The Davis Langdon we remember no longer exists - is holding on to the name more of a hindrance than a help?
What’s in a name? The issue has certainly been a thorny one for Aecom since its takeover of historic brand Davis Langdon almost three years ago. The decision to hold on to the Davis Langdon name at that time seemed clear cut. The UK construction market, particularly in DL’s traditional London commercial stronghold, was shocked enough that a firm perceived as epitomising British consultancy was bought by a large US corporation. A decision to lose the brand and the Langdon name, which dates from 1919, would have exacerbated any hostility. Jump forward to the present day, however, and perhaps that name is more of a hindrance than a help.
Jason Prior - the company’s head of buildings and places, who himself joined Aecom from an acquisition, Edaw - this week outlines his vision for the company. Whether or not you like the plan, its focus on global growth and large-scale development planning is very different from the traditional Davis Langdon offering. For that reason, if no other, logic dictates that the name’s days could be numbered.
The truth is that the Davis Langdon we remember - pre-recession, and pre-takeover - already no longer exists
One of the reasons for retaining a brand like DL for so long is the perception of quality it conveys. But many of the senior names that worked at DL have now left, and the market - particularly the London commercial market - knows this. This is not to say that Aecom cannot establish its own reputation among commercial clients - Prior argues strongly that London is still an important market for the firm, and this week it announces it has won a high-profile deal with Google that DL of any era would surely have been proud to have on its books. But its new teams need to earn their reputation themselves and the DL brand is less likely to open doors.
The loss of the name - with the history it embodies - would elicit strong emotion in the industry. A similar story was apparent at Bovis, another age-old construction name whose new owners, Lend Lease - having determined to change the course of the firm - arguably held on to the name for too long (11 years in that case).
But the truth is that the DL we remember - pre-recession, and pre-takeover - already no longer exists. And surely from Aecom’s perspective, the longer the name is kept, the longer people will hark back to what the company used to represent, rather than what it is trying to be today.
Sarah Richardson, editor
The renewed debate over Margaret Thatcher’s legacy since her death on Monday has inevitably divided the country; and the legacy of her most famous initiative for the construction industry - Right to Buy - is equally controversial. It changed the social mix of communities and put home ownership in the reach of a new group of people. But because the proceeds were not reinvested in housing, it did unexpected damage in helping cause the social housing shortage that the UK faces today. So perhaps those driving the current Help to Buy initiative, with its own controversial levels of subsidy for private sector home purchases, should pay close attention to any signs of unintended consequences in the form of artificially inflating prices whilst failing to boost build volumes. It would be a poor history lesson if in 30 years’ time, the private housing market were struggling to combat decades of low build rate in the same way that the social housing sector is today.