Chief executive Bob White pledges to remain with the firm for at least five years after leading the buyout.
Construction manager Mace has finalised a management buyout two years after founder Ian Macpherson put his 34% share of the company up for sale.

The move, completed last week, ends a period of uncertainty for the £45m-turnover firm, which had looked at selling Macpherson's stake to an outside partner.

The buyout was led by chief executive Bob White, the only Mace founder still working full-time at the firm. Under the deal, White has upped his stake in Mace from 20% to 45%.

Mace would not reveal the price for the shares, but one former Mace employee said Macpherson had been hoping for £5m. It is thought, however, that he received less than this.

The buyout team includes chief operating officer Steve Pycroft, who becomes the second biggest Mace shareholder, and 11 directors.

White founded the firm with four Bovis colleagues – Macpherson, Ian Jepps, Harry Thomas and Ian Wylie – in 1989. He has pledged to stay for five years after the buyout before considering his future, during which time the management team will concentrate on expanding the business. The firm has set itself a 10% annual growth target.

White said: "The buyout has taken quite a significant amount of management time over the past year. We are looking forward to the opportunity of spending more time worrying about the strategic growth of the company."

The firm hopes to achieve this growth by expanding its foreign operation (see box) and moving into markets such as social housing and transport. It is also working on products such as insured contracts and a branded office design package.

Mace decided early last year to discontinue talks with buyers such as Bovis Lend Lease and WS Atkins. According to White: "It became evident from all our discussions that we had an ethos and culture that was somewhat unique. It would have been difficult for us to retain our identity."

Pycroft said the buyout had been welcomed by the 700-strong Mace workforce and by Mace clients. He said: "The staff themselves wanted to see independence. I believe staff and clients respect our independence and benefit from it."

Co-founder Wylie will take a back seat in the firm after the restructuring, becoming a non-executive director in September.

White said: "He is working on specific projects and activities. We are delighted he is doing that – it is an opportunity to retain his experience and knowledge for the staff."

A former Mace employee welcomed the move, but warned that the firm should not rely on the construction management market.

He said: "It's the right thing to do. My only worry is how exposed they are to the commercial development market, which is looking a bit wobbly right now."

White claimed that the construction management market was still strong, but added that the company was also looking at further joint ventures, such as its joint bid for the More London scheme around the Greater London Authority headquarters near Tower Bridge, with contractor Sir Robert McAlpine for developer CIT.

Mace goes Continental

Mace is to form a joint venture company with French healthcare project manager Scic in the autumn. The move cements a strategic alliance that began in 1999, when the two teamed up to target PFI healthcare schemes. Since then they have collaborated on a £350m refurbishment at King’s College London and a day-care unit in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire. Meanwhile, the firm’s Portugese operation is entering a joint venture partnership with local contractor Tomas de Oliveria, which works in the transport and environmental sectors. Mace has four foreign offices – in Portugal, Dubai, Spain and Poland – and works in areas such as Greece, the Netherlands and Africa. White said the company was seriously looking at expanding into Italy and was intending to complete its first proper construction management job abroad in the near future (the firm has hitherto project managed or acted as a consultant on foreign work).