Another key senior director has left one of our world-renowned signature architectural practices. Where does this leave succession plans at Fosters, Rogers & Co?
Handing over control of the firm you have created over the last three or four decades seems a difficult exercise for our best-known architects. The five who have dominated the UK scene since the 1960s – Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Nichlas Grimshaw, Terry Farrell and Michael Hopkins – are reaching the twilight of their careers, hence the need for succession plans. If only it was that easy.

The two at the top of the list, Foster and Rogers, seem to be having the most difficult of times. Foster lost his right-hand man Ken Shuttleworth, at the end of last year and his firm has since restructured. It will be announcing more formal succession plans at the end of the year. Now Rogers has seen his managing director Marco Goldschmied move on this week. Goldschmied, a stalwart of Richard Rogers Partnership for 35 years, is not setting up his own practice like Shuttleworth, but is looking to set up a research foundation into sustainability. He also confirmed his interest in applying for the CABE chairmanship.

The question for the big names, all of which are now well into their seventh decades, is who will carry on their legacies. Do they want their practices to keep their name? Do they want to stick around themselves? And most importantly of all, who is going to succeed them?

Nicholas Grimshaw has published a detailed succession plan, seen by Building, but the others have either sketchy details or will not reveal their proposals publicly. Hopkins says his strategy is a "continuing devolution of leadership, management and ownership to senior people who have been with the practice more than 10 years". Farrell's practice, which recently lost two obvious heirs in Aidan Potter and Doug Streeter, declined to comment.

The problem, it seems, is that the very qualities the five possess in building up the business are the ones that are holding them back from passing over control of the business. Former RIBA president Paul Hyett argues that charismatic leaders are, by their nature, oppressive. Unless there are abundant tangible rewards for success, individuals will grow frustrated in a firm that is dominated by a single personality. Hyett sees a move in architecture generally from a focus on named architectural practices to brands. "We are moving from the signature architect to the signature brand," he says.

Grimshaw's plan seems sensible. He will stay on as chairman but in a more non-executive role. The other present senior directors – David Harriss, Christopher Nash, Neven Sidor and Andrew Whalley - will step down when they reach 60, and the head of the firm's Melbourne office Keith Brewis was made a director last year to "spearhead the new generation". One hopes the other four follows Grimshaw's lead.