Kier Group

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Kier Group plc
Public limited company
Traded asLSEKIE
IndustryConstruction, Civil engineering, Support services, Property management
Founded1928
HeadquartersTempsford Hall, Sandy, Bedfordshire
Key people
Philip Cox, Chairman
Andrew Davies, CEO
Revenue£4,493.3 million (2018)[1]
£160.0 million (2018)[1]
£88.5 million (2018)[1]
Number of employees
20,064 (2018)[1]
Websitewww.kier.co.uk

Kier Group plc is a UK construction, services and property group active in building and civil engineering, support services, public and private housebuilding, land development and the Private Finance Initiative.

Founded in 1928 in Stoke-on-Trent it initially specialised in concrete engineering before expanding into general contracting and house-building. Kier was listed as a public company on the London Stock Exchange from 1963 until it was acquired by Beazer in 1986. After a period under the ownership of Hanson plc, it was bought out by its management in 1992, expanded its housing interests, and was relisted on the London Stock Exchange in 1996. During the early 21st century, it expanded through acquisitions, and in September 2018 Kier was ranked, by turnover, as the second biggest UK construction contractor, behind Balfour Beatty.[2] It was a constituent of the FTSE 250 Index until its share price plunged following a failed rights issue in late 2018 and continued problems in early 2019.

History[edit]

Foundation[edit]

The company was founded by Jorgen Lotz and Olaf Kier, Danish engineers, under the name Lotz & Kier in 1928, and it was based in Stoke-on-Trent.[3]

A few years later Lotz withdrew from the company, but Olaf Kier retained a semblance of his identity by including Lotz's initials in the organisation's new name, J.L. Kier & Co Ltd, which remained the company's principal title for over four decades.[4]

Pre-World War II[edit]

By the late 1930s Kier had moved its head office to Belgravia in Westminster, and thereby became neighbours to many of Britain's leading construction engineering consultants and contractors, who had formed a substantial coterie in Westminster for professionals and businessmen engaged in civil engineering. Immediate neighbours included Marples Ridgeway (builders of Hammersmith Flyover) and Edmund Nuttall (builders of both Mersey road tunnels).[5]

Concrete engineering[edit]

During its first 35 years, Kier became identified with certain civil engineering specialisms, such as contiguous cylindrical reinforced concrete grain silos and cement silos, using continuously sliding formwork; commencing with those at Barking in 1929, followed by grain silos at Northampton, Peterborough, Melksham, Gloucester and Witham; and cement silos at Norwich, Cambridge, Trinidad, and in India.[6]

Such specialist work was part of a pattern that quickly developed in the company's operations during that period, namely the undertaking of innovative, state-of-the-art civil engineering techniques at the forefront of modern technology. Other elements within this pattern were hyperbolic natural draft cooling towers (mostly around 300 ft high),[7] monolithic concrete chimneys (sometimes over 400 ft high),[8] complete power station structures,[9] and coastal works such as tanker berths, docks and harbours.[10]

Corner detail of Highpoint I, showing balcony profiles.

In the same period, only this time in the building sector, Kier were in the vanguard of new reinforced concrete systems for use as framework for tall buildings. Their most famous contribution in this field was an eight-storey avant-garde development of apartment blocks named Highpoint, located in Highgate Village, north London. They were responsible for the reinforced concrete and general building.[11]

When this project was completed in 1935 it became widely renowned as the finest example of this form of construction for residential purposes. When Le Corbusier himself visited Highpoint in 1935 he said, "This beautiful building .... at Highgate is an achievement of the first rank."[12] And American critic Henry Russell Hitchcock called it, "One of the finest, if not absolutely the finest, middle-class housing projects in the world"[12] (in 1970 both Highpoint blocks were classified Grade I listed buildings).[13]

Kier dynasty[edit]

Olaf Kier sought to retain family leaders at the head of the organisation. However, his son by his first marriage was killed in a riding accident in 1945. Then, during the 1950s, Olaf's nephew, Mogens Kier, joined the firm's management structure, but did not progress to a leading position in the company. Olaf died in an accident in 1986, aged 87; and Mogens died in 2003.[14]

