After more than 130 years delivering some of the world’s highest-profile construction jobs, Parsons Brinckerhoff is no more.
WSP, a consultant that has its eyes on being one of the biggest in the world, has decided three years after buying Parsons Brinckerhoff that the illustrious name is surplus to requirements.
And with the name change comes a new structure for WSP’s UK arm, with the business now operating under four divisions: transport and infrastructure; planning and advisory; property and buildings; and energy and industry.
Construction News caught up with WSP’s UK boss Mark Naysmith following the rebrand and here are five things we learned.
Where’s the value in Mouchel?
Last October WSP took over consultant Mouchel in a deal worth £75m. Mr Naysmith had told Construction News in an interview following the deal that the decision was part of WSP’s plan to expand into new regional and sector markets. The firm was also keen to rebalance its portfolio towards more public work.
Seven months on, Mr Naysmith says this integration is a case of “so far, so good”.
The balance of the company’s income now stands at a ratio of 57:43 in terms of public and private spend. This is up from 50:50 as recently as last November. It has also given WSP greater access to the markets in which it was previously not a big player, such as the water sector, land referencing, local authorities work and the Scottish market.
But the biggest benefits so far has been propelling WSP to becoming a tier one roads supplier. This was reflected in the awarding of Highways England’s regional investment programme. The company secured over £30m of work on the framework awarded last month – the largest share of all consultants.
Eye for a buy
After the acquisition of Mouchel, you might have thought the company’s M&A activity was over. However, Mr Naysmith is not necessarily going to stop there and won’t rule out bringing more firms under the WSP banner.
But these, he admitted, would be of a smaller scale than previous acquisitions. He confirmed the company was on the lookout for more niche specialist firms, particularly in the property market. “There are some areas where we have specialist capability, but it is not sector-leading in all areas.”
On the top of the shopping list, however, is a cost consultant. Last year WSP’s offer to buy Sweett Group was rejected, with Currie & Brown eventually coming in with a successful offer.
“We didn’t get the Sweett Group last year but [cost consultancy] hasn’t gone off our radar,” Mr Naysmith said. “We want to grow that and the QS side of our businesses organically, but if the right acquisition comes along that will be good.”
Why drop the PB now?
Dropping a name with the reputation of Parsons Brinckerhoff can never be an easy decision.
The engineering firm that was formed in 1885 had been involved in some of the world’s largest construction projects, before being bought by Balfour Beatty in 2009 and then subsequently by WSP in 2014.
Mr Naysmith said while the decision was not come to lightly, now was definitely the right time following “extensive research” carried out on the implications. WSP dropped the PB name following consultations and surveys with thousands of colleagues and clients, as well as advice from a branding agency.
And with the dropping of the Parsons Brinckerhoff name comes a whole new logo (below). What do you think?
As part of its future plans, Mr Naysmith wants to make WSP more engaged and vocal in the political sphere.
Mr Naysmith told Construction News the snap election was a good thing for construction and could bring confidence back into the sector.
The firm is also keen to be a bigger voice in Westminster. Last month, the company released a white paper to the government setting out the 10 things needed to boost infrastructure. This included calling for the creation of a new minister of infrastructure position in the Cabinet.
“I think this is absolutely fundamental; we talk about infrastructure growth yet there is no one person who is overseeing this at the moment – instead it is many different people from many different angles,” he said.
Consultant consolidation is inevitable
In the wake of some high-profile merger and acquisition activity in the past 12 months, does Mr Naysmith expect further consolidation ahead?
“It is a very cut-throat industry we operate in and more consolidation will bring efficiency which can only be a good thing all round,” Mr Naysmith said. “Will there be more [M&A] activity? Yes.”
Commenting on the highest-profile deal currently being thrashed out at the moment, Mr Naysmith said he would be interested to see what SNC Lavalin plans to do with Atkins if a deal is completed.
“SNC is primarily a contractor, so that is interesting,” Mr Naysmith said. “From a UK point of view I’m pretty muted on it because we will continue to operate in the same space as Atkins, but it will be interesting to see what unfolds.”