Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Stuart Parker
Turner & Townsend has spent the past 34 years striking a perfect balance between a replication of its esteemed global business model and an unrivalled adherence to local considerations in Africa, and is now looking to take this ethos to an even wider clientele on the continent as it strives to become a truly pan-African entity.
As part of the 70-year old international professional services Company - boasting more than 4,000 staff, 90 offices and eight regional counterparts around the world - Turner & Townsend’s African operations have gone from strength to strength since inception in 1982, diversifying and expanding to replicate the renowned service provision kick-started in the UK all those years ago.
Focused around the property, infrastructure and natural resource markets in particular, the formerly solely quantity surveying business is now a bow with many strings and specialises in major programme set-up, assurance, contract services and information modelling, to name just a few of its service offerings. However, the Company’s market advantage and differentiators derive from far more than simply volume.
“I think it comes down to a number of things,” says the Company’s Africa Managing Director, Ian Donaldson. “Foremost our clients, the relationships we have with them, and our understanding of them; knowledge built up in our business over the years; and the way we harness and manage that knowledge to their best advantage.
“Secondly, we are very focused on what we know we do well. This is also aided by our independence and our partnership model. It is the people in the business who own it, so we’re not making decisions to keep shareholders happy at the expense of our clients.
“The final facet is quality. The reason why we have so much repeat business and so many strong client relationships is that we are noted for the quality and consistency we deliver.”
Traditionally, over the past four decades, this philosophy and established model has brought palpable success in the SADC region, stemming from its South African base, but for Turner & Townsend to kick on in the years to come, a much more pan-African outlook is now well progressed.
Donaldson continues: “We were very South Africa-orientated for many years but in the past five years we have changed that significantly to have a much more pan-African focus.
“An exciting point at the moment is East Africa, across Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia, and we’re really excited about this hub and are putting a lot of time, effort, investment and key staff members into this region.
“Our third hub is West Africa with numerous projects around Ghana and Nigeria and it all goes towards us being one truly global Company.”
Quality and consistency
All told, 18 of Turner & Townsend’s key projects on the continent exist outside of the SADC jurisdiction at present, formulating a footprint conducive to maintaining multinational business relationships with some of the world’s most revered sector operators.
“The brands we work with are big global brands and are key to our business but it’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, regarding our international expansion,” explains Donaldson. “It’s fantastic to have those clients waiting in these new countries and is of huge benefit for us when going into new regions to connect with them, but one of the reasons we have gone into those regions to begin with is to be a truly global supplier for those clients.
“We need to be based locally for them in order to understand how to add value to their supply chain. We have a client list that anybody would be envious of so our service delivery needs to be the same quality and consistency in each African region as they would find in London, Sydney, the US or anywhere else.”
The fantastically diverse range of services are enjoyed by the upper echelons of each key industry - mining, energy, property development, manufacturing, infrastructure, pharmaceuticals and finance just scratching the surface - and has led to Turner & Townsend contributing to a vast array of continentally-signficant projects.
King Shaka Airport in Durban, Mbarara Brewery in Uganda, Black Rhino Horn of Africa fuel pipeline in Ethiopia and Djibouti, numerous mining activities in key commodity sectors and the new High Court in Botswana are just a select few. A strong healthcare portfolio, including work with Aga Khan Health services in Tanzania amongst other operators, as well as an education impetus across the continent with projects such as the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus Development. Even so, the Company still ensures that it can cater for the sizes of jobs which launched its success at inception.
Donaldson notes: “Yes we have evolved and are involved in hundreds of billion-dollar, complex programmes around the world and that’s how Turner & Townsend has matured, but we haven’t forgotten where we have come from and for many clients we’ll do smaller jobs that may only be of small value.
“It’s all about adding value to the client, regardless of whether it is through a small bespoke intervention or delivery of a massive programme.”
This commitment to clients of all sizes mirrors a commitment closer to home and equally prevalent, in the form of its focus on localisation.
Based strongly around the belief that it is the Company’s people who make the business what it is, the training, development and retention strategies geared towards this philosophy is evident in each region of operation and once again has a natural knock-on effect on the subsequent levels of service that clients receive.
“For us, we want people to join for a career, not a job,” Donaldson says. “We’re not a hire and fire organisation; we take people and develop them in terms of their careers given the diversity we have. A lot of people join our business in one location or in one service stream and they can then develop their career into different geographies and service streams.”
The international nature of Turner & Townsend also facilitates the opportunity for employees to experience new cultures and offices around the world, while the Company’s supply chain takes on a similar ethos as the business strives to best understand the local conditions it is driving its services into.
Donaldson adds: “In regards to localisation, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is another big focus, and we have introduced a number of initiatives; including our toy library set up in social worker centres, and our involvement with the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), raising funds for the newly completed paediatric oncology unit as well as creating a safe-house for parents of patients.”
A key facet which has stood Turner & Townsend in such good stead over the years - both in Africa and further afield - is this clear identity and business model that derives from having an independent ownership structure and the ability to take control of its own future aspirations.
In Africa specifically, this is aided by the balance of international consistency and local autonomy, making sure that the Company is targeting the right sectors, providing the right solutions, and imparting the right services for each client in each market.
“It’s about having a core range of services with the ability to be flexible,” Donaldson affirms. “Having the massive global footprint, but having the local agility to make it work in your neighbourhood.
“From our point of view, we are fortunate that we have a fairly good balance between the property market, the natural resource market (oil & gas and mining) and the infrastructure sector in Africa. On a year-by-year basis they probably each make up a third, more or less.”
This becomes especially significant when one sector is experiencing more challenging periods, like the mining industry is at present, with Turner & Townsend not only able to leverage existing relationships to stay active in a currently insecure market, but to also fall back on its surrounding markets to pick up any of the slack; all of which places the business in the perfect position as it strives towards its next five-year evolution.
“In 1999-2004, our business doubled globally, despite it being largely UK-orientated,” Donaldson concludes. “We then got together in 2004 and wanted to double it again. It wasn’t by fluke, but by design, that this happened. It was a seminal moment for the business and we knew if we carried on doing the right things, then our five-year plans could prove successful for us.
“Our five-year plan at the moment is called Vision 2020, which addresses continued growth and success in Africa and a lot of that is around our pan-African approach, so in five years time I would expect us to have grown not only in Southern Africa but at a faster pace across the rest of Africa too.
“We will also want to mature and to be recognised as leaders in fields we are currently entering, but with critical mass in these places too.
“We see huge opportunity and potential in Africa and are excited about what we will see over the next five years. We know markets will ebb and flow, but we’re here for the long-term. We’ve had offices in Africa for 34 years already and are hoping that the business will have grown equally over the next 34 years.”