Construction Leader: Danny McArthur looks to future growth at Hardies
Danny McArthur speaks to Margaret Taylor for SCN’s Construction Leaders feature about exciting growth plans underway at Hardies Property & Construction Consultants, which has undergone a major restructure over the last year incorporating a series of strategic acquisitions, with further expansion in the pipeline.
Danny McArthur always hoped he would end up running Hardies Property & Construction Consultants. Having initially joined the business on a temporary basis while studying quantity surveying at Edinburgh Napier University, he came on board as a full-time trainee in 1999, a year after graduating.
“They gave me the promise of being trained up to be a partner in the business,” he recalls. “I was only a graduate but it seemed like a great career path and a fabulous opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands. I was very fortunate to work with partners who saw that potential for me.
“The thing I did since day one was to think of myself as a partner and I was trained up to work every day with that mindset. I had strong career ambitions and did have aspirations to get to senior partner level.”
Having made partner a decade after joining the firm, McArthur eventually took over the senior partner job at the end of 2021 and has set about restructuring the 110-year-old Dunfermline-headquartered firm to drive the next phase of its growth.
“There was a year leading up to becoming senior partner where I knew it was going to happen and I knew I wanted to restructure the business, so I spent that time working out what I needed to do,” McArthur says. “In a year’s worth of meetings, we agreed what the business and board needed to look like and who was best placed to take those positions on the board to allow the business to move forward. The business has stepped up a gear from where it was in the past.”
In terms of management, McArthur replaced the old structure with a team of five managing partners who have a specific regional focus, taking on three high-level hires to complete the team. Joe Madden joined from PMP to grow the surveying team in Glasgow and London, Douglas Smith came on board from East Fife Joinery to lead the firm’s Dundee office as well as its UK-wide quantity surveying team, and Colin Harrop joined from Sanderson Weatherall to lead Hardies’ new base in Leeds and grow the business across the north of England.
It is all part of McArthur’s expansionist plan. The firm, which opened in 1913 to take advantage of the housebuilding boom that came on the back of the development of Rosyth Dockyard, has never shied away from growing its network. Having moved to Dunfermline from its original Kirkcaldy base, it swiftly opened in Edinburgh, Perth, Stirling and Aberdeen. When McArthur joined in 1999 it had six offices, now it has 13 and its 2016 tie-up with Shepherd Quantity Surveyors gives it access to a further 33. Having last year taken over Aberdeen practice BDG Thomson Gray and Dundee firm John Duguid Partnership, for McArthur growth in other parts of the UK is now the main focus.
“Over the last two to three years we’ve won a lot of work south of the border and throughout the UK, and we opened offices in Belfast, Leeds and London last year,” McArthur says. “We had people on planes, trains and automobiles every week of the year, but we have 10 offices in Scotland and because of that we do very, very well — we pick up all the local market share where others are sending people out of Glasgow who have never been to somewhere like Aberdeen. We know everyone, we know the ground, and we know the local supply chains.
“From doing that it seemed the logical thing to do to move to England. The vision going forward is to replicate what we’ve got in Scotland, principally in England but across the UK. Leeds is a great stepping stone into England. A lot of companies in the sector have bases there and it made logical sense to us to be there.
“It’s still early days but it’s going very well. There’s no finishing line and no rush to achieve anything but the growth is phenomenal. All through my career — 23 years with the company — I’ve consistently heard ‘I didn’t know you did that’, but knowing the business for so long I’ve been well aware of our capabilities and I want us to reach our potential. My job is to take the business to the next level and England is the next part of that. There are opportunities galore and it’s about making it happen.”
Currently the firm has close to 100 staff and turns over in the region of £6.5m. The aim for McArthur is to double its income in the next five years, something he says will be challenging primarily because of staffing shortages right across the sector.
“The biggest challenge we’ve had is staff shortages, like everyone else in the industry,” he says. “We reckon we lost between £1-1.5m in income last year because we couldn’t find the staff. It’s not something the industry has not been aware of. I was chair of the RICS Scotland board in 2006 and everyone knew we were heading for this. There were a lot of surveyors coming up for retirement and as an industry we didn’t do enough to replace them. We were aware of it but we haven’t been good at facing up to the challenges.”
McArthur says Hardies is taking the matter into its own hands and, for the first time in its 110-year history, is creating its own pipeline by taking people straight from school and putting them through university.
“We’re also taking people from different walks of life who want to retrain,” says McArthur. “We have over 30 people currently going through training, which is a huge investment for us. We’re looking to bring in another eight trainees and graduates.”
The long-term aim is to bring on the leaders of the future and find McArthur’s eventual replacement. For now, though, the firm is focusing on celebrating its 110-year anniversary in style, with a series of events expected to take place across its network over the course of the year.
“We’ve got lots of great events coming forward like cycling 110 miles or running 110 miles and there are some charitable activities being spoken about,” McArthur says. “We’re still gathering the plans together but there will be a lot of local events happening and it would be great if we could do one great standout national event. That’s for the summer though.”