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Slurred RMJM chief leaves

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RMJM’s recently appointed European chief executive has quit in the wake of a ‘clearly orchestrated’ email leak undermining his position

Jonathan French, the former David Chipperfield Architects’ managing director who only joined the troubled global practice in February this year (AJ 22.02.2013), has now joined Woods Bagot. 

The email sent last week by RMJM’s group chief executive Peter Morrison to finance director Declan Thompson, made several damaging allegations about French including unsubstantiated claims that he had refused to ‘travel economy class’, and had not taken ‘salary sacrifices’ when employees were not being paid. 

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’.

Last week however, Thompson disputed the email had been leaked deliberately and insisted French still had a job with RMJM.

He 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.’

French has now been appointed European executive chair at global outfit Woods Bagot.

Commenting on the appointment, Woods Bagot managing director Ross Donaldson said: ‘Jonathan has the ability to combine excellence in architecture with strong commercial acumen and management, and he has done this in a diverse range of international locations.

‘Europe has have been and will continue to be, integral to our global success. We have ambitious plans for the growth of Woods Bagot and believe that Jonathan is the right person to carry us through the next phase of development.  I look forward to welcoming him to the studio.’

In a statement, French added: ‘I am excited to join such a talented team and look forward to helping the practice thrive.’

Interview with Jonathan French in AJ 07.03.2013 - ‘We’ll rebuild RMJM’

Why did you decide to take this position at RMJM?
As an architect student it was one of the practices I admired. There have been bad news stories which mask the good news. There is a robustness here. My ambition is that the highest quality design will lead the business into a prosperous future.

The stories have been about unpaid wages and legal cases. Is the business really robust?
I’m fully aware of the issues and the plan we have for the next 12 to 24 months addresses all of them. We are trying to deal with the simple things first. I firmly believe that, with the team around me and about the group, coupled with the track record and back catalogue, we will get RMJM back to where it should be. I’ll be handling this with honesty and integrity and I feel a tremendous responsibility.

But it isn’t just about me. RMJM deserves good people to help it get where it needs to be. And we are getting people such as Boran Agoston, who has joined as principle in Dubai, and Mahasti Fakourbayat, who has joined as principle in New York.

What do you bring to RMJM from your previous practice?
I had the privilege of spending three and half years at David Chipperfield during an extraordinary time in the evolution of his practice, which doubled in size while I was there and I witnessed the orientation from overseas to work in the UK,seeing the amount of commercial development burgeon and the practice profile grow. I learned that the highest quality design is paramount and that intellectual, robust conversations between clients and the design team can lead to extremely successfully projects. David Chipperfield put enormous emphasis on personally getting to understand clients and the relationships were tremendously potent. I want to try and bring some of that to our relationship with clients. It is about turning up the volume.

What do the next 12 months hold for RMJM?
We have a plan in which we’ve set clear targets. We hope people will feel there is an engagement with the leadership and that the communication is two-way. The commercial issues are all being sorted out. My remit is focusing on the future. What the board found attractive about my skills and experience was the fact I had an appreciation of architecture as well as knowing the business of architecture and the business of running a business. 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.

Are you actually enjoying it?

It is the most demanding and rewarding job I’ve ever had.


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