Private equity firm 3i set to buy ‘less than 50%’ share of practice valuing the firm at about £350m

Architect Foster + Partners yesterday announced it had sold a minority stake in the firm to private equity group 3i, valuing the practice at around £350m

Lord Foster
Foster: Planning for succession

Speaking from his Battersea HQ, Foster also revealed a succession plan for the 850-strong firm. Mouzhan Majidi, a senior partner, has been promoted to a newly-created role of chief executive as part of a restructuring of the management of the company. A new executive board has also been established.

Foster said the sale of the minority stake meant the practice could expand and diversify in the future and would also ensure a smoother succession.

He said: “We have become aware of the potential for wider markets. We are excited by the challenges of expanding those markets as well as 3i’s global network, their profile and their interest in longer term investment.”

As part of the transaction, Foster assigned his personal “Foster” trademark to Foster + Partners, guaranteeing that all future projects will be able to use the Foster brand. Foster has reinvested in the company and remains a significant shareholder.

The practice also announced it had expanded the equity ownership of the company to increase the number of senior management shareholders from four to 14. Majidi said a further, unspecified, proportion of shares had been reserved for internal promotion, which could be released in the next year.

He said: “Its going to happen very soon. We are hoping that within a year we will have a substantial number of people joining the group of senior management who also now have shares.”

He said Majidi would take on “quite a lot of the day-to-day running of the company”, leaving him to “concentrate more on design and… to look strategically at the bigger picture.”

3i is Foster + Partner’s first external investor. Steve Nicholls, head of UK growth capital at 3i, said: “We haven’t seen any constraints about where the business is going in terms of opportunity and growth, the group structure is very strong and you can see how you could build on that.”

The new executive board is made up of Foster as chairman, Majidi as chief executive, original shareholders Spencer de Grey and David Nelson as heads of design and Graham Phillips as chief operating officer. De Grey, Nelson and Phillips all became senior executives, while Grant Brooker and Nigel Dancey became executive directors.

Foster said early objectives following on from the deal would include bringing in more specialist engineering and increasing project management skills within the firm.

The news comes after months of speculation over the sale of a stake in the 850-strong practice.

The price tag will come as a shock to many in the industry, who considered the practice overvalued when it first came to the market.

The revelation in January that Foster had appointed a corporate finance house to look for outside investment in his 40-year-old practice came as a shock to the industry, including many of his 850 employees.

A spokesperson for the firm said the sale would aid succession planning and ensure funds for international expansion.

One source close to Fosters said that many senior people at the practice has been angry at the revelation “but that seems to have been redressed now”.

  • Earlier this year, Foster unwound an employee share trust and bought back his employees’ 49.6% stake in the firm. Workers were offered a payout, thought to be worth about one month’s salary, but many claim they were not aware of the existence of the trust in the first place. As a result of this, the financial services regulator in Jersey, where the employee trust was registered, is looking into the case. Building understands that some staff have also approached a lobby group protecting employees’ ownership rights.