The travails afflicting recent high-profile construction projects like Wembley Stadium, the Scottish Parliament and Bath Spa illustrate how building and engineering works can go wrong, resulting in delays, over-spends, acrimony and litigation. When Mace was founded in 1990, its aim was to deliver first-class projects on time and to budget by building relationships deliberately engineered to circumvent conflict.
In the years since, Mace has delivered in spades (although its people are more likely to rely on a state-of-the-art laptop than a shovel). When it completed a brand-new control tower for Heathrow Airport's new fifth terminal last October, the 900-tonne structure, built 2km away in a quiet part of the airport, was shifted into position in the dead of night to ensure no disruption to runways next day. It was five weeks early.
Mace has been at the heart of some of the UK's most prestigious projects in recent years - the London Eye, the British Museum's Great Court, Royal Bank of Scotland's new HQ at Gogarburn and the aforementioned Terminal 5, to name a few. Clients at the highest level know that Mace's construction and project management skills will meet their standards. Mace - part of the consortium that will oversee the London Olympics construction project - is a Service Excellence stalwart, having twice won its category before. What persuaded the assessors to make it this year's overall winner was the firm's carefully planned and meticulously executed approach to moving into a completely new market: the water industry.
Mace saw water and highways as areas where great investment will take place. It identified a handful of companies where the service delivery could be up for grabs and this led to discussions with Three Valleys Water in north London, and Mace's inclusion as the wildcard among six firms competing for the business. Mace won the contract last December and within four weeks had taken on 48 Three Valleys people and 25 consultants via a TUPE transfer. Explains Mike Healy, operations director at Mace: 'We had to understand Three Valleys' main drivers. Its two main contractors weren't working because there was an adversarial relationship between them and the asset delivery department. And they'd missed their target from the regulator for replacing old water pipe.'
Mace quickly put the contract onto a stable footing, with highly visible documentation showing that the partnership is set to hit the regulator's target. Staff were given greater empowerment, a significant investment in technology and a new world of opportunity through the transfer. A survey in July showed a dramatic improvement in work satisfaction, and sickness absence fell dramatically from an annualised rate of 12 days before the transfer to just 1.7 days after.
The firm is dedicated to much more than being biggest. 'Our aim is to have an integrated service offer covering the whole cycle from cradle to the grave in construction,' says CEO Stephen Pycroft. 'We want to be first or second choice in any service we offer.'
The list of initiatives created to get there exemplifies Mace's can-do attitude: it set up a Mace Business School to bring suppliers up to standard; a Health & Safety Consultancy and bespoke online safety management system that helped it win the British Safety Council's Sword of Honour; it set up its own consultancy to raise recruitment standards in construction; it runs leadership programmes and strands covering procurement, billing and business improvement.
But if final evidence of Mace's achievement were needed, the numbers on the coporate dashboard say it all: staff satisfaction up from 80% in 2005 to 83% in 2006; client satisfaction up from 75% to 82%; accidents down from 3.9 per 1,000 man-days to 3.0; income up £50m to £300m; profit up from £5.7m to £6.8m; and repeat orders up from 70% to 74%. Oh, and 91% of customers say they'd use Mace again.