Jeffries says consultant's prospects are better than ever as he announces plans to boost international work.
WS Atkins chief executive Mike Jeffries said prospects for the consultant were better than ever before when he announced a 14% rise in pre-tax profit for the year to 30 April 1999.

To justify his claim, Jeffries cited the range of work from the private and public sector and that clients wanted firms such as Atkins to have more involvement over the life of an asset.

He said Atkins planned to accelerate the growth of its international business and said that deputy chief executive David James had been given special responsibility for this.

"We recognise that our aspirations for growth can only be met through becoming a more international company," Jeffries said. Atkins' international arm, with £54.4m turnover, now accounts for only 13% of its business, with £38.6m from Asia Pacific and a far smaller proportion from the USA and Continental Europe.

Pre-tax profit overall rose to £34.7m on turnover up 16% to £425.7m. Atkins' transport, management and industry, and international divisions all improved their operating profits.

In transport, Atkins is working with the Highways Agency on piloting construction management techniques borrowed from the building sector. It is also heavily involved in the West Coast Main Line Electrician Upgrade.

Jeffries said that in management and industry, Atkins was seeing "considerable activity in newer industrial areas, despite the perception of the declining UK industrial base". He said the firm was working worldwide with major electronics firms, and was heavily involved with the brewing and water industries.

The property arm, however, saw operating profit fall from £11.7m to £9.6m, although Atkins is optimistic about outsourcing opportunities, and about its conservation work on buildings.

After last autumn's failed merger with Bovis, which was aimed at giving Atkins a full consultancy-to-contracting capability, Jeffries said the firm was still committed to broadening its range of services.

He said: "Although the negotiations [with Bovis] ultimately proved abortive, we are already strengthening and broadening our capabilities in a number of other ways.

"We are recruiting individuals with new skills from related industries and are actively seeking acquisitions of businesses bringing complementary technologies that we believe we can offer into our customer base."

Jeffries said private finance initiative work formed an increasing part of Atkins' business and it had formed WS Atkins Investments, a new holding company, for all the stakes it had in PFI projects. These include hospitals in Wythenshawe and Hereford, roads and Bridgend Prison.