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The rise and rise of SMC

FROM THE ARCHIVES: In this essay from late 2006, Ed Dorrell forsees a very bright future for SMC - the company which became Archial

Picture the scene a decade from now. It’s the Stirling shortlist announcement and - surprise, surprise - there are some extremely familiar names up for the big one. Only there’s one subtle difference.

Where one would expect to see Foster and Partners, one finds ‘SMC Foster’. Where the Richard Rogers Partnership normally appears, ‘SMC Rogers’ is listed; and the familiar sight of Zaha Hadid Architects has been replaced with ‘SMC Zaha’.

It might seem a little far-fetched. But how much?

Could you possibly have imagined two years ago that Stirling Prize-winning maverick extraordinaire Will Alsop would soon be plying his trade for a company called SMC Alsop?

Admittedly, this correspondent would bet large piles of cash that Rogers, Foster and Zaha would -ght off the attractions of Stewart McColl’s massively acquisitive company.

But there are many offices that have already failed - and there are many more that will probably follow.

Let’s not lose sight of just what has happened here. Since oating on the stock exchange less than 18 months ago, the SMC Group’s status has gone from almost non-existent to a practice which looks likely to make its debut in the 2007 AJ100, almost certainly in the top spot, with an extraordinary 416 architects. It’s worth remembering that this year’s winner, BDP, has 281.

In one morning - that’s right; one morning - SMC went from having no architects in Scotland to having the biggest practice north of the border.

 

It simply snapped up four firms in one go, including the Parr Partnership, which entered last year’s AJ100 in 72nd position

And the - nancial figures are even more extraordinary.

In 2002, the SMC Group had a turnover of £3.1 million, a number that had rocketed to £8.1 million by 2004.

In 2006, this figure will be an astonishing £34.7 million.

The numbers speak for themselves.

To some, this scale of growth must look unsustainable, especially as the business of architecture has never seen anything like it before. But McColl can see no shortage of hotshot City analysts who are drooling over his company and its sexy numbers.

What is certain is that some - and not just those in the dustier corners of the design game - see an element of vulgarity in this profit-driven attitude.

But opinions of this kind do not worry McColl; indeed, one suspects it’s the sort of thing he revels in. On Monday - just minutes after the latest raft of takeovers was announced - the Scotsman was promising yet more acquisition action.

‘This is only the beginning, ’ he told the AJ. ‘Providing we continue to satisfy shareholders and don’t make a mistake, this will definitely continue - and you can expect more takeovers within the year.’ Blimey.

But what is it like to work for McColl? Unsurprisingly it is hard to pin down anyone working on his recent takeovers who has anything but glowing reports for his management.

Most are refreshed by being part of a large operation with an even larger turnover - a situation that allows them to bid for bigger jobs, with the finances to back them up.

McColl believes this should allow them to grow at an accelerated rate. Everybody, it would seem, is quids-in.

The only caveat that any architect quizzed about the McColl regime could come up with was the observation that ‘the rate of growth is a lot faster than even we’d imagined’.

Is there any limit to McColl’s expansionist agenda?

It would seem that the answer is a resolute ‘no’. So you had better watch out - whoever you work for.

 

HOW TO BUILD AN ARCHITECTURAL SUPERFIRM

1996 Stewart McColl forms SMC Group
May 2003 Results for 2002 put turnover at £3.1 million
May 2005 Stewart McColl floats on the Alternative Investment Market with a turnover of £8.1 million
June 2005 The practice takes over Philip Lees and Associates and Corstorphine and Wright
October 2005 Acquisitions continue with the takeover of DTR: UK
February 2006 The practice spends £4.1 million on Covell Matthews and and Penrose Architects. The group raises £2 million from a fresh share offering to investors
March 2006 The architecture world is left in shock as Will Alsop admits his firm is being taken over by SMC
April 2006 SMC group reveals extraordinary trading results for 2005 to the City of London - with profits soaring by a staggering 280 per cent
May 2006 SMC buys Charter Consultant Architects, a practice that came 43rd in the 2006 AJ100
August 2006 McColl reveals impressive half-year results, with investors pleased to see turnover jumping from £5.7 million to £11.3 million
September 2006 SMC takes over five practices, including four in Scotland - a move that makes it biggest practice north of the border. Turnover for 2006 predicted to reach £34.7 million

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