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SMC cuts ties with group founder Stewart McColl

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The SMC Group is to ditch the SMC prefix and rebrand, severing all links with its founder, Stewart McColl.

The firm’s managing director, Chris Littlemore, confirmed that London-based brand design consultancy Brand & Consult had been appointed to create a new name and corporate image for the group, which employs 602 people and includes Will Alsop’s Battersea-based practice.

Littlemore said: ‘We are reviewing our options regarding the group brand and it is early days. A rebranding would help provide the group with a platform from which to move forward following the successful restructuring.’

Commenting on the proposed change, Alsop said: ‘This is a good thing and very necessary. SMC stands for Stewart McColl and Stewart McColl has nothing to do with the business any more.’

Colman Architects managing director, Trevor Colman, who was an associate at McColl’s own London-based practice McColl Architects, and who spurned a subsequent takeover offer from SMC, said the newly appointed SMC board was right to distance itself from its founder.

‘The SMC brand is associated with fantastic growth and weak performance,’ said Colman.

‘Stewart had always dreamt of creating the architectural equivalent of (advertising giant) WPP. But while advertising companies can be a bit “fluffy”, architecture firms have to have substance – their clients need it.’

Since its formation in 1996, SMC has embraced an acquisitional strategy, which peaked in 2006 with the purchase of nine architectural practices, including Alsop’s for £1.8 million.

But since an all-time share price high of 196p in January 2007, its worth has continued to plummet to an all-time low of just under 7p at the end of last month. And last week it posted a £3 million operating loss that Littlemore said was ‘purely down to the firm’s exceptional circumstances’ in what he described as ‘challenging times’ (AJ online 03.04.08).

While McColl refused to comment on the forthcoming rebrand, he was adamant that he ‘would stay in architecture’. However, Littlemore said that involvement would almost certainly not be with his old firm: ‘It is highly unlikely,’ he said.

McColl has a 3 per cent stake in SMC, but has so far not shown any interest in selling up the shares which, as AJ went to press, were worth just over 10p each.

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