‘Restructuring is largely complete’ Ruth Slavid’s AJ100 interview with Chris Littlemore in May 2008
If you want to talk to Chris Littlemore, the recently appointed managing director of SMC [subsequently Archial] you have to do it on a conference call with his PR. Such is the caution deemed necessary for the man who is running not only one of architecture’s two publicly listed companies (Aukett Fitzroy Robinson being the other), but one that is emerging from a rollercoaster couple of years, in which the practice was very nearly derailed.
With the eyes of the City on him, and fairly new in post, Littlemore is deliberately bland. If it looks as if he is about to stray from the party line, his PR buts in. Asked about the next 12 months, he says: ‘Restructuring is largely complete. We believe we will move very positively.’
Most people would be really fazed by such a high-profile role, acquired almost by accident. Littlemore had been head of Charter Architects, bought by SMC in 2006 as part of founder Stewart McColl’s buying spree, and was parachuted into his new role in January after McColl’s eviction and a plummeting financial situation. But Littlemore insists this is simply an expansion of his previous work, running a practice of 110, with multiple offices in multiple locations. ‘One rises to a challenge,’ he says. His careful style certainly contrasts with that of his predecessor. One cannot imagine Littlemore wooing potential acquisitions at lavish breakfasts or ordering a bottle of whisky at the start of the AJ100 dinner. He is the right man for a role where it is essential to be tight-lipped.
The practice is rebranding to ditch the McColl association for good. What form is the new brand likely to take? ‘We are reviewing all options. It’s early days.’ Is there a future for the ebullient Will Alsop in a practice of otherwise rather bread-and-butter architects? ‘Will’s office is part of the overall group.’ What is the best part of the job? ‘The challenge of a larger organisation. Getting the real skills and talent to work together.’ And the worst? ‘The volume of work.’
McColl famously once said that he was looking for ‘world dominance’ for the practice. Littlemore says this is certainly not his aim, but then says he wants to be ‘one of the world’s largest practices’. Nevertheless, with all his challenges, he says he still has time to be involved with design on a weekly basis. He certainly lacks the charisma of his predecessor, but if he can set the firm on a steady path of growth within and outside the UK, his employees, as well as his investors, will see that as a small price to pay.