Peter Drummond, the new chief of Building Design Partnership, is looking for another £35m of business …
The new offices of architect Building Design Partnership in London’s trendy Clerkenwell are spacious, stylish and full of “workstations” rather than boring old desks. The aim is to make the working day less arduous – staff have their own bar, complete with dodgy 1980s theme night on Thursdays. It is also to suggest a firm that’s doing rather well for itself.
The man who moved BDP from its grotty West End lodgings to this haven of cool is also the man responsible for moving BDP forward as a firm. Peter Drummond, a
50-year-old town planner with interests in sailing and the glory days of Nottingham Forest FC – and who was head of the firm’s three London and South-east offices – was appointed chief executive last week.
And what a mighty beast he has mounted. With 452 UK staff and 1044 worldwide, BDP is the only architect among Britain’s top 25 consultants.
And Drummond wants to keep it that way. Since taking over from Roy Adams, he has set himself just one target: to raise BDP’s turnover from £65m to £100m by 2010. He intends to do this by expanding some aspects of BDP’s core areas, while branching out into new ones.
Drummond wants to build on BDP’s pre-eminence in education, health, urbanism and city-centre retail by increasing its capacity to deliver on all stages of the project. The practice has 306 architects and 146 technicians – structural engineers, M&E engineers and town planners. The only consultancy not offered is QS work, partly because of a joint venture with Clarus Consulting.
Drummond sees BDP leading by example in the modernisation of the industry. “In the next five years we’ve got to be smarter,” he says. “We’ll see the main players – the contractors and the big consultants – becoming more efficient.”
Drummond thinks BDP can increase its productivity without massively increasing staff – only to have to shed them if the market nosedives. His chosen way is to increase what he calls “knowledge management”, a somewhat David Brent-style term that means building up an online bank of the parts of projects that can be repeated, thereby saving time and resources next time round.
“We forget more than we know,” he says. “We need to use new technology to work up properly evaluated best practice we can use as exemplars on other projects.”
He wants to move BDP up the league table of sports architects. It is eyeing the extensive opportunities of football stadiums and the Olympics
Drummond, who next year is to take part in the Atlantic leg of a round-the-world yacht race, says he has no plans to “do an Aukett” and float BDP on the stock market. Nor does he plan to grow the firm through acquisitions. He wants to grow organically into new areas.
As a board member of the South London Family Housing Association, he wants to increase BDP’s team working on big housing projects. The templates for this are the firm’s acclaimed Armada developments in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Holland. Projects like this will see the urbanism and sustainability teams grow, adding to large retail projects already under way in Ashford, Kingston-upon-Thames, Liverpool and Brent Cross.
In the next five years, Drummond expects the number of engineers in the firm to increase, although he will not commit to a percentage of the workforce.
Drummond is also keen to push BDP up the league table of sports architects. It is heavily involved in racecourse design and is eyeing the extensive opportunities of football stadiums, and the Olympics.
“I would love to work on the Olympics,” says Drummond. “We’re already working at the Stratford City scheme but we’d love to get involved if we win the games.”
Drummond’s life will be a lot easier if BDP wins two huge PFI schemes, worth £400m, expected to be announced next month. There are also schemes in the pipeline in Leicester and Wakefield, which would be a shot in the arm for a firm that relies on a large volume of continuous work to keep afloat. It would also allow it to push ahead with its planned new offices in Glasgow and Birmingham.
Don’t be fooled by Drummond’s exec-speak about “BDP-ness”; he has the drive to move his gargantuan firm onwards. “[After] the recession in the early 1990s we learned a lot about the mix of design quality and quantity,” he says. “We resolved to focus much more on quality.”
At the moment, BDP seems to be enjoying the best of both worlds.