Consultant engineer turns back on other suitors in bid to gain access to US market

Scott Wilson is in takeover talks with two American consultants in an effort to break into the US market, Building understands.

It follows an announcement to the stock market earlier this month by the consultant engineer that the board had received more than one approach for the company, which has a market cap of about £92m.

A source close to the process confirmed there had been several approaches, understood to be from European and American firms, but said the consultant was pursuing talks only with two large US firms.

They said: “The company examined who would be a good partner and the European companies didn’t take them where they want to go. The Americans give them access to a very big market that they wouldn’t be able to crack organically and are seen as a better cultural fit.”

They added that the move would enable Scott Wilson to serve existing clients in the US and move staff across the Atlantic if necessary.

Although no names were disclosed, focus will fall on companies such as Aecom, Jacobs, URS and CH2M Hill. Aecom, which is closing in on a deal for QS Davis Langdon, is said by sources close to that deal to have another UK firm in its sights.

Building understands Scott Wilson has sought joint ventures with overseas firms to test whether a full-blown takeover would work. In April the company announced a joint venture with Aecom to work on Turkey’s Izmit bridge and has also teamed up with CH2M Hill in Saudi Arabia.

Last month Hugh Blackwood, chief executive of Scott Wilson, said such tie-ups were a natural response to the increasing size of projects, adding: “We are not in the market for being bought at the moment, but you can’t rule anything out.”

Observers say any deal could be scuppered by Scott Wilson’s £55m net pension liability and the fact that 45% of turnover comes from the UK public and regulated sectors.

Scott Wilson declined to comment.