This year’s consultants league table ranks the biggest 200 consultants in the UK, followed by the top 100 architects, engineers, surveyors, QSs and building surveyors. But does size really matter? We discuss its relevance with the assistance of a canine analogy …Tables compiled by Martin Hewes

The chihuahuas
Anyone who’s met a chihuahua will know that small can mean excitable and very loud. In construction, it’s often the smallest firms that do the most exciting work, as the likes of structural engineer Alan Conisbee and Associates (ranked 177th) and Assael Architecture (ranked 182nd) have proved. Both have worked on innovative projects, such as Assael’s pilot scheme for flats over a Texaco filling station, and Alan Conisbee’s pioneering work with prefabricated systems.

Rachel Smart, a management consultant for small businesses, says specialist firms are often best placed to take on unfamiliar challenges. “Small businesses are able to react speedily to the demands of customers without battling through organisational layers,” she says. “Smaller firms can also try out new ideas with less fuss than big firms.” Smart thinks that although many small firms will be highly specialised, the individuals within them are often highly versatile. They are likely to have tried out a number of different roles, which helps them interested and gives them different skills. What is more, according to Smart, “every employee in a small business shares in the highs and lows of its development. This can be far more motivating than a hefty salary”.

Phil Brumby, chief operations director at project manager Coteba (ranked 190th), agrees that a smaller firm’s strength is its adaptability. He says: “We can tailor our services to meet our clients’ needs. Blue-chip companies such as BP, Connex and Renault have said they wanted to work with us because we expect to fit in with them, rather than vice versa.”

The retrievers
The great danes of the industry have the weight to break into new markets – if necessary by simply snapping up a business that is already there. But the bigger the firm, the more distant the top management from the client, the greater the resources that have to be poured into central departments to manage and co-ordinate all those diversified divisions, and the more gargantuan the restructuring needed to keep the firm aligned with its customers. And, it should be added, the more spectacular the spill if management gets it wrong.

Medium-sized firms are, by contrast, the retrievers of the industry: loyal, friendly and pretty nimble on their paws. Or, to translate into business terminology, they offer team-orientated staff that can bring a personal touch to customer relations. Vince Dallimore, business development director at M&E consultant Troup Bywaters + Anders (ranked 69th), says the firm’s size (it has 74 chartered UK staff) means that its 12 partners are involved in day-to-day business. “The partners are close to their clients and each is able to follow the development of the business,” he says.

The art of managing this kind of business is in deciding the optimum balance between specialisation and diversification. Troup intends to concentrate on M&E. Dallimore says: “We are diversifying by going into new regions, but we want to keep our focus clear. There’s a danger that with diversification into other fields – in our case that’d be things like structural engineering – you can cloud your direction.”

Dallimore says one problem with medium-sized firms is that younger staff members feel they have fewer prospects than in the superfirms. To tackle the issue, Troup says it is essential to provide a clear career structure – and to get rid of bosses when they have served their time: “We don’t want partners hanging on for years and years.” Architect Squire & Partners (ranked 65th and 65% bigger than last year) attributes its success in part to the creation of career opportunities.

The great danes
Have you ever heard the chairman of a company announce to the press that he was hoping to shrink the business by 5% in the coming year? Or confide his concern over the rapid growth in turnover?

The fact is that, always and everywhere, there is a presumption that growth is good, that size matters, that big is better.

If you ask consultants why they think this, the answer is simply that being big gives you more resources, more staff and more skills. And more chance to break into into new markets. Padraic Kelly, the managing partner of consulting engineer Buro Happold (ranked 26th), says: “We have a large, highly skilled workforce, so we can adapt to market conditions as they change – but we’ve also got a huge range of specialist knowledge and experience.”

A more specific reason is that clients increasingly want to get all their consultancy services in one go, thereby cutting down on the time and effort needed to negotiate contracts and manage suppliers. Paul Purvis, business development manager at architect HOK (ranked 38th), agrees that size and diversity leads to a better package for the client. “HOK Consulting, which offers advice on regeneration, masterplanning and so on, can help out our other sectors. This is helping us to get more into the strategic planning side of things – which we consider to be our big growth area.” And Stephen Reffitt, a director of Atkins’ Leeds-based Property Design Services, says he has seen a big increase in the number of aggregated contracts awarded to the company, particularly from the public sector. “Contracts that combine design and surveying services are becoming more common, and Atkins’ size [ranked 1st and 17% bigger than last year] means that it is well placed to take on these contracts.”

Reffitt and Kelly both believe that bigger is also safer – the reason being that diversified service spreads risk. Reffitt says that Atkins is less vulnerable than specialist firms to downturns in particular sectors. And according to Kelly: “The downturn in commercial work hasn’t had a bad impact on us because we have other focuses.”

