How do you apply the UK QS model to an international one? The complexity of global client management is about the only thing everyone agrees on

For all his protestations that Arcadis is not seeking to join the consultant arms race, Neil McArthur, the new man at the head of the company and on our cover this week, must know that few will believe him. Arcadis is now already the 10th largest design consultant in the world - why would it not push to be in the top three? Charged with leading the global integration of the rumoured £90m merger with EC Harris, McArthur is to oversee a business model that seeks to provide a cradle to grave service for global clients in emerging markets. You may think that this is what all consultants are trying to do. True, but who is doing it well and what’s the right way to do it? It’s a case of understanding how you take the value of a traditional UK quantity surveying model with all its bells and whistles and apply it to a shiny new global model - if indeed that is the right approach. The positioning comes with all the unique considerations of working in often corrupt, emerging markets, as well as managing the unknown expertise (and getting rid of any dross) that suddenly forms part of your expanded empire.

It won’t be until the major public-private partnerships are set up and investors step forward that global consultancies will really begin to make hay

It may take a while before McArthur gets to grips with how to make it one business with one culture (if that is ever really possible), but in the meantime he needs to get on top of the competitive positioning globally and by sector, as well as the not so small issue of deciding how best to spend the £100m that is presently burning a hole in his back pocket.

There is an argument that the Arcadis/EC Harris deal was a direct result of the global positioning of Aecom Davis Langdon, among others, and compelled by a fear of being left behind in a sector where global clients hold sway and where other traditional property consultants are eyeing convergence into new related sectors.

But away from the competitive, global corporate muscle-flexing, there are also pressing debates about what the real needs of global clients actually are. Take India, for example, where $1tn worth of public sector investment is being put forward as part of a five-year plan to, at least in part, revolutionise its infrastructure. And yet most global consultancies still focus on private clients and their growing set of needs in the countries they choose to set up in - it mainly entails hand holding through the myriad regulatory issues and guiding them through unknown terrain. It won’t be until the major public-private partnerships are set up and investors step forward with their pre-requisite for international compliance standards - in areas such as cost management, sustainability codes and the planning of communities rather than vanity projects - that global consultancies will really begin to make hay.

In the meantime, the added value that traditional clients attempting to internationalise their offering can contribute has fast become a must-have. How these relationships are managed, monetised and then set as a norm is what we need to hear a lot more about. As the only thing everyone agrees on is the complexity of global client management, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see who is doing it well.                    

Tom Broughton, brand director