RMJM buyout ‘part of plan to clear £12m debt’

THE buyout of architecture firm RMJM by Duthus Investments was a long-planned move to write off £12 million of debt and clear the business of its old-guard shareholders, chief executive Peter Morrison has told The Scotsman.

Speaking at RMJM’s headquarters in Edinburgh, Morrison said the firm – which was behind the Scottish Parliament building and once employed Fred Goodwin – needed to part company with former staff who still held minority stakes to allow a fresh start.

The sale also allowed the ­Morrisons to reduce the company’s debt burden by half.

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Shareholders, including architects who had once been leading lights of the practice, but left amid a mass exodus of senior staff over the past 18 months, received a letter earlier this week, presenting them with a sale of the trading arm of RMJM Group.

The move leaves them with shares in a shell company with no assets or potential for trade. About 90 per cent of RMJM Group is owned by the Morrisons, with the rest divided among about 30 former staff.

“RMJM Group is made worthless by the sale of RMJM Architecture to Duthus investments,” said one minority shareholder. “Thus RMJM Group shares are worth zero. It is disappointing, but not unexpected.”

The move has seen RMJM Architecture – the subsidiary of the business which contains the trading assets of the architecture firm – taken into the hands of Morrison, his father Sir Fraser and three other family members and was orchestrated from the time that RMJM fell into receivership last October.

“There are around 30 people who are shareholders, but a lot had gone off to start up their own companies and are essentially people who compete with us,” said Morrison. “What we are doing is in the best interests of the business.”

Director Declan Thompson insisted the decision would have “no impact” on RMJM’s legal battles – including one with former employees of Hillier Architecture in the US.

“I don’t think the change will impact in any way on what is happening in the US,” said Thompson. “We lowered RMJM’s debt by 50 per cent,” he added. “What has happened is that £12m of debt has been written off. It has been a very difficult recession for us but we are now in a position where we can focus on using capital for investment rather than propping up the working capital.”

Morrison added that further investment by the Morrison family, who two years ago ploughed £8m of their own money into the struggling business, could not be ruled out.

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The new firm is owned by Sir Fraser, with 68 per cent of shares, Peter Morrison with 11 per cent and the remainder split between Claire Ball, Sarah Bailes and Richard Bailes – Sir Fraser’s two daughters and son-in-law.