The takeover of Adams Kara Taylor by White Young Green will suit both firms

At the launch of a book on structural engineer Adams Kara Taylor (AKT) this week, founding partner Hanif Kara will have a lot to talk about. For instance, there will be the small matter of last week’s announcement that the firm had been bought by listed consultant White Young Green (WYG) for £10.5m.

Over the past 10 years, AKT has built its reputation as an engineer that can tackle the most demanding designs. It has worked with Foster and Partners and Foreign Office Architects, but it reached its apotheosis with Zaha Hadid’s Wolfsburg science centre, which was described by Building back in 2002 as “the most complicated structure humanity has ever tried to build”.

This success, and the rapid growth that it created, has made AKT a constant acquisition target. In the past five years, all the large British engineering companies, including WSP and Atkins, have made advances.

WYG originally proposed to AKT four years ago but it rejected the offer on the grounds that the timing was not right. The latest offer was put to the company three months ago.

Kara, a founding member of AKT, says the terms, which include AKT gradually taking control of WYG’s southern offices, made him sit down with his fellow founders, Robin Adams and Albert Taylor, and seriously discuss accepting.

“WYG didn’t want to take us over like the big guys did,” he says. “We will keep our name, offices, brand and independence but we will have ‘part of the WYG Group’ added to our stationery.”

In reality, the deal makes sense for both sides. AKT’s lack of staff has forced it to reject projects in America, Dubai and the UK. In the past three years the company has grown 30%, but was finding it hard to recruit new talent and expand as fast as it wanted. An attempt to open offices in Dublin and Bristol was abandoned because suitable staff could not be found.

Kara says: “We’re lucky because we punch above our weight in terms of the projects we work on. But this isn’t sustainable. We can’t grow fast enough and are being held back by our size. We had a choice: do we keep growing organically or do we leap quickly? We knew we had to keep growing so we made our choice.”

We had a choice: do we keep growing organically or do we leap quickly?

Hanif Kara, Adams Kara Taylor

He adds that the deal will open doors for the firm in the public sector. “WYG has a lot of work in the public sector. Now we will be able to enter the market for Building Schools for the Future and city academies.”

John Purvis, chief executive of WYG, says the main benefits for his company will be raising its profile and its design credentials in structural engineering.

“AKT is at the cutting edge of engineering and is working on some of the most exciting iconic buildings in the UK and Europe, and with the best architects,” he says. “All these fantastic skills will complement those that we already have.”

The two firms have spent the past few weeks negotiating the details of the contract. In the short-term, AKT will still work from its base in Farringdon in London. Long-term plans are yet to be finalised.

Kara vehemently denies that the acquisition bears any relation to the way architect Will Alsop’s firm was bought by Stuart McColl’s SMC Group.

“The architect model is much more about the personality at the head of the company,” he says. “engineers are much more pluralistic and collaborative. Some would argue that our deal is less significant.”

Soon after the announcement to the stock exchange, Kara phoned some clients to break the news. “I called Land Securities, Stanhope and a few others,” he says. “They all said they didn’t see it coming, but I think constantly surprising people is a good thing.”