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Donaldson Associates tunnels through to success

Donaldson Associates was recently recognised by GE Awards judges as a leader in its field, and the company’s plans for future growth show it is keen to build on its reputation as a key player in the UK and international tunnelling industry. 

Winning the Consulting Firm of the Year at the 2015 GE Awards has further cemented Donaldson Associates’ reputation as an SME with the technical expertise and capability to successfully compete with larger consultancies.

Commenting on the win, corporate director Andy Sloan who is responsible for the engineering output of the company says it is great to see how much the award means to the company’s staff. “For our staff, who are all highly skilled and highly dedicated technical people, it’s a great boost to them to see that all of their hard work is recognised by the industry at large,” he says.

“At the awards, we sent a mixture of people from various staff grades to the awards ceremony and everyone went up to collect the award. I wanted it to be a day for the staff; a real celebration by the staff for the staff.”

Donaldson Associates

Donaldson Associates was named Consulting Firm of the Year at the 2015 GE Awards

As a first-time entrant to the GE Awards, Donaldson Associates felt that it was the right time to put a spotlight on some of the company’s key achievements. “We felt that this year the business had reached a position in terms of what we have achieved, what we can do, how we’re feeling about ourselves and how the industry views us,” says Sloan. “We’ve always had a good story to tell, but over the last few years we’ve had an excellent story to tell and excellent projects to talk about so we decided that this was the time to tell everyone. It was just the right time – and it proved to be a good decision!”

As well as winning the Consulting Firm of the Year Award, the company also received a high commendation in the UK Project with a Geotechnical Value of up to £0.5M category for the stabilisation of a soil pillar adjacent to Eastern Ticket Hall at Bond Street Crossrail Station. Donaldson Associates was also a finalist in the International Project of the Year category for the Ngau Tam Mei to Tai Kong Po Tunnels for the Express Rail Link in Hong Kong.


Sloan believes Donaldson Associates’ focus on technical excellence combined with an emphasis on practical and buildable solutions is the key to its success. The company’s business model revolves around trying to maintain a combination of small, medium and large projects and a healthy pipeline of work opportunities.

“We know what we know well, and deliver it to the highest standard within our area of expertise. Our clients respond to that strong and powerful message,” says Sloan. “Also, I believe that our achievements are, for an SME, quite remarkable.”

One of these notable achievements is Donaldson Associates’ work for Crossrail. The company was heavily involved with the sprayed concrete lining (SCL) works for the Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) joint venture. “Crossrail has been extremely important for us acting as contractor’s SCL designer on Tottenham Court Road Station, Bond Street Station and Fischer Street where we were embedded with BFK and also undertaking the Category III checking of Farringdon Station and the Stepney Green cavern.” In the UK the company is currently changing the step plate junctions and SCL tunnels on the Northern Line Extension, and is about to commence work on Thames Tideway Central Section.

Donaldson Associates’ involvement on larger projects has also allowed the company to grow its reputation internationally. The contract for the Express Rail Link in Hong Kong saw the company undertake the role of lead designer for both the primary and secondary tunnel linings. “Our Hong Kong office has developed on the basis of that win and our reputation for tunnelling is now growing in Hong Kong and south east Asia,” explains Sloan.

Donaldson Associates

The company has played a key part in rehabilitating the Holme Tunnel


Donaldson Associates’ aspirations for growth have been further strengthened following its acquisition by Cowi last year. Sloan describes the takeover as a mutual arrangement and says the philosophies behind Donaldson Associates and Cowi are very much aligned. “Cowi saw in us the brand, the technical excellence and the track record on small, medium and large prestigious projects. In them, we saw a large organisation that was, and remains, focused on engineering,” he says. “Like us, Cowi is very focused on delivering high quality engineering in a design and build environment on a global basis.”

Sloan explains that being part of a larger entity has given Donaldson Associates more “muscle” and a bigger pool of resource and expertise to draw from. “We can go for larger parts of projects in terms of partnering with other design consultants,” he says. “In the UK, in the future, we’re looking to take a larger slice of any partnering arrangement.”

While not particularly well known in the UK, Cowi has an annual turnover of US$1bn (£641M) and employs 6,500 people. The company is headquartered in Denmark and is run on a regional basis. The regions being Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a fourth international division called BTM (bridges, tunnels and marine structures). Sloan says: “It is ranked numbers one and four globally in the ENR for the design of bridges and marine structures. The acquisition of Donaldson makes the Cowi tunnelling team over 300 strong. In an international sense, Cowi tunnelling is now a major global player.”

“We know what we know well, and deliver it to the highest standard within our area of expertise”

Andy Sloan, Donaldson Associates 

Cowi is currently entering a five-year strategy period called “Changing the Game” which is focused on business growth. Within Cowi BTM there is a focus on the UK in terms of Donaldson Associates and its sister company Flint and Neill, with the latter specialising in bridges. The goal is to develop the marine side of the business in the UK.

“In terms of Donaldson Associates, we want to grow and that’s part of the Cowi BTM growth in the UK. Within the five-year timeframe, the Cowi companies in the UK have an aspiration to be significantly larger and undertake more work, focused on providing all of the engineering services for bridge, tunnel and marine projects,” explains Sloan.

“We’re still going to remain focused and specialist, but within that framework there are more skills we can add to our portfolio of work under the BTM umbrella to provide a fuller service.”


Sloan is confident this desire for growth is achievable, especially in terms of the tunnelling industry which is currently thriving both in the UK and internationally. “We see the potential for growth in North America, Scandinavia, in the UK, the Middle East and south east Asia. There is real opportunity for us and for tunnellers in general in the UK. So the future, we think, is very rosy,” he says.

However, Sloan, who is also a visiting professor at Strathclyde University where he both teaches and is involved in research, believes a key hurdle will be overcoming the current skills shortage. While the quality of graduates in the UK is generally very good, he feels more needs to be done to attract them into tunnelling and geotechnical engineering. “There is a skills shortage and it is difficult to see an end to that situation. We rely heavily on engineers from overseas,” says Sloan. “While we can identify engineers from non-EU countries, getting them into the UK is proving to be a challenge. Recruiting additional experienced people will be key to growing the business.”

Although Sloan is aware of the challenges ahead, the support and opportunities available to Donaldson Associates as part of the Cowi family indicate that the company is in a strong position to achieve its ambition of solid future growth.

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