The Aecom and Davis Langdon merger heralds a new era for construction in the UK

For 20 years, Jeremy Horner has been sitting just behind the throne at Davis Langdon. He’s witnessed a fledgling business grow organically and by acquisition, and worked closely with successive leaders trying to put their stamp on the business by delicately managing the politics of a partnership and pursuing excellence and growth. During that time, Davis Langdon largely stuck to its knitting, specialising in cost consultancy and project management. And while it battled with its structure and competing regional power bases, it developed a reputation for being nice people to do business with, the BBC of UK quantity surveying.

Former boss Paul Morrell institutionalised this approach, taking on high-profile projects and ingratiating Davis Langdon into the inner circles of the development and design communities. Morrell seemed driven by the desire to be a thought leader and innovator, as well as an expert in the firm’s chosen niche. And you can see this spirit living on as he emerges as the driving force behind the government’s bid to reform itself as a construction client.

His successor at Davis Langdon, Rob Smith, meanwhile, will be known as the guy who oversaw the transformational deal with the US giant Aecom, completed a little over six months ago. But Smith will also be remembered as a reformer. During his tenure he oversaw the “One firm, One vision” strategy that sought to overhaul structures, cultures and remuneration to drive behavioural change across the business - it meant pulling together for the greater good. The need for this vision was starkly underlined in the financial crisis as many of the firm’s key clients, and some of the world’s most prominent financial institutions, suddenly became distressed and the threat to all consultancies rose sharply overnight. It became clear that the shape of the Davis Langdon would have to change with the shape of the economic landscape before it.

And as Smith departs and Jeremy Horner emerges as the new king of the empire, that message of change is a simple one: that Davis Langdon, under the Aecom umbrella, is to become a truly global corporate business - and if you don’t like it, you can vote with your feet. Some have. But do those global ambitions mean he will focus the business away from the UK? Apparently not. Horner wants it all. He wants to maintain the firm’s position in the UK, and rejects the idea that there is a vacuum at the top of UK quantity surveying to be filled by a competitor. He wants to build upon the Davis Langdon heritage, expertise and client base while at the same time positioning the business to find growth in new emerging economies, such as Africa, and in new growth sectors, such as mining.

However, under a US corporate structure, with all the cultural values, governance and inevitable company tie pins, you may well see the Davis Langdon name gobbled up by the might of the Aecom corporate identity. The role demands that Horner will be forced more and more into the limelight. But he will ultimately be judged on whether he can maintain the company’s foothold in the UK and at the same time service a new band of global clients to deliver the kind of growth numbers that his new paymasters will, undoubtedly, demand.

Tom Broughton is brand director of Building