Post-World War II[edit]

J.L. Kier & Co Ltd remained a private company until 1963 when it obtained a listing on the London Stock Exchange and became a public company. Its offer for shares was many times oversubscribed. The Kier family retained a significant majority of the holding. In 1973 Kier merged with W. & C. French to form French Kier but within the French division there were heavy losses on fixed-price motorway contracts and land development. A long-serving Kier engineer, John Mott, was appointed chief executive in order to revive the group's fortunes. Following an abortive bid for Abbey in 1985, French Kier itself was the subject of a hotly contested bid by Beazer, which eventually succeeded in January 1986.[15]

Five years later (1991) Hanson plc bought Beazer plc[16] and made an early decision to dispose of the contracting arm, now known simply as Kier. This was the subject of a management buyout in July 1992,[17] with Hanson retaining a 10 per cent stake.[18]

In 1993 Kier decided to re-enter the housing market with the £30m acquisition of Twigden Homes. This was followed by acquisitions of the southern division of Miller Homes in 1996, Bellwinch in 1998, and Allison Homes in 2001. By 2004, Kier housing sales were over 1,000 units a year.[15] Kier was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1996.[19]

21st century[edit]

In 2009, Mivan Kier, Kier's Romanian joint venture with the Northern Irish group Mivan, which invested in real estate projects in Bucharest, requested bankruptcy protection due to debts of €20 million.[20][21]

In 2013, Kier acquired the services firm May Gurney for £221 million,[22] becoming the then fourth largest contracting firm in the UK (behind Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Laing O'Rourke).[23] In June 2015 Kier completed the acquisition of Mouchel, a business which included infrastructure services and business services divisions, for £265 million;[24] Mouchel Infrastructure Services was rebranded as Mouchel Consulting, and sold to WSP Global in October 2016. In July 2017 Kier acquired McNicholas Construction, another UK infrastructure services provider.[25]

2018-2019 financial difficulties[edit]

After the liquidation of rival contracting and services provider Carillion in January 2018, Kier took on some Carillion staff and contracts: 150 Carillion workers employed on smart motorway joint ventures with Kier became Kier employees; 51 Carillion employees working on seven HS2 civil engineering packages awarded to the CEK joint venture were allowed to join Kier/Eiffage.[26][27][28] However, because Kier shared characteristics that contributed to Carillion's collapse - problem contracts, rising debts, and use of reverse factoring supply chain finance - City hedge funds began to 'short' Kier's shares; 10.9% were shorted by 30 August 2018,[29] rising to 18% ahead of a results announcement on 20 September 2018,[30] though Kier's position was not regarded as risky as Carillion's.[31] The 2018 results were in line with City expectations - showing a pre-tax profit of £137m from stable revenue of £4.5 billion - with Kier outlining clear debt reduction plans.[32][33] On 15 November 2018, Kier announced the £24m sale of its Australian road assets and management services business KHSA to joint venture partner Downer, and said sale proceeds would help reduce net debt[34] - £624m at 31 October 2018.[35]

However, on 30 November, Kier announced a £264m rights issue, priced at 409p, to pay down net debts, saying banks were increasingly nervous about construction;[35] the announcement led to Kier shares dropping almost 33%,[36] cutting Kier's stock market value by £329m to £492m.[37] The slide continued on 3 December[38] with shares closing at 455p - around 40% lower than before the rights issue announcement.[39] Kier was demoted from the FTSE 250 Index on 5 December,[40] and its share price dropped below the rights issue price,[41][42] meaning it was cheaper for investors to buy shares in the open market than in the rights issue, and leaving underwriters (Numis, Peel Hunt, Citigroup, HSBC and Santander) facing losses on the rights issue. Shares were also subject to renewed 'shorting' (two firms, BlackRock and Marshall Wace, held 6.9% of Kier's shares).[43] On 10 December, shares closed at 376.4p, a 15-year low.[44] Only 38% of the rights issue was taken up, leaving the lenders facing losses even after £14m fees are taken into account, with shares still trading below the rights issue price, at 385p, on 19 December.[45]

