RMJM stabs its CEO in the back
Leaked email written by Peter Morrison suggests deliberate attempt to oust European chief executive Jonathan French in restructuring shake-up
RMJM’s newly-appointed European chief executive looks set to leave the company following the emergence of a leaked email undermining his position.
In an email sent by RMJM’s group chief executive Peter Morrison to finance director Declan Thompson, Morrison makes several damaging allegations about Jonathan French, who only joined the troubled global practice in February this year.
Leaked anonymously to the AJ, the email discusses a merger of the company’s European and Middle Eastern operations and makes several unsubstantiated claims about French, including that he had refused to ‘travel economy class’, and had not taken ‘salary sacrifices’ when employees were not being paid.
A shocked French denied the allegations and said the leak of the private email, a screenshot of Thompson’s email inbox in a web browser, ‘was clearly orchestrated’.
‘I have no idea what is going on,’ said French. ‘All I know is that there’s been an attempt to undermine my credibility in the market.’
French said he believed the motive for the slurs was his battle, since joining the company three months ago, to get RMJM staff paid.
‘I have been extremely vociferous in continuing my attempts to get staff all of the unpaid money they are owed,’ said French.
French said he was ‘dumbfounded’ by the email. He said: ‘It is clearly very disappointing. The first I’d heard of the restructuring was when Peter Morrison forwarded me a copy of the leaked email this morning. I am at a loss for words.’
The email included a press release which explained that the shake-up would result in a restructuring of the management team, with Harry Downie taking on the new position as the chief executive of RMJM International and the headquarters shifting to Dubai.
Asked about how the merger would impact on French’s position, Thompson said: ‘Nothing about this was designed to change French’s role at all. This email included a draft press release, which showed a part of a process in which we were thinking about different options.’
Thompson added that it was a private email and regretted the leak. He said: ‘I get angry that internal communications get out to the press. It’s a huge breach of trust.’
Despite Thompson’s assurances, French has cast doubts about his future at the troubled company. ‘Can I continue working at the practice? I think that will be hard.’
The leak comes just two months after French, formerly the managing director of David Chipperfield Architects, told the AJ his ambition was to ‘lead RMJM into a prosperous future’.
In an interview (AJ 07.03.13), French said: ‘[This is] the most demanding and rewarding job I’ve ever had. We are now at a size where we have a base from which to start to rebuild in a managed and controlled way. The next nine months will be a period of stabilisation and in Europe we hope to start to regrow in 2014.’
The leaked email also explains how the merger of RMJM’s two arms creates ‘the most significant business within the RMJM Group and provide[s] a unique opportunity for RMJM studios in Scotland and London, who have found it difficult to secure work in the early part of this year, to become involved in a wide range of projects in the Middle East’.
The surprise deal comes a month after RMJM chair Fraser Morrison bought subsidiary outfit RMJM Architecture for £11 million, writing off millions of pounds of debt and leaving former employees with effectively worthless shares.
RMJM Architecture accounts for most of the European business and was formed when RMJM, RMJM Scotland and RMJM London were bought out of receivership in October last year. Richard Waite