Sale of Pickavance Consulting to Hill International to be followed by expansion at EC Harris and Mott MacDonald

The consultancy sector is to complete a series of global acquisitions in the run-up to the new year.

US-based consultant Hill International confirmed this week that it had reached an agreement to acquire Pickavance Consulting, one of the leading programme management and dispute resolution firms in the UK.

Building also understands that top-10 UK consultants Mott MacDonald and EC Harris are both in advanced talks to acquire international rivals, as the sector gears up to expand and compete globally.

Pickavance Consulting, founded by chairman Keith Pickavance in 1996, has offices in London and Hong Kong. The purchase by Hill, the 18th largest construction consultant in the USA, follows Pickavance’s recent appointments of Geoff Bewsey and David Richards, who led KPMG’s engineering and construction disputes practice in London.

Renny Borhan, Hill senior vice president, said the acquisition would strengthen the firm’s capabilities in the UK and in the Asia Pacific region.

He said: “Pickavance Consulting is a firm with a first-class track record and extensive international experience in construction claims analysis, dispute resolution and expert witness testimony.”

A Hill spokesperson also confirmed that the firm was eyeing several other small to medium-sized project managers in the UK with a view to a further acquisitions.

Meanwhile, Mott Macdonald is carrying out due diligence to buy the consulting arm of American Water as it tries to expand its presence in North America. It is understood the move is intended to complement Mott’s US joint venture with global consultant Hatch Associates, Hatch Mott MacDonald. A senior company source said the deal was set to be completed by the end of the year and would involve 50-100 staff.

The source added that further acquisitions were likely in India. He said: “We are looking to grow to about 5000 in India within the next five to 10 years. This is more than likely to happen through acquisition. India is a growing market and, as there is a highly skilled labour pool in the region, the race to operate there is on.”

EC Harris will next year launch a three-year expansion programme called Fast Track 2008 as it prepares to further cater for the growing international client market. The senior management is close to finalising the acquisition of an undisclosed large international consultant as the growth programme begins.

A spokesperson for EC Harris said: “Given the way the market is currently moving, and given our Fast Track 2008 vision and business plan, we anticipate there will be future growth by acquisition or merger to consolidate our global reach and the depth of our sectoral expertise.”