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A PEOPLE’S BUSINESS
As a recent contract win worth $6 billion illustrates, Currie & Brown is the PPP consultancy of choice to many high profile clients. Libbie Hammond speaks to company chairman, Angus McClean.

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01.jpg The $6bn project mentioned above is one of the largest PPP initiatives outside the United Kingdom and the single largest PPP project to be managed by a UK consultancy. The programme involves the financing, design, construction and operation of seven new hospitals in Mexico, over a period of 25 years.

Under the contract, Currie & Brown will act as procurement advisor and sole international consultants to the Ministry of Health, Mexico. It will provide all services related to the co-ordination, supervision and integration of activities, stages and products required for the development of all seven hospitals. Currie & Brown will also carry out feasibility assessments for each of the hospitals, develop cost-benefit analysis, payment mechanisms, risk analysis, dispute resolution mechanisms and supporting the Mexican Government on its tender process.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the contract is that Currie & Brown were chosen for this, not through a tender process but simply because of their extensive knowledge and expertise in this area. “Currie & Brown roughly controls £35bn PPP/PFI throughout the world,” explained company chairman Angus McClean. “We have been working in Mexico for two years advising the Ministry of Health on the implementation of its first PPP hospital initiative, together with advising the Ministry of Transport on the first PPP tollway project. Currie & Brown has a significant presence in Latin America and has active PPP projects in Chile, Guatemala and Peru.”

Other recent projects were also awarded on merit rather than competition, including a review for a development of the new concession law in Guatemala. “We work on many significant projects,” explained Angus. “In Europe we have worked on the Military Vila Bari in Italy and Alexandroupolis (a coast guard academy) in Greece. Internationally we are carrying out the PPP for highways in Mexico and roads in Costa Rica, and another hospital project in Mexico, which is proving to be successful. We are also involved in the infant hospitals in Chile, the Peruvian Airports in Peru, hospitals and schools in Australia and a maximum security prison in South Africa.”

Currie & Brown also has extensive experience of large-scale PPP projects in the UK, working on developments including the Bristol Royal infirmary and Gower Street Campus for University College London Hospitals NHS Trust. Angus continued: “In the UK we are doing work with the MoD, and there is also work being undertaken at the BBC in London, which is reputedly to be the largest single project of its type in the UK at present. We are doing the cost management on the BBC project, and also advising on other aspects.”

These projects are treated as essential learning grounds for Currie & Brown, as Angus told me. “What we do is evaluate every project before, during and on completion. Another reason we have been successful is that we also design the software and IT architecture. To assist us in this field, we have what we call ‘The Ginger Group’. This is a group of young people from within the company who are tasked with coming up with innovative ideas, which can be used by the company.”

The PFI Report recently rated Currie & Brown as the number one technical advisor in the UK in working on PPP/PFI contracts, so I asked Angus his thoughts on the method. “I think this is the way forward for the future,” he said. “The reasoning behind that is because many projects are so expensive that I don’t think it is going to be possible for central governments and local governments to fund them all, and I genuinely believe that you need to go to the private sector funders to be part of the process.”

With the first PFI project carried out over a decade ago, some serious lessons have been learned and now Angus feels that the UK is seen as the expert in this field and the eyes of the world turn to us when thinking of their own PPP/PFI models. “We have learnt so much,” he said. “Of course we have made mistakes, but if you look at other countries round the world, they are using what Britain has done as a model and that speaks volumes. This makes us the experts, which is why clients come to us and want to work with us.

“When PFI started in 1992, its capital value was just over £15m. Now it has grown to £42bn - in that short space of time. Not only have the funds and value of projects increased, but 78 per cent of projects have been delivered to the agreed price and 88 per cent on time, and these figures can only improve as we do more projects. This method is the way forward.”

By background Angus is an old-school mechanical and electrical engineer – as he described it: “From the old brigade, which people don’t do these days! I wouldn’t want to have to answer questions about engineering as that was a long time ago.” He moved into consulting and then into change management, and for a number of years was advisor to the senior advisors within the commission in Brussels, a position he held until three years ago. “I then came to Currie & Brown to do change management when it moved from a partnership into a totally incorporated company,” he explained. “That was initially for one year, but I have now been here four years.”

