Architect to join forces with advertising group to form RockArchimedia, a "total branding" company that aims to get support services listing.
HLM architects is to become only the second UK architect to be quoted on the stock market after its planned reverse takeover of listed advertising group Osprey. The new company will be called RockArchimedia and will be listed under “support services”.

HLM chairman Chris Liddle expects the new firm to double in size within 18 months through a combination of acquisitions and organic growth.

Osprey, which employs 100 staff, has been under pressure from investors because its shares have failed to perform relative to the sector. When trading in them was suspended on 18 January, they were worth a total of £4.8m. The firm made an operating loss of £236 000 in the year ended 30 September 1998; HLM made profit of £2m on sales of £8m last year.

The combined firm will employ more than 250 staff and is expected to have a market capitalisation of £20-25m. Auckett Associates, the only other architecture practice listed, has a capitalisation of £15.2m. Both companies are very small compared with the rest of the sector.

Liddle is hoping that his idea of “total branding” will win hearts in the City. An example of this could be the provision of architectural services to an NHS trust as part of a design package that would also include communications materials, leaflets, maps and advice on corporate identity.

RockArchimedia will also look at international expansion in the USA, the Far East, Africa and Australasia. HLM is a private finance initiative specialist with a portfolio of projects worth more than £500m. It hopes to export this expertise to places such as South Africa.

Liddle said he has been in discussion for more than two months with private companies in both the marketing/communications and architectural fields. He expects to announce at least one acquisition by the end of 2000.

Liddle also said that HLM had learned from the bad experiences of other architectural practices that acquired a stock market quotation shortly before the recession of the 1990s. Liddle said that HLM, which became a limited company in 1988 but never listed, has the financial management to thrive as a public company.

“We too have been through the sausage machine of the recession and it put a great focus on managing your way out of a black hole. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pass down those lessons to the next generation here.”