The company says it is in takeover talks with a number of companies ranging in size from 20 to 150 professional staff. Acquisitions are likely to be companies in the building services, energy and environmental consultancy fields.
SKM has a turnover of more than £100m worldwide. It has more than 2000 staff in offices across Australia, New Zealand, South-east Asia and the Pacific region.
It now wants to use its embryonic UK operation as a springboard for entering the European market. In the UK, SKM has 100 staff, mainly in Manchester, and its fee turnover last year was less than £1m. However, within five years, Australian-based chief executive Paul Dougas wants a UK turnover of £60m and 1000 full-time staff.
Dougas said SKM clients, including Sydney Olympic Stadium contractor Multiplex and developer Lend Lease (recently merged with Bovis), were encouraging it to expand its UK operations. "They are all saying they would like us to be where they are and they want us to have a strong London presence," he said.
The company came to the UK in 1997 when it set up a small practice in Woking, Surrey, providing transportation, planning and logistics expertise to clients such as Ford and Rover.
Earlier this year, SKM acquired Manchester-based consultant Modus, which it worked with on the Sydney Olympic Stadium project. SKM was principal engineer on the scheme's civil and structural design, and Modus carried out design works on the stadium roof.
Director Ian Thompson has come over from Australia to head up the European operation from an office to be set up shortly in central London. Thompson is keen to continue the company's tradition of working on stadia, as well as expanding the company. SKM did structural engineering work on the McAlpine Stadium in Huddersfield, and the Formula One track and grandstand in Kuala Lumpur.
It is now involved in structural engineering design work on the Wembley national stadium in the consortium led by Mott McDonald.
The group says it has won most of its UK work from architects such as HOK+Lobb and KSS, with which it has strong contacts.
Why are the Australians moving in now?
- GDP growth in Australia has been running at about 5% for the past seven years, which has enabled firms to expand operations.
- The economic crisis in Asia has encouraged Australian firms to look outside their traditional Far East markets to the USA and Europe.
- Two major Australian construction players burst onto the UK scene in 1999. The biggest moves have been made by Australian developer Lend Lease, which bought Bovis, and contractor and Sydney Olympic Stadium builder Multiplex, which bid for the Wembley national stadium. This has encouraged smaller construction firms to follow suit. Both Lend Lease and Multiplex are clients of multidisciplinary firm Sinclair Knight Merz and consulting engineer NDY, which has recently set up in the UK.