End of a once-great practice

Amanda Baillieu

YRM’s heyday was long gone, so what does RMJM stand to gain from its purchase?

There is little sympathy for YRM, which appears to be a textbook case of how not run a practice.

What went wrong is not difficult to understand. YRM lacked flair, it lacked leadership, and it turns out it lacked any sense of responsibility to its staff,

The so called “pre-pack” arrangement, which paved the way for its acquisition by RMJM last month, allowed it to leave creditors including staff in the lurch and owed two months’ salary.

It has become a hallmark of this phony recession we’re in that it’s not clients refusing to pay architects that are the problem, it’s architects leaving colleagues out of pocket while they look after themselves.

So how long had YRM known that it was in serious difficulty? Clearly, it had been struggling to pull in new work for some time and had made some badly judged forays overseas.

Those who remember the practice in its heyday chart its problems back to the late eighties when it became a listed company — the only UK practice to do so — despite lacking the necessary business nous to make that work.

In fact, incompetence was pretty much its hallmark during the nineties, and the practice then sank into near oblivion following a management buyout.

In those years, YRM made frequent appearances on BD’s pages, usually with the words “severe losses” in the first paragraph.

The problem was that it was being run by people who were not leaders, were hardly even decent managers and were content to make a living by plying “expertise” in two sectors: nuclear and airports.

So, why has RMJM bought the practice? You have to assume it is for its contacts, in the hope that it can access those sectors — nuclear and airports — that it’s not in. But even this doesn’t quite add up.

The truth is that expertise if it ever really existed doesn’t count for much these days. Anyone can be an expert or call on someone who is, but what a successful practice needs above all else are fresh ideas, and people who are willing to get to grips with a complex subject very quickly.
YRM’s mistake was to believe it could trade on an illustrious past. RMJM’s mistake could be in giving the remnants of this once great firm a desk.

New views from BD

This week we are delighted to welcome Professor Wouter Vanstiphout to our roster of regular columnists. An architectural historian by training, the Netherlands-based Vanstiphout is an authority on the fraught interplay between the worlds of politics and design.

In the week of last August’s riots we published his thoughts on what London, Liverpool and Manchester could learn from the way that cities such as Paris had responded to urban unrest in the past. His analysis met with an unprecedented response, generating extensive discussion in the national press and leading to an invitation to meet with senior representatives from the office of London’s mayor.

Vanstiphout is the first of a number of new columnists who will contributing to BD this year. Later this month he will be joined by Hank Dittmar of the Prince’s Foundation, who can also be trusted to offer an alternative and independent view on the issues affecting BD’s readers.

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