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U.S. Owner of London QS Eyes Income Jump as Boss says ‘Attractive’ UK Market Will See More Consolidation

Sourced from Building Magazine
by Daniel Gayne

October 23, 2023

MGAC bought RLF two years ago and expects other overseas raiders to run rule over British firms

US consultant MGAC expects its UK business to double in the next five years, according to the firm’s chief.

The firm moved into the British market in 2021 with the acquisition of RLF, a 140-year-old QS, also known as Robinson Low Francis.

Mark Anderson, founder and chief executive of the company, told Building he was “working to modernise the cost practice” and was targeting hospitality and data centre work to drive growth.

In the 15 months to December last year, the UK business turned over £13.7m and made an operating profit of £193,000.

He said project management will become “the predominant business” in the UK within a couple of years. “Traditionally RLF was a QS that did PM, I think we will be a heavy PM firm with cost consultancy.”

Anderson said that MGAC had decided before the RLF purchase that it wanted to “tap into the talent market of the UK”, having seen the influence of “UK construction methodology, language and custom” around the world.

MGAC, which turns over just under $100m (£82m) worldwide, began its search for a UK firm in October 2020, instructing an investment bank to draw up a shortlist of targets.

An initial list of nearly 100 was whittled down to around 20, with RLF eventually singled out.

“The things that attracted us to RLF were a young cadre of management just rising in what was the partnership, [who were] committed to growing the business and seeing some investment in the business in places it hadn’t been,” said Anderson. “It was underinvested and needed updating and we have done that.”

According to Anderson, all the former partners “who were going to stay at the time of acquisition” remain in the business today and the two years since have seen a 20% increase in headcount and 30% rise in revenue.

The UK business, which now has 120 staff, dropped the RLF name at the start of this year and Anderson said he was surprised by the lack of reaction.

“I thought people would be crying into their breakfast cereal about the heritage of RLF and losing the name,” he said. “I think people see it as a more progressive idea and being part of something bigger.”

He added: “The number of bad acquisitions far outweighs the number of successful acquisitions, culturally and career path-wise.

“The lesson we learned was that it is about the people. This is a people business. You are not buying an organisation, you are basically buying the trust of a group of people that are committing their time, their effort, their sleepless nights to a collective mission.”

Anderson said there would “absolutely” be more consolidation in the UK market, reflecting the high-quality of education and the opportunities to improve on a traditional market.

“I think there is huge opportunity to upscale what has been a very traditional business in the UK,” he said. “There is a revolution underway in the provision of services to the built environment.

“I think the construction industry in the UK takes a reputation knock where people look down their noses at it, when in fact it is a huge driver of the economy and hugely beneficial to the nation overall. In the US we don’t have the same sort of stigma to construction.”

He also said the UK market had a long way to go in terms of diversity, describing the industry as significantly more “pale, male and stale” than the US.

“[We have] already made the UK practice a much more diverse business than it ever has been, and that is a process that is far from complete,” he said.

MGAC is currently working on a number of major projects, for clients including the BBC, Bruntwood SciTech and the NHS.

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