Michael Thirkettle, chief executive and superbike fan, sets out consultant's high-speed expansion drive
Step into Michael Thirkettle's office on the third floor of McBains Cooper's imposing Regent Street office and the first thing you notice is a stack of framed photos of superbikes.
Thirkettle, the multidisciplinary consulting group's chief executive, is a fan of the high-octane world of motorcycle racing. It's a love of high-speed thrills that permeates into his attitude to business.
Since he took over at the firm in June 2003, Thirkettle has aimed to rev up the firm's figures and lead from the front. "The business reflects its leader," he says. "Leadership gives strategy, vision and inspiration - especially inspiration."
Thirkettle took control of the business after it had been through difficult few years. Changes in the management and a decision to go public in 2000 destabilised the firm; by 2002, losses had reached about £200,000.
"When I took over in 2003, the staff probably thought that I was there just for a while," he says. "But I thought there was a job to be done, to stop the ship sinking and take stock. I went to the bank for more money, and that year we made more profit than we'd ever done before."
Group figures for 2004 and 2005 provide the measure of Thirkettle's success. Turnover hit £11.5m in 2004, and dropped slightly to £11.1m in 2005. The firm returned a pre-tax profit of £352,000 in 2004, and then an impressive £587,000 in 2005.
The size and type of projects on the group's order book are changing, too. Thirkettle says: "We used to do a lot of smaller jobs, just a few million, but now we're on much bigger projects and getting better clients."
Recent commissions include project-monitoring Deutsche Postbank's £45m mixed-use scheme at the Kensington High Street Odeon and a £37m deal to build nine care homes for Housing Solutions Group. It is also working on Foster and Partners' £275m Walbrook office scheme being developed by Minerva in the City of London.
But Thirkettle, whose group operates in a wide range of sectors, from education to commercial property and housing, is not content to remain at that level. He has set a target of doubling fee income to £25m in the next three years.
Underpinning this is a planned acquisition programme. Although Thirkettle won't reveal which targets he had in mind, he says he is interested in firms with about 40 staff, and that he wants to keep McBains Cooper's equal balance between design and other consultancy services.
Leadership gives strategy, vision and inspiration – especially inspiration
Michael Thirkettle, McBains Cooper
His inspiration in his drive towards an interdisciplinary culture has been management guru Edward de Bono's book Six Thinking Hats, which puts forward a methodical way of working through problems that is supposed to improve both group and individual decision-making.
"Rather than sitting there and arguing, everyone looks at the same problem at the same time. All discussions are made to work towards a single goal. The whole business has bought into it."
He is less enthusiastic about grabbing at every opportunity in the market - particularly on some high-profile public sector programmes.
He is particularly sceptical of the NHS' LIFT programme and Building Schools for the Future schemes. He says: "We will come into those at the right time. A lot of companies have spent a lot of time and money doing them but they don't always get much benefit."
Equally, he is unimpressed by competitors' plans to cash in on the globalisation of the industry - he even describes some firms' strategies of highly publicised global alliances as "vanity".
He adds: "I think a lot of our competitors are short-changing our industry in the UK market.
We work in Europe as a business, but we have many very good relationships with local professionals, so we act as a client representative there."
McBains Cooper may not be hurtling full-throttle on a Ducati into Europe. But with Thirkettle at the handlebars, the firm looks to be riding towards a higher-profile future.
McBains Cooper at a glance
Figures for 2005:
- Turnover: £11.1m
- Operating profit: £670,000
- Pre-tax profit: £419,000
- Net assets: £4.2m
- Current staff: 160
- Locations: London, Windsor, Oxford, Birmingham, Manchester, Perth
- Sectors: Office, retail, education, health, housing, leisure, industrial, regeneration
- Major projects: £275m office scheme at The Walbrook for developer Minerva; Deutsche Postbank’s £45m mixed-use scheme at the Kensington High Street Odeon; £37m deal to build nine care homes for Housing Solutions Group