It remains to be seen whether the new man at the helm of Davis Langdon can achieve meaningful growth from its talked-about merger

You may already know Bob Pell. He’s perhaps best known as one of the men who founded architectural practice Edaw over 20 years ago and later as one of Aecom’s more robust corporate bosses. But now the self-proclaimed hard man finds himself at the helm of Davis Langdon - one of the UK’s most highly regarded QSs - in what is widely considered a bizarre marriage. Pell doesn’t pretend that Davis Langdon is to remain the same firm it has always been - indeed, research is already under way on how to drop the Davis Langdon name so that the business falls less incongruously under the Aecom brand, although that won’t happen this year, we’re told.

It is DL’s operational management that has attracted, and continues to require, the most fervent attention post merger

Pell has made it clear that he takes on his new role with his eyes wide open as to the extent of the challenge. He has an in-depth knowledge of the Davis Langdon business having worked long and hard on the due diligence behind the merger and he claims to be keen to capitalise on DL’s UK reputation and its international growth potential, which has already resulted in an estimated £50m in additional sales.

The simple message is that Pell is moving from an Aecom corporate role back into an operational job. And it is DL’s operational management that has attracted, and continues to require, the most fervent attention post merger. For the past 18 months DL has been in the spotlight as questions were raised over its independence, client management and the continuity of its renowned innovation and star dust factor. A wholesale restructuring programme, partner redundancies and several high-profile departures - none higher than the unexplained exit of global chief executive and DL lifer, Jeremy Horner, in February - have unnerved clients. These changes have been intensified by other deals, such as the Arcadis merger with EC Harris and C2HM Hill’s with Halcrow. But it is the twin imperative of stamping the Aecom mark on Davis Langdon while continuing to reassure old and new clients of the need to foster the latter’s traditional values that has kept the bar rooms buzzing with market chatter. Pell lets the growth numbers do the talking, and on paper it stacks up. But he’s likely to be judged in two years’ time on whether this merger really has achieved meaningful global growth (especially now Arcadis has upped the competition by buying Davis Langdon & Seah), and whether DL’s strengths and values at home have been harnessed or squandered. 

Tom Broughton, brand director  

… and Peter   

When it comes to new men at the helm, few have a challenge as tough as Peter Lauener’s, the head of the government’s Education Funding Agency. In his first interview since taking up the role, Lauener confronts some of the biggest controversies surrounding school building. Lauener is clear about the task at hand - in his words “to deliver at least four schools for every three” built in recent years. His no-frills approach may not sit well with all, but after almost two years of confusion about schools delivery, it is what is needed. It’s now to be hoped that the government gives the green light to its £2bn building programme sooner rather than later, and gives its new man the chance to make an impact.