Following the rights issue result on 20 December 2018, shares fell by 13% to a 15-year low of 335p, but later recovered.[46][47] They were trading at 529p on 11 January 2019, when some shareholders sought changes in Kier's leadership team.[48] CEO Haydn Mursell subsequently resigned with immediate effect on 22 January (former Wates Group CEO Andrew Davies was announced as his successor on 19 March,[49] taking up the post on 15 April 2019).[50] In a trading statement Kier said its rights issue had helped reduce year-end net debt to £130m compared with £239m at the end of the previous year; average month-end net debt for the six months to 31 December 2018 was £370m, as compared with £410m for the six months to 30 June 2018.[51] On 28 January 2019, Kier shares dropped 4% after reports it would sell its housing maintenance arm to cut debt,[52] and the company was also reducing its waste management activities.[53]

On 11 March 2019, Kier revised its average net debt for the six months to December 2018 by over £50m from £130m to £180.5m, raising average month-end net debt over the period from £370m to £430m. These revisions followed £10.3m in adjustments to the group’s hedging activities, and £40.2m in relation to development assets held for resale. It also warned of £25m of additional costs on its Broadmoor Hospital redevelopment. Shares fell by 12% to 437p.[54][55]

On 20 March 2019, Kier announced half-year results showing a pre-tax loss of £35.5m in the second half of 2018 with revenues flat at £2,064m. As well as the Broadmoor provision, Kier lost £26m on a disputed waste collection contract which has been cut short, while integrating the McNicholas business and Kier restructuring added a further £15.4m to costs. Kier said growth would be "earnings and cash flow neutral" in 2019, highlighting "volume pressures" in its highways, utilities and housing maintenance markets.[56] In a 3 June 2019 profit warning, Kier said operating profits would be £25m lower than previously expected,[57] causing its share price to fall over 40%[58] - trading at about 150p, less than half the rights issue price, on 6 June.[59] Shares fell by over a third on 14 June, closing at 130.8p, after reports that Kier was looking to sell its housebuilding division.[60]

Operations[edit]

The company has four divisions: Kier Construction, Kier Services, Kier Residential and Kier Property. These are further split into smaller companies.[61]

Major projects[edit]

Projects involving the company have included Highpoint I completed in 1935,[62] the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport completed in 1988,[63] the Lesotho Highlands Water Project completed in 1998,[64] Hairmyres Hospital completed in 2001,[65] High Speed 1 completed in 2007,[66] the Castlepoint shopping centre in Bournemouth in 2003,[67] the UK Supreme Court in London completed in 2009[68] and Snowhill Phase 2 in Birmingham completed in 2009.[69]

Kier Group is also involved in HS2 lots C2 and C3, working as part of a joint venture with Eiffage, with main construction work to start in 2018/9.[70]

Controversies[edit]

Kier was revealed as a subscriber to the UK's Consulting Association, exposed in 2009 for operating an illegal construction industry blacklist, and was among 14 issued with enforcement notices by the UK Information Commissioner's Office.[71] Subsequently, Kier was among eight businesses involved in the 2014 launch of the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme,[72] condemned as a "PR stunt" by the GMB union, and described by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee as "an act of bad faith".[73] In December 2017, Unite announced it had issued high court proceedings against four former chairmen of the Consulting Association, included Danny O'Sullivan of Kier, alleging breach of privacy, defamation and Data Protection Act offences.[74] Unite also said it was taking action against 12 major contractors including Kier.[75]

Following a devastating fire in the Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh Building on 15 June 2018, the school terminated its £25 million restoration contract with Kier on 29 June 2018.[76]

In October 2018, Kier was named as a 'poor payer' at a Parliamentary inquiry into small businesses, failing to pay 48% of invoices due within their agreed terms, leading some suppliers to refuse to work for the company.[77]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]