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AJ100 interview: Martin English, Keppie Design

‘There’s a lot of rumour and innuendo around concerning how people are doing’

How have the past 12 months been?
It’s a mixed picture. We’ve still got a lot of opportunities in some of our sectors – particularly healthcare. We have major projects on site, including the largest hospital to be built in Scotland and England, the £300 million Forth Valley Hospital. We’ve still got significant education projects, though in Scotland these are not coming through very fast.

Was your recent restructuring a response to the changing market?
No. At the turn of the year, we consolidated various aspects of the business, enabling the old managing director David Stark to develop our international focus. We started before the downturn. Restructuring has been on the go for 18 months.

Beyond restructuring, have you retooled in other ways?
We have just employed a specialist to professionalise our approach to marketing and business development. We’re making the most of a difficult situation, putting in place the building blocks so that when the recession ends, we’ll be able to come out as strong as possible.

Are you recruiting?
We are recruiting for specific appointments if we think they can bring us opportunities – like the business development manager, for example. But the practice is not growing at the moment in terms of general recruitment. We tend to expand and contract relative to opportunities.

Which sectors are important to you?
Well, all sectors are important to us. All our sector strategy meetings are about spreading a sphere of influence rather than minimising it. Hydro and wind power are growth areas, opportunities that weren’t there five to 10 years ago. We’re not dismissing anything.

What will you be focusing on in 2009?
Maximising the opportunities in sectors we are successful in – education, healthcare and commercial – and looking to grow our markets internationally: Libya, India, Dubai… We have also opened an office in Aberdeen, which is an area of Scotland slightly apart in terms of how it deals with the downturn. It has a different economic base, one whose strength historically has come through farming, fishing and, more recently, the oil industry, which is still doing pretty well.

How is Keppie faring compared to other practices of your size?
It’s difficult to say, to be honest. There’s a lot of rumour and innuendo around concerning how people are doing. Anecdotally, we hear that similar-sized practices are facing a lot of difficulties, but we just focus on our own work. James Pallister

Keppie Design was number 20 in the 2009 AJ100

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