Will Alsop may not be alone for long as a star designer with RMJM. Peter Morrison, the CEO of the rapidly growing practice, would love to see more great talent joining the RMJM world
Although the practice is ‘not in an advanced stage of discussion with anybody,’ Morrison thinks it will happen because the practice’s structure ‘is unique in the industry’. RMJM has large bases in Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and the Americas, and each design studio can work anywhere. ‘I hope we will be attractive to great designers around the world,’ he says.
Morrison has certainly shaken up RMJM. When he and his father, Fraser, bought the practice following the sale of their family construction business, Morrison, in 2000, it was, he says, ‘a largely under-performing architectural practice based out of Edinburgh, with a couple of hundred people. It was run like an old-school partnership by people who had been there since Christ left Dumbarton in a sail boat.’ And the London office, he says, was ‘pretty disastrous’.
It was, Morrison explains, ‘an opportunity to do something in the industry that hadn’t been done before.’ He left the architects doing architecture, but put in other professionals to deal with areas such as management, marketing and IT. The result was rapid geographic expansion to a revenue of £50 million. Not satisfied with the representation in the US, he then bought large American practice Hillier and doubled the income.
This global reach has helped RMJM weather the recession, expanding into hitherto untapped markets such as Vladivostok in east Russia. And the focus now, he says, is South America. ‘We have people every week in Rio and Sao Paulo,’ hoping to capitalise on the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
‘We have a structure that is unique. I hope we will be attractive to great designers’
Having immersed himself in the business, Morrison says ‘I feel like I am an architect.’But in fact his background is a law degree, a spell in the army, then venture capitalism and an MBA. He is keen on army training (‘you learn a lot about yourself and grow up pretty fast’), and his new CEO for the Middle East is also ex-armed forces.
Morrison is aware of his youth (he is still only 36) and keen to surround himself with experts. One of these is his father, now CEO for RMJM in America. More controversial was the appointment of disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin as group strategic adviser. Morrison is unrepentant. ‘He is one of the most experienced people in the world in terms of running a business,’ he says. He similarly brought in one of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s former economic advisers, to strengthen the Russian market.
Morrison believes that architecture must change, and consolidate into larger businesses if it is to weather future recessions. ‘We need large effective companies that will still have creative ability,’ he says.