ by the outside world, he said: “I think it is by the uninformed.

“I think people would be surprised by how modern this business is. We’re starting a programme of data capture analysis to create IP we can share with our clients. 

“The level of BIM maturity we have in 18 months will be industry-leading, the software we use to keep people safer, we are a very advanced-thinking organisation – we just haven’t told anyone.

“We’re currently looking to employ data analysts […] it doesn’t sound like a dinosaur of a construction business to me.” 

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