Ex­o­dus at Good­win firm

The Scotsman - - Front Page - BrIaN FEr­gu­SON and JaNE BradLEy

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

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