Among the unfortunate dramas in the construction sector recently, of which sadly there have been many, the troubles of Bovis Lend Lease would seem to be the most self-inflicted.
Who would have thought that this bluest of blue-blooded contractors would ever be forced to write off £48m on contracts and face two years of financial woe. The question is, can the two Aussies, Bob Johnston and Murray Coleman, turn it back into the Rolls-Royce outfit it was when Lend Lease bought it in 1999?
Bovis’ troubles stem from what happened after that purchase. Its Australian parent slung out its low risk, fee-based contracting philosophy and replaced it with a gung-ho Australian-style culture where turnover was king. You could argue that it had little choice, given that construction management was at the time falling from favour, but what made a bold move into a dangerous one was that Bovis’ old guard were sidelined in favour of a younger crew with more aggressive instincts when it came to pricing. The paternalistic, relationship-based culture that led to many to spend their entire careers at the firm evaporated as staff left, and many of those who remained became disgruntled.
So can Johnston and Coleman do it? Well, they’re addressing their problems with a massive recruitment drive and a more balanced contracting portfolio. And Bovis remains a terrific business in terms of its ability to build – you only have to look at its flagship projects and blue-chip clients. Where the new team have yet to play their hand is in the company’s culture. Unlike their predecessors, they would be wise to seek advice from the man who made Bovis the business it was: Sir Frank Lampl … after all, he managed to acquire 12 companies and turned them into one happy, functional family.
Cometh the hour ...
It’s easy to understand why the formation of the Green Building Council might be greeted with a degree of scepticism by an industry that has seen more than its share of self-improvement groups over the past 10 years. But the signs are that this one will carve out a valuable role for itself. For one thing, it’s in step with the times. The green agenda is now moving faster than anyone could have imagined 12 months ago – take, for example, Ken Livingstone’s plans to cut London’s carbon emissions 60% within 20 years, which just happens to be half the time set by the government. If we’re to meet either date we’ll need lots of research to provide policy-makers with a rational, evidence-based view of the way forward. And we will need to push hard on cutting energy use in existing stock, as called for by our 99% campaign. The Green Building Council can do this – particularly as it is to be led by Paul King, the WWF director who is credited with putting sustainable housebuilding on the agenda. We wish him, and it, well.
Denise Chevin, editor