Foremans buys UK arm of rival consulting engineer Roberts and Partners after management buyout fails

The UK arm of consulting engineer Roberts and Partners has been bought out of receivership by rival Foremans for an undisclosed sum.

The deal was struck with receiver KPMG last Friday. KPMG had been called in by Roberts and Partners’ bank Lloyds TSB on the Wednesday.

Building understands that last week’s events followed a failed management buyout. A group of senior directors had intended to mount a buyout of the business from Merlyn Roberts, the founder, chairman and main shareholder. Roberts was unavailable to comment as Building went to press.

Barry Shaw, Foremans chairman, said he was approached by the Roberts management last week to take over the firm. He said: “It was such a shame it had to get to that [a receivership].”

Shaw said he was full of respect for the firm, which he described as a “diamond company”, despite its recent financial problems. He said: “The core of the Roberts business that we know and respect has remained. Its philosophy is very similar to Foremans’, which is to adopt a very practical and innovative approach to engineering.”

Shaw said he would retain the existing Roberts management, except for Merlyn Roberts. The firm will be headed by managing director Stuart Alexander, who left Roberts earlier this year to join Foremans. Shaw himself will become chairman of Roberts.

Shaw said he would look more closely at merging the firms in the long term, but for now was keeping the Roberts name. He said: “I need to look at the two companies and see if a combined offering is more valuable than the single entities.”

I need to see if a combined offering is more valuable than the single companies

Barry Shaw, Foremans chairman

Sources close to the firm put Roberts’ troubles partially down to the collapse of the data centre market, which occurred in 2001 and 2002 and has only just started to come back. The firm worked on the Global Switch internet data centre in Docklands, east London. A source said: “They probably never recovered from that. It’s a shame because they were a very, very good company.”

Roberts and Partners’ last set of accounts for the year to 31 December 2002 showed a loss of £49,313 on turnover of £10.2m. In 2001 it posted losses of £409,648 on £9m turnover. The firm’s parent company Roberts and Partners Group, which oversaw the firm’s international operations, posted a loss of £70,718 on turnover of £13m.

The firm was originally formed by Merlyn Roberts in the mid-1980s from an office in Basingstoke. It grew to five offices in the UK and had operations in the Philippines, Madrid and Dubai. Its highest profile project was as consultant on the £360m Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.

Foremans has 90 staff and operates from offices in London, Manchester and the Isle of Man.

  • US group Jacobs Engineering this week signed an agreement to buy UK-based consultant Babtie. The deal will be finalised next month.