Building on its engineering success

    Managing partner Paul Reilly does not hide his pride about PBA’s achievements. Why should he, writes John Burbedge, when they are in plain view all around the Thames Valley?

    An independent practice of engineers, planners, scientists, and economists: ‘We help our clients achieve valuable planning permissions, then build-out the associated infrastructure and buildings’

    Some are iconic – Reading railway station’s public realm and Thames Tower regeneration, and Slough’s The Curve – others are functional – the remodelled M4 Junction 11 … all are designed to improve local environments.

    “We are incredibly proud of the work we have delivered for clients, the end products that have regenerated the region and brought employment. It’s very visible work, so as you drive around you do feel that, as an organisation, we have helped support the business, investment and public-sector communities here in securing their ambitions.”

    PBA is a professional partnership that believes in a partnership approach to its developmental projectwork – facilitating private-public connections to help evaluate potential land values, unlock infrastructure, for beneficial development to follow.

    “It‘s about channelling developmental interest and funding in line with regional ambitions such as housing and employment.”

    Such partnerships have helped produce an ongoing virtuous cycle of land transformation, structural improvement and attractive dynamism within the Thames Valley, says Reilly.

    The PBA practice also believes in de-centralised operations, with ‘reportable autonomy’ among its self-managing groups – within the scope of the firm’s strategic client, technical and regional focuses, its values and established KPIs. 

    “That 3-D way of looking at our business means we operate in an agile adaptive way.” Performance is monitored for board-level assessment, but not published internally. “We favour collaboration, not competitiveness.”

    PBA’s business model has proved successful. “We are in year three of a seven-year-strong growth strategy, and are on track to increase our business by 250%.” Astute M&A activity is also broadening PBA’s sector mix to enhance its disciplines and geographic presence.

    “The challenge is to balance our growth without undermining what we have currently got. Such as PBA’s award-winning performance and work culture.”* 

    Employing technology to assess optimum land use, reduce programme costs and create better experiences for clients has been a key enabler.

    PBA uses drones to survey land and monitor progress, GIS tools to map and model infrastructure networks, embedded sensors to provide ongoing Big Data, BIM processes to boost efficiency and quality, and VR goggles to help clients immerse themselves as developments progress.

    “All this new technology makes it a really exciting time for new designers and engineers coming through,” enthused Reilly.

    Combating industry skill shortages, PBA ‘grows its own’. “The engine for our growth is bringing in young people every year – 15-20 apprentices and 40 graduates. We had 3,500 applicants for our graduate scheme last year.”

    PBA’s workbook is client-led, so that growth may suffer Brexit concerns, but as Reilly says: “For agile firms like us, there are as many market opportunities as there were three years ago.


    Peter Brett-800 Paul Reilly photo
    Paul Reilly

    “We have 4% of a £1.6 billion market. Even if that market drops, there is still a massive chunk to aim at.

    “We have the right work culture, great clients, a great reputation technically and as business partners. We are financially robust and meeting our strategic plan.

    “We have nothing to be afraid of, and I don’t feel uncomfortable saying that.”

    As much as it can be, PBA is master of its own destiny.

    Peter Brett Associates LLP

    Scope: 100% professional services B2B. Development and infrastructure consultants; engineering and planning practitioners.

    Scale: £61 million sales, (up from £56.5m). Runs c.3,000 projects annually.

    Founded: 1965, Wokingham. 

    Staff: 745 (270 in Reading HQ)

    Locations: 15 UK offices, three in Europe.

    PBA business advice

    • Operate with integrity. “If you say you will do it, do it.”
    • Be properly funded at all times. Know your figures.
    • Trust and support young minds. Give them confidence to express their talents.
    • Carefully differentiate what you are actually offering. “People choose proven undoubted providers.”

    * ‘Best Company to Work for’ and ‘Green Progress’ winners, Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards 2016; New Civil Engineer Top 100 Company 2017; Thames Valley 250 listing (no 64).