SME focus — Engineering and property consultant predicts £6.5m turnover, one year after buyout

It is one year since Tim Downing, managing director of engineering and property consultant DBK Back, led his management buyout. The aim was to make a dash for growth.

The subsequent 12 months were hard work, but even Downing was surprised by the success that his team achieved. “We did have a plan but we’ve already exceeded that so we’ve had to come up with another,” he says.

The firm picked up new clients and secured business in excess of £200m, and revenues for the financial year are set to reach £6.5m.

Among the projects that DBK Back has picked up is the £100m regeneration of the former Jaguar plant in Whitley, Coventry, where regeneration specialist St Modwen appointed it project manager and quantity surveyor.

It has also won work on a joint venture between Miller Development and Barnsley council to build a 65,000 ft2 office complex in Barnsley. It has been picked as a cost consultant by housebuilder Redrow on a £30m scheme in Edgbaston, Birmingham, and appointed quantity surveyor by warehouse developer Prologis on a £40m scheme at Dartford in Kent.

New clients include Irish developer Steamboat Developments. DBK Back is acting on its first project in the UK, a £50m redevelopment of the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square. Developer Richardsons and residential property specialist Cala Homes have also become new clients over the past 12 months.

These are significant projects for a company that operates on a staff of just 85 but Downing reckons it is the consultant’s size that is helping it to win work from bigger rivals such as Gleeds and Faithful + Gould. “We’re a niche company, operating solely within the commercial development arena. We can offer a more personal service and are involved in the day-to-day running of projects,” he says.

Most importantly, turnover for the year ending March 2007 is on track to reach £6.5m, a compound increase of 60% over two years, and its profit margin is expected to be 10-15%

We had a plan but we’ve exceeded that so we’ve had to come up with another one

Tim Downing

Downing, along with directors Duncan Berry and Steve Kelly, led a buyout in August 2005, at which time the name was changed from Back Group to DBK Back, in recognition of its new majority shareholders.

Downing says the time was right for them to take control of the company. “The management team had all been in place for a long time and we wanted to push for more responsibility. We also wanted to market ourselves as an owner-managed business,” he says.

Downing, Berry and Kelly own 75% of the equity and the remaining shares are held by 12 other directors. The buyout has provided a new focus to the management team. “There’s personal money involved so that always concentrates the mind but there has been a push on the marketing side, which has been a success,” he says.

It’s not just the bottom line that has benefited from the buyout – the effect on staff has been just as important. “We are far more inclusive than we were. Every shareholder has a say in how we run the business but we can also make quick decisions,” says Downing.

As well as winning new clients, the new-look DBK Back has been able to attract new talent to its ranks. David Maude has joined from Mansell Construction, where he was head of the airports division, to become head of the London office. It has also appointed Stuart Dean as a director from Francis Graves, the quantity surveyor.

Despite the success, Downing and his team are not resting on their laurels. The ambition now is not just to grow revenues but expand operations. Organic growth is the priority but the managing director will look at acquiring bolt-ons in key areas. These include planning, health and education.

DBK Back already has offices in Birmingham, London and Manchester but Downing thinks there is potential for even more. “We may consider an office in the South-west. We are always looking at opportunities.”