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Britain's biggest private companies: Expertise at your service

Helen Power
Daily Telegraph
18 August 2008

Many of Britain’s biggest companies are now in private hands, and The Daily Telegraph is profiling 100 of the most successful in a two-week series. Here, Helen Power looks at some of the country’s leading business services companies – from window cleaners to engineers

  1. PA Holdings - Profits £52.5m

PA Holdings is the firm of management consultants that helped increase productivity at car-maker Nissan and turn around the fortunes of bankrupt US power company Calpine.

The company focuses on technological advances to drive its clients ahead of other market players. Courage brewers benefited from this strategy, after PA Holdings helped it to develop widget devices to create a traditional head on pints of beer.

The consultants also produced the first 3G testing equipment for Motorola and developed the world’s first handheld, non-contact tonometer to measure internal eye pressure in the diagnosis of glaucoma.

Its emphasis on advancing businesses through technology propelled PA Holdings towards a pre-tax profit of £52.5m on revenues of £407.9m for the last financial year – equating to a margin of 12.87pc.

PA Holdings was one of the world’s first consulting firms, originally known as Personnel Administration. It was established in 1943 to help companies improve their productivity, and one of its first proposals was that women should be trained in the assembly of aircraft.

By the early 1970s PA was global, with operations in Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Asia-Pacific and the US.

It has a habit of founding business ventures, before selling them off: 3G developer UbiNetics was sold in 2005 to Aeroflex Incorporated for $84.5m; another high-tech arm, Volume Product Technology, was sold to CSR for $48m in the same year; and drug business Meridica was sold in 2004 to Pfizer for $125m.

Chief executive Alan Middleton, who has been in his post for a year and with the company for two decades, was attracted by PA Holdings’ ability to get things done rather than produce endless reports.

“It’s attractive because you can make your mark at PA when so many management consulting firms now are such large and anonymous machines,” he said. “Internally you’ll get recognition for your achievements and externally you’ll get in front of senior clients and tackle value-adding projects.”

He believes the company benefits from being in private hands because it has the opportunity to focus on the long term rather than being dependent on quarterly targets.

Mr Middleton said PA Holdings has seen no downturn, despite difficult times in the industry. "Clearly many of the professional services companies have been affected by the downturn,” he said.

“You only have to look at those that have already announced reductions in force and/or are postponing hiring commitments. “At PA we are cautious, yet have seen no downturn in revenues to date.” 


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