Posted: 22 June 2022

Building a global force in the environmental sector

Building a global force in the environmental sector

In March 2019, WestBridge backed a management buyout at environmental consultancy APEM. Despite the pandemic, during the intervening three years, turnover has increased from £12m to over £40m. This has been achieved through organic growth and acquisition, underpinned by the WestBridge value creation model. Chairman Andy Lockwood provides an insight into how the company’s growth has been managed so successfully.

APEM’s potential for significant growth was a central factor when WestBridge invested in the company.  Market conditions were favourable and commercial due diligence revealed that certain areas of the business would benefit from further development.

The company was essentially being run by a team of highly regarded scientists. Although leaders in their respective fields, they had limited experience of running a business at scale and driving rapid growth - how to harness disciplines such as sales and marketing or product development, for example. They had no formal strategy for growth other than to continue doing what they were doing extremely well.

I was delighted to join the team, not least because I relished the opportunity of working closely with a company that was doing so much to benefit the environment.

Achieving rapid growth was always central to our plans but to achieve this, certain foundations needed to be put in place.  With this in mind, one of our central goals  was to reduce the levels of admin and non-scientific work required of our scientists and environmental experts so they could focus on doing what they know and love best.

Over the first 12 months, we strengthened the finance function adding expertise and by introducing more efficient systems and processes. 

Recognising that growth is most easily achieved from existing customers, we also enhanced APEM’s approach to tender writing and provided sales training for the entire team.

APEM already had a strategy they called ‘Organic Plus’, and we focused on how to accelerate this.  Through training and the introduction of collaborative sales processes it ensures  everyone in the team focuses on growth opportunities among the company’s established customer base. In short, we empowered them to promote the excellence of the company’s collective services.

I stress that we didn’t try to turn our scientists into slick salespeople.  We simply wanted to equip them with the skills to identify opportunities when talking with existing and prospective customers.

The plan was to maintain APEM’s core service offering but gain a better and deeper understanding of customer needs so we could develop new services to widen our capabilities. A wider service offer would, in turn, also appeal to prospective new customers.

Strategic acquisitions

We had intended to make our first acquisition in Year 2 post-MBO but the pandemic delayed this plan by almost a year. We have made up for lost time, though, having made three acquisitions in the last year.

Our first transaction was the acquisition of Woodrow, an environmental and sustainability consultancy based in Ireland. This was followed by the acquisition of AQUAFACT, a specialist in marine surveys also in Ireland.  We believe Ireland is an important and growing market and these two acquisitions alongside organic growth in the territory has positioned us now as one of the leading players there.

Our third – and largest – transaction was the acquisition of GoBe Consultants, which helps developers of offshore wind and other nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) navigate the planning consent process.  APEM already provides services in these markets downstream of the consent process and the inclusion of GoBe in our portfolio significantly strengthens our offering to these clients.

Challenges

It’s generally accepted that achieving growth at such a pace presents many challenges. It must be said that the team at APEM is a pleasure to work with – they have been active contributors to the strategy and have embraced change with enthusiasm. 

In fact, the only challenge we have collectively face is finding enough time to satisfy our shared ambition and voracious appetite for growth!

The future

WestBridge has been a valuable and supportive partner with the experience to both take a helicopter view when management are in the detail and form a key part of a working group addressing a key strategic objective such as driving M&A activity.

When WestBridge originally invested, APEM relied on a relatively small number of clients in often cyclical markets.  In three years, APEM has built a much broader base of clients with a more constant and growing revenue profile and now offers an unparalleled range of specialist services and technical capabilities and is acknowledged as a leading player on the global stage.

Partly as a consequence of COP26 and the widespread adoption of ESG, the future of the renewables industry – especially rewewable power generation – is very bright and the demand for environmental expertise has never been higher. There could not be a more exciting time to work in a growing global environmental consultancy.

There are occasions when the stars of judgment, skill, ambition and expectation are aligned and WestBridge’s involvement in APEM has been one such event.  It is particularly satisfying to reflect that by working closely with an engaged and ambitious management team, we have helped create a truly formidable force in the environmental consultancy sector.

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