WS Atkins chief executive Robin Southwell has revealed that the 11 September attacks delayed the company’s £19.8m swoop for international QS Hanscomb.
Southwell said negotiations for the American multinational had started about a year ago but slowed after the terrorist strikes.

He said: “11 September made us all draw our breath and slowed down the process. We had to be very sure about what we wanted to achieve.”

Atkins’ move is the second large deal involving a QS in recent weeks. The first was Mott Macdonald’s tie-up with Franklin + Andrews. It is also part of a wider round of mergers and acquisitions in the construction sector as firms bolt on extra services or increase geographic coverage.

The deal, first revealed in Building in March, increases the number of US states Atkins operates in from 11 to 19 and raises staff numbers to 1200. Southwell said: “After this deal, our offices cover 70% of the US population. There aren’t many companies of this quality around and this takes us from having a beachhead to a having footprint in the US.”

He added that the US market was still highly fragmented, so that “any company that can offer the range of services we do is in a good position”.

Atkins has been keen to expand its US operations for some time. Two years ago it bought Benham, a multidisciplinary consultant in Oklahoma, for £32.3m.

Hanscomb, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, operates in the automotive, aviation, hospitality and leisure and education sectors. Projects include the construction of airport terminals in Texas, New York, and San Francisco.

It also has operations in the UK and Europe, including Germany and Russia. Hanscomb has 250 staff in the USA and another 125 around the world. Its turnover for the year to 31 September was £32.2m, and its operating profit was £2.8m. The group’s net assets are £4.4m.

City sources say that firms such as Carillion and Interior Services Group are on the hunt for acquisitions, especially in the facilities management market.

So farewell, then, WS …

This is WS Atkins’ new logo, unveiled this month. The has firm decided to drop the WS to “refresh” the brand. It will now trade as Atkins, although it has retained its trademark blue. A spokesperson said the change was part of the group’s drive to become more market-focused. He said: “It’s an evolution for us. Over recent years we have been increasingly referred to as Atkins. It also marks a move away from the traditional consulting engineer to a multidisciplinary provider.” The firm will continue to be listed as WS Atkins on the stock market. The brand has come with a list of dos and don’ts for Atkins staff. These include:
  • never alter the logo
  • never stretch or squash the logo
  • never “cross” the A
  • never change the colour.