QS to move into high-level management consultancy to offset lack of new construction work

Davis Langdon will counter the fall in demand in the construction sector by moving into general management consultancy, senior partner Rob Smith has announced.

The move is the firm’s first change of direction since it was bought last month by Aecom, the American engineering-led multidisciplinary consultant, which has a turnover of £3.8bn.

Smith said Davis Langdon (DL) had decided last week “at a global level” that it would emulate consultants such as the 16,500-strong US firm McKinsey; this would mean becoming involved with companies at an earlier stage than is usual with a quantity surveyor.

Smith said DL could advise governments and corporations on how to invest in the built environment “from the very earliest moment a client is contemplating something, rather than from when a client wants a building”.

He said: “We could advise an African government that wanted to improve its social infrastructure. We can help it to get the best value out of its revenue.”

He added that the firm’s expertise in construction gave it an edge over traditional management consultants when it came to huge infrastructure projects. “Whichever firm is awarded the next Olympic Games, why not go to Aecom and Davis Langdon rather than a Pricewaterhouse Coopers?”

The push towards “asset optimisation” and management consultancy was being driven by a lack of new work, Smith said.

“There’s more activity [in these areas] because people don’t have the funds to invest and the banks aren’t lending,” he said.

Smith said DL was picking up work from companies looking to remodel their offices. He explained that DEGW, the architect and space planner which DL bought in August 2009, was busier than at any time for the past four years.

He denied the move towards management consultancy had been forced on it by Aecom, which bought the QS last month for £204m; he said he had been pushing for Davis Langdon to
“go down the McKinsey route” since 2004.

The departed

Aecom’s takeover has been followed by several high-profile departures from Davis Langdon as some partners flee its more “corporate” structure.

Simon Rawlinson, who had worked for Davis Langdon for 15 years, will join EC Harris to develop its global research and insight team, but has stressed his departure was not linked to the Aecom deal. Rob Smith said: “He wanted a change. Some people get to a particular point in their career when they want to move on. Others wanted to stick with the partnership model rather than a corporate one.”

Other exits include Richard Taylor, head of retail in the UK, Europe and the Middle East; Padraic McGuinn, head of commercial fit-out in the UK; Andy Outram, a partner who worked on the bid for the Athletes’ Village for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, who is joining Turner & Townsend; Neil Morrison, managing partner of DL’s commercial Blue Team in London, has joined Drivers Jonas Deloitte.

Smith will retire in April. He said that he was considering working in the not-for-profit sector.