RMJM Europe chief executive Jonathan French says the troubled company will return to profit now that £12m ‘owed to a variety of different entities’ is written off
In an exclusive interview with the AJ, French – who joined the company from David Chipperfield Architects earlier this year – said he hoped to recruit staff and transform the Europe side of the business into a ‘design-led’ outfit.
His comments came after RMJM Group chair Fraser Morrison emerged as the backer behind an investment firm which bought RMJM Architecture for £11 million last week.
The purchase by Duthus Investments – which was revealed in an e-mail to shareholders – has seen £12 million worth of debt written off the practice’s balance sheet.
French described the deal as ‘part of a process for recapitalisation which started in October 2012’ when RMJM Architecture bought RMJM, RMJM Scotland and RMJM London out of receivership.
He said: ‘This is part of a plan to put the business in a strong position to move forward. The company previously had £24 million of debt and that couldn’t be supported by the amount of assets the company had. As elements of the business transfer to Duthus it will be able to write off £12m of debt.’
French said the £12 million was ‘owed to a variety of different entities, none of them very substantial’ but refused to reveal further details.
The chief executive said the company’s operations would be unaffected by the deal and the business was now on course to return to profit this year.
He said: ‘The financial and corporate structure is one leg of a number of legs which support the business going forward. The other legs are the recruitment of key staff around the world and winning new projects where we are making significant inroads.
‘I have set a stretch target for the year which I believe we will achieve. The early sign is that we have hit two targets for the European business. If we hit the target I have set we will have to grow by about 10 per cent.’
RMJM’s European division – which French confirmed currently employs 100 staff based mostly in the UK – could start recruiting by the end of the year, the chief suggested.
French said RMJM now employed 400 staff across the globe. According to 2011 data contained in last year’s AJ100 league table RMJM employed 482 people overseas and 204 employees in the UK.
Asked whether the deal would bring an end to reports of high-profile departures from the business, French was unwilling to comment on staff leaving prior to him joining the company but said the company had made significant in-roads in recruiting new talent.
He referenced the appointment of former Richard Meier and Partners employee Mahasti Fakourbayat and Boran Agostan from Aedas in India as examples.
He added: ‘Despite one or two people having job offers at other practices they chosen to stay with us and I see that as extremely encouraging and I feel there is an immense responsibility to turn the business around and see it [become] what it deserves to be.’