DarntonB3 Interview: How a national merger created a major architectural player
Posted by Nick Hill on 12 Feb 2016
In July of last year, two UK architectural practices merged to create a major national consultancy, DarntonB3 Architecture, which is headquartered in Leeds.
The merger, between Darnton EGS Ltd and B3 Architects, created a much larger and more diverse business that now boasts a workforce of 164 employees operating from 11 offices across the UK.
Now under the DarntonB3 banner, the combined businesses can provide a full service offering including; Architecture, Project Management, Building Services Design, Interior Design, Building Information Modelling, Health & Safety services and 3D visualisation.
The business’ vast client list includes big names such as Marks & Spencer, Wm. Morrisons, Lloyds Banking Group, London Underground, Primark, Vodafone, Nestle, and Coca Cola.
Eight months on from the merger, Bdaily wanted to catch up with Alistair Hamilton, the managing director of DarntonB3, to discuss the success of the newly formed company and its plans to expand even further internationally.
Alistair first discussed how the prospect of merging Darnton EGS with B3 Architects came into motion. He explained: "We had actually completed a merger before. We were initially a partnership up until 2008 - working out of our Leeds office before we then acquired a London-based firm which formed Darnton EGS Ltd, so looking at further acquisitions was always on our radar, mainly to help grow and diversify the business.
"We started to look for another opportunity as long as three years ago, but a number of possibilities fell by the wayside for many reasons. Then B3 came along and we felt it was a great fit. Culturally there were a lot of similarities with the way that they are and the way that they run their business and the fact they were operating in totally different spheres to us, presented a huge opportunity, which has really made a massive difference to the company.
"It has been a really positive move for us; there is a real willingness amongst the entire staff to make this merger work. We are trading under one banner now, albeit there are still officially two separate companies, but it has so far really made a difference to the business."
Alistair also revealed the merging of the two companies wasn’t a long, arduous process. He said: "We first met with B3 in July 2014, for an initial discussion. We then got together again in January of last year, agreed terms in early February and finally completed the merger in June."
With 11 offices across the UK, spread across four geographical regions, DarntonB3 is definitely a national company, but what are its plans for growth in 2016?
"We are focusing on organic growth at the moment but if the right merger or acquisition opportunity came along we would definitely consider it."
Alistair explained: "We are currently in the process of establishing a branch office in Dubai, which will hopefully be open by Easter."
"It is then our intention to go and spend large portions of time out there trying to develop work in the Middle East. We are attacking this in two ways: One of our directors is specifically targeting the rail sector where there is a lot of planned work we think we can add value to. An additional focus will be more on looking at some of the strong brands that we already work with in the UK, and how we might support them internationally."
As the business has now significantly expanded, I was also interested to ask Alistair about keeping its headquarters in Monk Fryston, Leeds, and its current position within the region.
He said: "I think there is an opportunity for us to grow in Yorkshire, and this will happen through additions we have made to our capabilities and size nationally. I don’t think we are seen by lots as being a big player in the region and that’s partly because the type of work we have done over the years rather than our size. Lots of our clients have taken us far and wide, rather than working locally.
"However, we are now finding that there is more interest and a growing recognition that we are now big player in Yorkshire. I think if you can combine our Leeds, Bradford and Manchester offices, we are also strongly linked with the Northern Powerhouse idea.
But will DarntonB3’s HQ always remain in Monk Fryston? "I don’t take that view,” Alistair stated. "We do have offices in other locations that could rival our Leeds office, and I would encourage those offices to do that within this organisation. We do have our accounts department, marketing and IT based in Leeds, but we could really have these departments in any of our offices.
"We see ourselves as a national company."
DarntonB3 now has a strong foothold throughout the UK, and is already expanding its reach to the international market. Alistair believes the company can achieve this because the "merger has made us stronger in a wide range of sectors. We are now able to bid for projects that we couldn’t have 12 months ago.”
And finally, when I asked if there are any future acquisitions and mergers in the pipeline, Alistair replied, "we keep an open mind.”