Chief executive Philip Youell says firm had to expand to satisfy needs of clients

EC Harris’ merger with Arcadis was triggered by pressure to grow faster to satisfy clients, according to EC Harris chief executive Philip Youell.

Speaking exclusively to Building, Youell said: “In the eye of the storm, in 2008, we carried out a review of our strategy focussing on clients’ business problems. We knew we needed to grow more quickly to service clients in different places in the world, given the increased market volatility. We also needed to deepen our capability.”

Youell said that “real dialogue” with Arcadis had been taking place for two years, but that the firm decision to pursue a merger was taken this May. David Sparrow, partner and head of client solutions at EC Harris, added: “May was the trigger. We weren’t growing quickly enough for our clients to satisfy their demand for skills and geographical presence. We thought with Arcadis we could definitely get there more quickly.”

EC Harris revealed in June 2010 that it was seeking to grow by at least £100m before floating at least 60% of the business on the stock exchange to raise funds for further growth. But Sparrow said: “The demand from clients is there now, and this will get us up there within a year. This accelerates our ambitions by two and a half years.”

The EC Harris-Arcadis tie up is the latest in a series of major deals in the consultancy sector, following Aecom’s purchase of Davis Langdon and CH2M Hill’s swoop for Halcrow. However, Youell denied that pressure from competitors was behind EC Harris’ decision to merge. “If none of those other mergers had happened, it wouldn’t have changed what we’re doing now,” he said.