Keys for all tables

na = not available or not supplied
* = may not be included in total number of UK chartered staff
** = ranked by total chartered architects, and therefore not comparable with 2000 guide, which was ranked by total architectural staff including technicians

1 One acquisition, not included in figures
2 Merged with Franklin + Andrews (not reflected in figures)
3 Two mergers, resulting in rapid growth over the past year
4 Merged with the Australian practice in October 2001
5 Acquisition of: OTN Building Cost Consultants (Singapore); Hereford Consulting Group (Philippines) and Gabinete de Ingenieria (Spain)
6 Acquired Hanscome and became part of the Atkins Group
7 A management buyout recently took place
8 Acquisition of Rushbrook Fire Safety Consultancy in 2001/2
9 Oscar Faber was aquired by Aecom (a US consulting engineer) in October 2001, and in the UK it merged with Maunsell to form FaberMaunsell
10 Amalgamated with Carter Walker (UK), PKS (Ireland) and Kalin Webb (USA)
11 All figures exclusive of joint ventures and global alliances
12 An office was opened in Poland last year
13 Became a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering in May 2001
14 The sister company, School PM, was amalgamated within TPS Consult
15 A company was set up in Spring 2002 to carry out work in southern Mediterranian countries and South America
16 Name change from Abbey Halford & Rowe to Aedas AHR Architects
17 The Berlin office is now part of the London company structure
18 Acquired by Bure AB of Sweden in December 2001
19 Summers-Inman was created by the merger of Summers and Inman
20 Six partners were appointed
21 Now part of Tribal
22 Amalgamated with Fordham Johns Partnership
23 The group underwent a general restructuring
24 Acquired Project Solutions in October 2001, and launched Hush Design in May 2001
25 All three companies now trade under the banner Frankham Consulting Group
26 Company will become a limited liability partnership in 2002
27 HCD Group was recently formed by amalgamating two companies and incorporating a QS practice.
28 A joint venture was recently set up with BDP to create Claruspcm
29 Became a limited liability partnership
30 Merged with Jon Boon Architects of Norwich
31 Merged with Johnson Gillies on 1 May 2002
32 Incorporated in April 2001
33 Joint ventures were recently established with companies in Dublin & Aberdeen
34 Financial year-end changed from June to September
35 Kennedy Haywards was formed in April 2001 by the merger of Haywards Chartered Surveyors and Kennedy & Partners
36 Changed from partnership to limitied liability partnership in May 2002
37 CMC Group now comprises Commercial Management Consultants and Procom Management
38 The assets of Trick Southern were acquired by the Parent compnay, PH Warr
39 Reduced staff numbers by 15
40 Subsidiary companies were set up in France and Germany
41 Staff numbers increased to undertake access auditing and consultancy for the Disability Discrimination Act
42 A new director has been appointed

The total chartered staff figures are published exactly as provided by the firms. Where totals do not match the breakdowns of chartered staff, this may be because of the inclusion in one set of figures but not another of staff who are not yet chartered.


About 400 firms were contacted for this year’s Building consultant’s survey. They were asked for details on the number of chartered staff, non-chartered and technical staff, domestic and worldwide fee incomes, and fees per employee. Practices were also asked questions relating to speed of invoice payment, staff recruitment, likely wage increases, expansion plans, areas of work, e-business initiatives and IT spending. Those unable to respond included: Amec, Mouchel, Citex, Parkman, Currie & Brown, Pell Frischmann, Foster & Partners, Cluttons, Northcroft, Haley Somerset Consulting, Hamilton Associate Architects, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Boydon & Company, NAP Sherwin, BPTW, Bon Byan Partnership, 3D Architects, The Miller Partnership, Shepeard Epstein Hunter, NAI Gooch Webster, James R Knowles, RTKL-UK. Survey newcomers include: Appleyard & Trew, Archibald Shaw, Brodie Plant Goddard, Back Group, Cameron TB, Bidwells Building Consultancy, Carl Bro, Cameron Taylor Bedford, CDA, Devereux Architects, Ellis & Moore Consulting, Fanshawe, Firmingers, Francis Graves, Gary Gabriel Associates, Goyne Adams, Francis Graves, Hawkins\Brown, Hillson Moran Partnership, Hurley Palmer Flat, Househam Henderson, Kennedy Haywards, King Summers Partnership, Martindales, MBN Consulting, Osprey PMI, ORMS Designers & Architects, Peter Brett Associates, Romans Surveyors, Ross Project Services, S&P Architects & Interior Designers, Sawyer & Fisher, Stephen Davies Associates, Tuffin Ferraby & Taylor, Tangram Architects & Designers, The Davidson Partnership, Thomas and Adamson.