Macpherson, chairman of the construction and project management specialist, says he is leaving at the end of the month to pursue other interests – a decision he made six months ago. "I feel now is the right time to leave. The company is in good shape. I want to go when people are asking why I'm leaving, not when they're saying 'why doesn't he go?'
"I always said I'd give the firm 10 years. I've never been wedded to the industry." Macpherson, 54, intends to make his home in Montpellier in the South of France and has put his south London home on the market. He plans to start a music school there, but initially intends to "travel, eat lots of good food and wine, and see friends a lot more".
Holding out for the right buyer
Macpherson has sold about one-third of the 51% stake he owns in Mace to the firm's Employment Benefit Trust, an legal entity that sells shares to staff. His remaining shares will be sold either to staff or to an outside partner, which Macpherson says Mace is still looking for – contrary to industry rumours that a deal has been all but signed.
Although the firm has been linked to several of the big names in the industry, Macpherson says Mace is unlikely to be sold "lock, stock and barrel to anyone, in the type of deal discussed by Bovis and Atkins".
"We are looking for something more dynamic. We want a partner that will bring something more than construction skills to the table. It could be finance or expertise from another field, like healthcare."
Macpherson says Mace is now committed to the one-stop shop and needs a partner so it can develop and begin funding projects. We could go out and sell the firm tomorrow. But what we do for the future is most important."
More interest has been shown by overseas buyers than UK firms, says Macpherson. But he adds that no deal has stacked up yet, either because offers fell short of the asking price, or the because there was no fit with Mace's management philosophy. Brown & Root and more recently O' Brien Kreitzberg are understood to have been two of Mace's disappointed suitors.
The firm employs 500 staff and has a £30m annual turnover, on which it will make £500 000 profit in 1998. It is valued at about £10m, making Macpherson a millionaire.
Despite his stake retention, Macpherson says decisions about the firm's future will be made by Mace's board. "I don't intend to do consultancy work, or be a shadow manager in the background."
We are looking for something dynamic. We want a partner with more than construction skills
Bob White, one of Mace's founding partners and its chief executive for the past three years, will continue to run the operation but no one will replace Macpherson as chairman. "Ian's departure has created opportunities for change – there certainly will be changes to do with the structure of the company. We also intend to strengthen our core business, with significant additions to our activities. We are pursuing strategic alliances, but we're not talking to anyone about a sale," White explains. "Ian and I have been working together for 15 years," he adds. "I'll miss him, but I think it's the right thing for him to do."
A new design-and-build service
Having started the firm with an evangelical zeal for construction management, Macpherson shocked many in the industry when he announced at the end of last year that it would be offering CM with a guaranteed maximum price. Mace has yet to find a client to take it up but it is about to take the idea a stage further. In April, it will announce a fully fledged design-and-build service with buildings based on a set of pick-and-mix standard components.
Looking back on his career, Macpherson, surprisingly, says he should have offered this option sooner: "I was so committed to CM that I was blinded to anyone challenging that. Obviously, that's not what the wider market wanted."
Macpherson says he will miss friends in the business, but not the industry itself.
"I suppose I've just got to the stage where the excitement is outweighed by the fact that I've heard it all before."
Always a campaigner for change, Macpherson says he was disappointed at how little improvement he'd seen in payment practices. "Most clients have an appalling payment record – those in middle management often have no idea of the consequences of late payment. I'd love to see the implementation of strict payment regimes and people sticking to a contract."
Macpherson is on the board of the Movement for Innovation, the DETR-backed body for implementing changes following the Egan report. He chairs the committee charged with setting up a Knowledge Centre – an industry-wide database for disseminating best practice. And he rejects criticism that the Egan initiative has lost its way. "Despite what people are saying, it will work. Our mistake is that we are not telling the industry what we are doing. I intend to deliver the Knowledge Centre before the end of March – how it will be set up, what it will do and how it will interface with industry."
Macpherson says he will recommend that the Knowledge Centre be run as a type of club, where firms pay for access to information. The fee would be on a sliding scale, depending on size of company.
Those who know Macpherson have not been entirely surprised by his departure. Stanhope director and Macpherson mentor Peter Rogers says: "He's one of the few people in the industry willing to innovate and take risks. I think he just got ground down in the end by trying to get the industry to change.