Single Entity
Currie & Brown provides a full range of consultancy services that are designed to deliver value for money for clients in the public and private sectors, anywhere in the world. Although spread across the globe in over 50 different countries, the company prides itself as thinking and acting as a single unit. Angus explained the ‘one company approach’. “This is global and is very important to us,” he said. “Although we operate in so many countries, we don’t differentiate one country from another and we have only two management teams, one international and one UK. They meet up every two months, so we all feed off each other. Our world wide head office is in the City of London.”

This means that Angus spends quite a lot of his time travelling, but doesn’t have a favourite destination. “I have found all the countries I visit to be very welcoming, so I can’t differentiate at all,” he said. “Overseas our work is also fairly similar to the UK, project management and the PPP/PFI work.”

In the UK, Currie & Brown serves its clients through four service divisions, Currie & Brown Project Management, Currie & Brown Cost Management, Currie & Brown Consulting and Currie & Brown Building Surveying.

In the business world, projects require a large investment in time, money and effort, but can bring significant returns. And almost always, projects mean change. Currie & Brown recognises this and its project management teams offer a range of services designed to support clients in the management of change. Angus explained: “Clients can take our project management expertise as part of a complete package of consultancy services or separately, depending what we do on the PFI/PPP projects.

“We could be fund monitors, we could give legal advice on certain parts, and we also have in-depth experience in cost management. Cost is all important to these projects and has to be controlled 101 per cent of the time.”

Risk management is another area that is very important to projects, and such is Currie & Brown’s expertise in this, that the person in charge of the department is going to be the next chair of the Institute of Risk Management. “At the beginning of every PFI/PPP project, the risk manager has to sit down and evaluate the project, see where the ups and downs are, decide at the end of the day whether or not it is viable, and determine the risks. It is very important for us to do that for every single one of our projects,” Angus said.

Loyalty and Dedication
Currie & Brown employs professionally qualified staff from chartered surveyors, engineers and architects to property tax specialists and experts in environmental issues and health and safety. As with all companies within the construction industry as a whole, it is always on the look out for intelligent, resourceful individuals and team players. Angus explained: “Recruitment has been a problem for many years, especially since contractors reduced their intake of apprentices, due to cost. There was a dearth of people coming in, but since we opened up the EU this has changed, because we see skilled people coming in from other countries which can only help our construction industry.”

Keen to encourage a career rather than just a job, Currie & Brown has its own internal training organisation, which is approved by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Angus commented: “Part of this approved training is the completion of an APC (Assessment of Professional Competence) which all surveyors must complete in order to receive their final qualification. This is very important to an organisation such as ours, as we must bring these young people on and give them good experience and training. Training is carried out in-house, where we have a group of staff that do this full time.”

When asked to define an ideal employee, Angus was quick to emphasise that Currie & Brown is an equal opportunity employer, and that the company treats all staff the same. “All staff would be part of the weekly office meeting we have throughout the world with our staff,” he said. “But ideally we look for loyalty, dedication and a professional outlook in our staff.”

The London 2012 Olympic win has raised questions about the levels of staff needed by the current UK construction industry, and I asked Angus if Currie & Brown were involved. “I hope so!” he said. “The day after the announcement we were scheduling meetings and I believe it presents lots of opportunities for the UK.

“One thing we do need though, is a positive attitude and we have to deliver on our promises. Seven years isn’t long, and in that time we have to come up with the right ideas that helps our Olympic athletes, but also leaves a legacy for London that will last way beyond 2012.”

From speaking to Angus, it was clear that he loves the business he works in, but he confirmed that he is not complacent and is always looking for new ideas. “Currie & Brown are here for the long term, with our relationships, with our clients and we are always looking for a new challenge,” he said. “Although we have been around for 129 years, I think we are still young and still developing. We always learn something new every day and we are willing to listen to what clients say and that is very important. We also have extraordinary staff loyalty and commitment, without which the company would not be where it is today.”  CT-E

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