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Wednesday30 July 2014

RMJM is hit by mass desertion of senior staff

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A total of 20 directors and principals have quit the troubled practice in recent months

RMJM is suffering an exodus of senior staff with a total of at least 20 leaving or tendering their resignations in recent months, it emerged this week.

A source close to the practice provided a list of 11 directors or principals around the world who had left or were leaving to add to the nine names reported in the past few weeks.

The latest to emerge include Cambridge-based Europe principal Peter Williams and his director colleague Murdoch Cameron; managing principal of the firm’s troubled Hong Kong office, Ross Milne; Dubai-based director Martyn Wild; and US-based principals Phil Palmgreen and Phil Dordai.

The source, an architect and former member of staff, called the scale of the departures “totally unprecedented” and primarily down to widespread dissatisfaction with the management of chief executive Peter Morrison and his father Fraser Morrison, who together appointed former RBS banker Fred Goodwin in January.

“RMJM has been successful over the past five years, getting good people in and winning big projects which earn a lot of money,” the source said. “But now I wonder what the future holds for this wonderful and iconic practice.

“People are leaving in droves and what happened with KPF is small beer compared to this. To make matters worse, internal communications have come to a halt so nobody knows what is going on.”

People are leaving in droves… internal communications have come to a halt so nobody knows what is going on

Former RMJM employee

A spokesman for RMJM, which was founded in Edinburgh in 1956 by Robert Matthew and Stirrat Johnson-Marshall and was ranked the fifth largest international practice in BD’s 2010 World Architecture 100 list, refused to confirm who had left by commenting on “individual staffing issues” but claimed it was “no different to every other major architectural practice worldwide”.

This was immediately challenged by a number of its key competitors, including Aedas and HOK, which moved to distance themselves from the firm.

Hong Kong-based executive director for Aedas, David Roberts, said he was surprised by the numbers leaving RMJM.

“Some competitors have had some downsizing but most of that happened in 2008 and 2009,” he said. “If anything in the Asia market people are expanding.”

Other fresh names who are understood to have left or be leaving include Hong Kong-based design directors Scott Findley, Ted Givens and Demi Lee and North America principal Gordon Griffin.

Following BD’s revelation last week that the firm’s star designer Will Alsop has yet to pick up a single project in the year since he arrived, Scotland on Sunday reported that 80 staff had recently quit the Hong Kong office amid unrest over late payment of salaries, particularly in Dubai.

RMJM’s spokesman insisted it was in a healthy state and claimed its total number of staff in Hong Kong had actually grown since February.

“Whilst some markets are still proving challenging, others are more buoyant,” he said. “Our levels of work in the pipeline are encouraging and we’re looking forward to announcing a number of project wins in the near future.”

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Readers' comments (20)

  • Gabi Soprano

    I have picked up some of RMJM's former clients last week and am offering a hip and design based alternative. My visualisers are at work now night and day. It is nice to report good news. I don't think I will touch any of the staff. I would have an ego clash with Fred the Shred.

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  • Yawn........

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  • Looks like this time it's the rats going down with the ship while the captains all leave!

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  • james francis

    Gabi, I hope that RMJM staff would not have to come to you for work-you seem to take perverse pleasure in having your minions working through the night from your recent posts to BD stories.

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  • james francis

    Further to my last post I want to make a more serious point. The issue over internal communication is one that is vital in the harsh time we are working in. Everybody in a company must be able to feel they are engaged as far as possible otherwise the risk is of rampant dissatisfaction and morale fall off a cliff. This issue is one facing many firms from the small to the biggest-getting communication right has to be the key to limiting uncertainty for staff-even when commercial pressures prevent full disclosure of all information.

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  • Working through the night??? - Let them have a life!!! Recessions are the time to get a break, not for some people exploiting their workforce even more...

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  • What on earth was the rationale behind hiring a disgraced banker?
    Since when has architectural firms cared about internal communication - when the sh*t hit the fan the workers are always the last to know, the more seasoned architects who work for others have to develop a spidey sense, that tingle which tells them when to jump off the ship before it goes down, they dont teach you that at archi school though...

    i often wonder why so many middle tier architects are content to take the paycheque every month without really knowing what financial shape their firm is in, and exactly how many paying jobs are going on in the office. every one is stuck in their little world, not talking to each other until something bad happens...

    ignorance is not bliss..

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  • It is good that disgraced bankers can become designers. Disgraced architects should go into banking.

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  • From what I've been told Robert Matthews, the co-founder, was instrumental in the LCC. He was a key Edinburgh modernist and a socially concerned Architect.

    It would be a fine thing if former employees could form together and revive this legacy or at least take this legacy as a role model for their future practices.

    I would love to hear more from Architects who worked with Robert Matthews in their early careers, before his death in 1975.

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  • Traitors...

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