Exodus at Goodwin firm
RMJM, the architectural firm that was behind the Scottish Parliament and which now employs Sir Fred Goodwin, has been hit by the departure of a string of leading staff.
A GLOBAL architectural firm based in Edinburgh has been hit by a series of high-profile departures among its senior staff, The Scotsman has learned.
RMJM – the fifth-largest in the world – has been hit by the loss of five key figures, amid claims of behind-the-scenes disagreements over the way the troubled company is run.
Insiders claim there is increasing discontent within the firm’s upper echelons about the strategies of company chief executive Peter Morrison and his father, Sir Fraser, who heads RMJM’s operations in the United States.
News of the departures has emerged months after RMJM triggered a political row by handing former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin a top job.
Best known in Scotland for its work on the Holyrood Parliament building and the Falkirk Wheel, RMJM has expanded rapidly since the Morrison family took over the company in 2003.
Key projects have included a signature building for the Beijing Olympics, the Capital Gate building in Abu Dhabi, the headquarters for the China Merchants’ Bank in Shanghai, an international airport in Kolkata in India and the East River Science Park in New York.
The firm, established in 1956, now boasts about 1000 staff and 17 offices around the world, including New York, Washington, Moscow, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Sir Fred, appointed as a consultant for RMJM thanks to a long friendship with Sir Fraser, is also rumoured to have stepped up his involvement with the firm, which hired him on a sixfigure salary despite cutting dozens of jobs last year and being in debt to the tune of more than £50 million.
Key figures to have departed include the head of the firm’s operations in Asia and the Middle East, David Pringle, who had been with the company for more than 20 years, and Hugh Mullan, the European managing director.
The other three figures are Gordon Affleck, RMJM’s design director in the Middle East, Colin Moses, an international principal for the firm who had 23 years’ service, and Adrian Boot, a longserving director.
RMJM was forced to shed 60 jobs last year and asked staff to take a 10 per cent pay cut to help curb the impact of the global downturn on the firm.
It emerged last month, in accounts filed six months late by the firm, that RMJM had been forced to increase its bank borrowing from £11.3 million to £18.4m and saw its pre-tax profits slump from £7.9m to £5.7m in the year to 30 April, 2009.
The company yesterday insisted there was nothing untoward about the departure of so many senior staff and claimed they were leaving on good terms.
It said its order book had doubled in 12 months.
Messrs Affleck, Moses and Pringle – previously head of the firm’s offices in Edinburgh and Glasgow – are still on the company’s books and are serving notice periods.
However, insiders at the firm say the company has expanded too quickly in some territories, particularly the US.
It surprised many observers when it snapped up the longrunning American architectural practice Hillier for £15m three years ago. This year, however, RMJM closed its Philadelphia base after 15 years, citing the end of an “historic restoration project” and transferring staff to its former Hillier headquarters at nearby Princeton.
Insiders in the US architecture community have raised concerns for the long-term future of the former Hillier offices.
“All talent in Princeton worth anything to the firm has left or is desperately trying to find an exit,” said one US architect. “It’s sad, because Hillier really was a good firm that did decent developer and institutional projects. Now it appears that the name has been eradicated and the reputation destroyed.”
One source said: “Although no-one is leaving the company as a direct result of the hiring of Sir Fred Goodwin, his appointment has caused a fair bit of discontent and is part of a wider picture of disharmony and dismay at how the company is evolving.
“The company has taken on a huge amount of work, and questions are being asked more and more about the judgment of the Morrisons in their running of RMJM, the appointments they have been making and the state of the finances.”
Another source said: “Although hiring Sir Fred has not done the company any favours at home or abroad, he is taking an increasingly hands-on role. Not everyone at a senior level within RMJM agrees with this strategy, and that is at the heart of the current level of ill-feeling.”
A spokesman for RMJM said: “Within any organisation you are always going to get people coming and going, if they are looking to do other things, or work for a small practice.
“The architecutural sector is in the doldrums and facing its toughest time in a generation. But RMJM is coming through this better than many of its peers.
“There are clearly going to be people who leave on their own accord, or who are asked to leave, and it is inevitable you will get a bit of disgruntlement.
“Every architecture practice will be managing its cash carefully, and RMJM is no different. They are far more comfortable with the position now and the business is well managed and running well. You have to remember that RMJM is still one of the biggest architectural practices in the world.”
Asked about Sir Fred running the business, he said: “It is not true. He will be advising the board. The man running the business is Peter Morrison. He is still chief executive and Sir Fred is not involved on a day-to-day basis.”
Sir Fred Goodwin was appointed as a consultant by RMJM
Five leaving the firm behind Holyrood: clockwise from left, Adrian Boot, Gordon Affleck, David Pringle, Colin Moses and Hugh Mullan