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ENGINEERING GROWTH

AGENDA

'Who on earth are White Young Green?' asked one architect after hearing that engineer to the stars Adams Kara Taylor (AKT) had been bought out by them this week.

The answer, according to the press release, is a 2,500strong 'consultant to the built, natural and social environment'.

Whatever that means.

The more important question is what the deal will mean for both AKT and for those architects, such as Zaha Hadid, who have relied heavily on the consultancy to help build the near-impossible over the past 10 years?

Given the current climate of big-money takeovers in the architectural world, there has been an understandably guarded response to the news.

'It may seem shocking to architects, I'm fully aware of that, I've already had the phone calls from some, ' said founder Hanif Kara.

'The shocking bit is that most people do this kind of thing when they are in trouble.

But we are on the way up.'

He's not wrong. In the past three years the consistently innovative practice has increased in size by almost a third - and now boasts a payroll of nearly 120. As Kara said, 'it's been a pretty meteoric rise'.

The success of the firm has not gone unnoticed, and Kara can remember at least seven separate serious offers for the practice from some of the country's larger multidisciplinary organisations, including Capita Symonds.

However, none of the bids were ever accepted until White Young Green (WYG) came knocking with a cheque of £10.5 million and the promise of something slightly different.

It seems WYG wasn't interested in simply adding to its increasing portfolio for the sake of it. Likewise, AKT would have rejected being absorbed into a super-corporation.

Nevertheless, the firm is aware there will be comparisons with the acquisition-hungry architectural behemoth SMC.

Even so, Kara believes the world of engineering is another beast altogether.

He said: 'Takeovers happen daily in the world of finance and QSing. Only in architecture doesn't this happen. Architects are the creators - and if not in full control of their creative juices they are not able to create so much.

'No doubt other people will see this [acquisition] as just creating another big entity.

This is where WYG needs to be explained.

'Their opening line was fiWe don't want to change you; we want you to keep on as AKT and we want something you have. fl We were quite attracted by that.'

What that means, Kara hopes, is that he and fellow practice founder Albert Taylor will be left alone to 'be creative', while Robin Adams will continue to beaver away on the management side - an area where the firm knows it can learn from WYG.

The AKT branding will remain the same.

Although WYG chief executive John Purvis maintains hard cash did not play a major part in AKT's final decision - he prefers to see the deal as based on mutual 'chemistry' and a 'compelling strategic fit' - Kara is not so inhibited about the -nancial aspects.

He said: 'To keep doing what we're doing you need to invest in the latest software and staff. So if somebody was offering you the money to do this, why wouldn't you accept?'

He added: 'It's a very English thing to knock people down and to say if you are being creative you can't make too much money.

'I am the new English and I have never been shy about making a profit.'

As well as the additional funds, Kara believes the move will also help the firm be able to take on some of the larger projects, which it has previously had to turn away because of a lack of resources.

In the past three months a number of key 'landmark' schemes have slipped through its fingers and over the past year the practice has had to politely say no to around half of the work offered to it.

Kara said: 'We've had directors working hard for a year to win a job, then we have to turn it down.'

That, he said, will change following the 'acquisition'.

The combined resources will let AKT track the larger jobs and also offer a way forward to the younger and more ambitious members of staff - the average age of which is still only 30.

'The biggest crisis in the industry is the lack of talent, so if you've got it, you've got to retain it, ' Kara added. 'But if you don't offer them a career path or future they'll leave.'

Equally, the support of a larger parent company will help AKT avoid some of the mistakes of the past. The firm's attempts to open offices in Bristol and Dublin were unsuccessful because of cost, but similar doors may reopen now that WYG can wield heavy financial and managerial clout.

On the ip side WYG, which has snafed up 30 consultancies to date to achieve its impressive size, will get a stronger presence in London and will seriously crank up its design clout.

Only time will tell whether the deal is a success. But as Kara concludes: 'You have to adapt to change. As the late Richard Feilden said: 'Standing still is a terminal illness'.'

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