Chief executive Mel Ewell speaks for first time since the Ferrovial takeover, and outlines plans for Amey
Amey chairman Sir Ian Robinson will have his position reviewed in six months' time, according to chief executive Mel Ewell.

Robinson, along with Amey's other non-executive directors, offered to resign after Spanish construction giant Ferrovial announced in April that it intended to buy the support services group for £81m. But Ferrovial asked Robinson to stay on, whereas the other non-executives were replaced by leading players from its new parent.

Ewell, speaking for the first time since Ferrovial confirmed last week that the deal had been agreed, said: "As we stand right now, Ferrovial has requested that Ian stay on and both parties will review that situation at the end of the year."

Robinson was knighted in 1999 and is well respected in the construction industry.

Acting finance director Eric Tracey, who has been on secondment at Amey since last year to sort out the company's finances, has had his contract extended by four weeks to the end of July. Ewell approved this move to ensure that the handover between Tracey and the incoming finance director, Ferrovial's José Leo, is smooth.

The handover is seen as important because of the perilous finances that led Amey to issue two profit warnings in December. Ewell said: "José effectively started last week. But the past six months have been intense and Eric's involvement in that has been tremendous. What I want is a solid, effective handover."

Amey's debt stands at about £190m. Ewell admitted that Amey is not involved in talks with its banks over the repayment of this debt, but is instead being represented by senior figures from Ferrovial.

Ewell conceded that the company's perilous finances had cost it contracts it might otherwise have won. He said: "Amey did take a lot of bad press coverage – much of it warranted. We lost some bid opportunities as a direct result of that."

But Ewell insisted that the company had retained the support of its major clients, including the Highways Agency and technology research organisation Qinetiq: "We didn't lose any major customers – we're heavily dependent on a small number of clients and we have kept very close with all of them."

Ewell added, however, that the company's short-term aim is to restore its reputation over the next six to 12 months. In the medium to long term, Amey has international ambitions: "I happen to think that in two or three years you can certainly see Amey in the Western world expanding into mainland Europe and certainly into Canada."

Despite admitting that the company's reputation had taken a pasting, Ewell hit back at claims that Amey had mishandled the pay-off deal for former chief executive Brian Staples.

Staples left in January to demands from some shareholders that he should not receive any pay-off, given the firm's poor performance. Ultimately Staples received only £300,000 – half his entitlement.

Ewell said: "Brian remains on the payroll until the summer – that is a fair and proper deal as he gave up a good 50% of his contractual package. I think that Amey is one of the first companies to negotiate downwards a pay package."

Ferrovial is seconding key employees to work alongside Amey management to learn about the British market and the PFI – a procurement method that is still in development in Spain. Several Ferrovial employees are already working closely with Charles Mogg, who heads up Amey Ventures, the company's PFI business.

A sigh of relief: Mel Ewell on the Ferrovial takeover

The day Ferrovial formally announced its intention to buy Amey, Mel Ewell’s wife went to WHSmith and bought him a Linguaphone tape to learn Spanish. He admits to struggling with the language, but believes it polite to be able to converse with his new masters in their own language. Ewell recounts the anecdote with a grin, a clear demonstration of his current state of mind. Leaning backwards with his hands behind his head, Ewell can finally relax because Amey’s future has been secured. Ferrovial has been in talks with Amey about a takeover since November, but only confirmed that the deal would definitely go ahead last week. During that time, the firm suffered bad press due to the departure of Amey’s chief executive Brian Staples – as well as the ignominy of issuing two profit warnings in less than a month. Ewell, who became chief executive after a stint as chief operating officer earlier this year, admits his relief: “We’ve had an extremely difficult year. From Amey’s point of view we’re delighted this has come to a conclusion.”