Consultant’s nuclear project to boost staff in Saudi Arabia, while acquisition kickstarts growth in China

EC Harris is to expand in Saudi Arabia and has bought a consultant in China as it launches a major push into emerging markets.

It will grow its Saudi Arabian office more than sevenfold after it won a place on the country’s new nuclear energy city. The newly acquired Chinese consultant has offices in Shanghai and Beijing.

In the last financial year to 30 April 2010, just under half of EC Harris’ revenue came from outside the UK, but it plans to boost that to three quarters over the next three years, focusing on Asia and the Middle East.

The overseas push comes after a difficult financial year, when revenue fell from £328m to £270m and it lost almost one in five employees.

The consultant has 12 staff working in Saudi Arabia, but location leader Collin Morris said this would increase to 30-40 “in the next couple of months” and rise to 90 by the end of the year.

“We’ve been successful in the last few months winning a number of cost management and project cost programmes. There’s [also] been a lot more infrastructure projects,” he said.

Chief among these was a contract win two weeks ago to provide project management, commercial management and cost management for the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy in Riyadh, the Kingdom’s first foray into nuclear power.

Morris said the city will house 50,000 people, two nuclear plants and renewable energy sources.

The exact value of the project is not known but the Kingdom is reported to be spending $80bn on new power generation over the next eight years.

Morris added that EC Harris should be able to bulk up its numbers in the country despite a bureaucratic visa process by bringing in Asian workers based in Saudi Arabia as well as deploying British staff.

It has also bought MB Project Management (MBPM) in China, which has over 30 staff and adds to the 100 EC Harris has there.

David Sparrow, global head of client solutions, said that the opportunities in the country demanded rapid growth.

“China is a huge, huge market. To grow organically will take too much time. We’re looking to further expand and strengthen quickly in China,” he said.

MBPM has been established in China for a decade and is largely a mixture of locals and British expatriates, Sparrow said.

As well as concentrating on the growing economies of the Middle East and Asia, EC Harris is also moving increasingly into oil, gas, energy and transportation rather than private and public property.