Costain: Opportunity and a really exciting place to be

Addressing the UK’s urgent strategic national infrastructure needs, whether it is ensuring the security of future energy sources, providing a safe and reliable water supply or upgrading road and rail transport, has resulted in the implementation of multi-billion, long-term investment programmes. These programmes provide substantial business opportunities for Costain, almost 12 months after their acquisition of Rhead Group. Andy Walker investigates.

Costain acquired the professional services consultancy, Rhead Group last year, to enhance the company’s programme management and advisory capability and its integrated service offer. Since then, the construction giant has been on a transformational journey, working hard to shift the perception away from the firm’s historical roots as a construction contracting business to that of an engineering solutions provider providing a range of integrated services across the full asset lifecycle.

Nigel Curry was formerly CEO of Rhead Group and is now Costain’s consulting and advisory services director. “We provide engineering solutions in three main markets – energy, transportation and water – and have incredibly strong customer relationships having worked with our customers for many years,” he says. Curry is keen to stress the difference Costain makes to customers by providing greater value from innovation and collaboration with its supply chain. 

“Costain spends significant time working with the various parts of the supply chain to bring forward solutions and efficiency on projects. The culture within Costain recognises that collaboration with the supply chain provides a conduit for technology and innovation to provide customers with smarter and more efficient ways of meeting their needs. I think this spirit of collaboration is quite unique in our industry,” says Curry.

More than ever before, clients are looking for support to provide them with greater assurance, greater predictability and certainty on their projects and programmes. “If you look at the model of delivery ten or five years ago it was very much around owners, engineers, designers, contractors and there was a clear divide, but I think now that model has shifted towards increased integration  because of the need for greater efficiency and greater assurance around delivery,” says Curry. “Customers are keen to engage with us much earlier to provide our buildability and constructability ‘expertise’ and knowledge to help influence better outcomes and increase efficiency.”

Curry says that there has been a change in how the industry is delivering projects and how customers are looking to achieve that. “From a Costain perspective, we continue to deliver construction programmes whilst increasingly we are offering our customers an added consultancy and advisory capability and that’s helping those customers deliver projects more efficiently and providing that assurance much earlier in the life of the project,” he says.

The acquisition of Rhead Group has been used as a catalyst to develop that consultancy and advisory capability across the entire Costain Group. “The consultancy capability is not just being applied to the power sector where Rhead was integrated into, it’s also being used as a catalyst across all six sectors of the company’s operations,” says Curry.

"The consultancy capability is being used as a catalyst across all six sectors of Costain's operations."
- Nigel Curry

“Our customers are looking for Costain to be able to provide a wider capability so it’s not something we need to influence that much. It’s a need that customers have,” Curry explains. “Traditionally, they have been gaining those services from some of the project and programme management consultancies who are less able to offer a deep understanding of how projects are constructed - that’s a big differentiator for us and quite unique,” Curry explains.

Costain has set up an operating model retaining a single point of contact with customers, rebranding Rhead Group as Costain, and customer relationships are held through the six sectors in which the company operates. “We have  also developed three centres of excellence around programme advisory, engineering services and technology aligning consultancy and advisory for deployment it into those six sectors. This consultancy operating model has enabled Costain to retain the single point of contact providing  clarity for our customers,” says Curry.

Not all acquisitions succeed, so how has a professional services consultancy been integrated into what was a traditional contractor, with a different culture and staff? “Before we even thought about an exit to any company, let alone Costain, Rhead Group spent a lot of time defining what a good company would look like in terms of operating model and culture,” Curry says. “Costain for us was an organisation where we felt the integration would be very strong indeed and therefore it’s been a very positive experience. The cultural fit is strong, there’s an understanding of the strategic logic from the combined staff, customers and shareholders. 

“Before the integration I was keen to ensure that customers and staff alike could see the benefit of the acquisition.  The team have seen greater career opportunities across a larger organisation while still having the agility to provide consultancy services which the company was very successful at. The integration has gone very well indeed and we have retained all our key staff.

“Costain is a great business and very ambitious, with real passion and drive, which sometimes you don’t see in bigger companies. This ambition is hugely exciting and it’s a magnet for attracting and retaining talent,” says Curry.

"Costain is a great business and very ambitious. This ambition is hugely exciting and it's a magnet for attracting and retaining talent."

Clear leadership and passion for the business are hallmarks of the Costain approach and Curry is excited. “We have a very clear strategy in a growing market offering a broader range of services,” he says. The directors of Rhead Group have stayed with the business and nearly a year on we all see the benefit of the move and are very much looking forward to continuing on the journey. It’s more than just been part of a larger company for us; it’s being part of helping to lead transformational change in Costain. That is really exciting,” he says.

Curry said that the alignment with the Costain values was a key consideration of the fit. “Until you work in a new organisation you can never truly get an answer to whether a company lives its values. Now, having been within the business for some time, I know that the team absolutely live those values and is part of its DNA.”

Bringing in Rhead Group has changed Costain. “The company now has a much stronger breadth and depth of consultancy advisory capability. This has enabled Costain to offer a broader range of services helping customers improve the efficiency in the delivery of their programmes by engaging much earlier in the project lifecycle,” said Curry.

Curry is particularly keen to stress the importance of people within Costain. “Costain recognises that its people are fundamental to its current and future success,” he says. “We’ve got a very strong training and development programme from graduates, apprentices, and emerging leaders’ programme to ensure we continue to support and develop our team. The recognition of talented people being central to the success of the company now and in the future is deep rooted in the culture of the organisation,” he says.

“Overall, the integration has gone really well and I’m very pleased and proud of that.”

Nigel Curry. Nigel Curry, consulting and advisory services director, Costain.

“In terms of the work we are doing, there’s a range of projects that we are providing support to. Some pretty complex programmes, including submarine platforms where we are providing project control capability. We’ve just recently won a major project to provide programme management for the National Grid to oversee the delivery of a large tunnel in the Humber. These are just two examples. It’s going well. The team is excited by this new chapter,” Curry says.

Curry clearly relishes his role at Costain. “I enjoy being involved in the delivery of major complex programmes. I’m working with some great talented people, helping to develop a growing business which has the agility to be able to support customers develop greater assurance on these complex programmes. Leading the challenge at Costain to further build our consultancy and advisory business is something I am very excited by,” he said.

“Costain is a great company, with a clear vision and a clear strategy and it sees talent as an absolute central part of what it invests in. It’s a very exciting place to be,” says Curry.

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