Civil engineering firms joins Scotland’s growing EO sector

MHB Consultants has made the transition with the support of Co-operative Development Scotland

Civil engineering firm MHB Consultants is the latest company in Scotland to become employee-owned, with 40 members of staff given a stake in the business.  

Founded by managing director Hendrie Barbour in 2006, MHB Consultants is an engineering design consultancy specialising in bridge design, civil and geotechnical engineering, temporary works and land surveying.

Together with fellow directors Fergus Aitchison and Alistair Gray, Mr Barbour has grown the firm to 40 staff, with headquarters in Glasgow and regional offices in Edinburgh and York. Clients include construction firms, transport agencies, local authorities, engineering consultants and private clients throughout the UK.  

Mr Barbour said he wanted to plan for his eventual exit over a number of years by considering succession options early, therefore allowing for a smooth transition. He and his management team wanted to ensure the business remained independent and retained the company’s strong values and culture.  

“All of us have been involved in building MHB,” said Mr Barbour, “and we are proud of the successful business that it has become and the team of employees that we have. We don’t want any exit plans to impact what we’ve all built or change the way the business operates and our way of doing things.” 

Mr Barbour attended seminars on succession planning delivered by Co-operative Development Scotland, the arm of Scotland’s enterprise agencies that supports collaborative and employee ownership business models. As the benefits of employee ownership became clear, the management team knew it was the right fit for MHB. 

An employee ownership trust has been formed and holds 100% of the shares on behalf of the employees.  The transition to employee ownership was supported by Co-operative Development Scotland (CDS), with the process managed by Co-ownership Solutions LLP and legal services by Lindsays. 

Due to remote working, staff meetings were held by video conference to share the news, what it would mean, and why it was being done. A ballot to elect the employee member of the Ownership Trust was carried out, with senior engineer Gillian Pettigrew being elected to the role. 

Ms Pettigrew said: “Staff are very much looking forward to having a say in the future of the business, and the opportunity to contribute to its success.” 

Clare Alexander, head of CDS, said: “It is fantastic news that MHB Consultants has chosen to transfer ownership to its employees. Employee ownership drives engagement, productivity, long-term thinking and innovation, brought about by enhanced employee wellbeing. Employee-owned businesses also tend to be more resilient than their non-employee-owned counterparts, something which stands them in better stead for the new world we now find ourselves in following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The crisis has highlighted what is important to business owners; safeguarding the long-term future of their company, keeping it rooted in its local community and retaining jobs, skills and investment. These are all characteristics of employee-owned businesses and will help to create a stronger, more resilient, productive and fairer economy.” 

Within Scotland, there are now around 110 employee-owned companies operating, with approximately 7,500 employee-owners generating a combined turnover of around £950m.