Ipswich-based MLM is doing business near and far

Steve Oliver of MLM.

Steve Oliver of MLM.

The chairman of engineering and environmental consultancy MLM, Steve Oliver, has been instrumental in building the business’s operations overseas. But, he tells Ross Bentley, the company is as committed as ever to its Ipswich roots.

Multidisciplinary building engineering and environmental consultancy, MLM has its roots firmly placed in Suffolk soil, having been established in Ipswich since the 1960s.

Earlier this year the firm signalled its commitment to the town when it moved out of its London Road offices, where it has been based for the past 30 years, into a newly refurbished space in the town’s Felaw Maltings buildings. The firm has invested in a ten-year lease on the 15,500sq ft of office space - plenty of room for the 120 employees currently located there and for the team to grow.

But while Ipswich is the business’s spiritual home among its UK operations, the fast-growing company has also developed an international dimension in the past decade, both in terms of the recruitment of overseas employees into Ipswich and its expansion abroad.

In recent years senior partner and chairman of MLM, Steve Oliver, has been one of the leaders at the forefront of MLM’s drive to establish an international presence and reputation.

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Leading MLM International’s overseas activity, he has been particularly active in the Middle East, Europe and more recently Scandinavia and Ireland where MLM have active offices working with global clients, international contractors and local partners. Now working in 13 countries worldwide MLM has offices in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Helsinki and Dublin.

But it is back home in Ipswich that the transnational perspective is borne.

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In the Ipswich office, for example, there are over 30 employees from other EU countries.

“We believe in equal opportunities and giving people from different backgrounds opportunities,” continues Oliver. “Working with people from different cultures also makes things more dynamic on an intellectual level and you can pick up new ideas and concepts.”

Choosing to move into a prime space like the Felaw Maltings overlooking Ipswich’s waterfront was also designed to attract the best talent from near and far.

“To attract people you need to have the right environment for them to work in and offer them the right opportunities,” added Oliver.

MLM’s first foray into international markets was when they got involved in a projects in Abu Dhabi in around 2008. The company then made forays into Brazil in around 2010/11 after representatives from the company took part in a UKTI mission to the country. MLM gave a presentation on building sustainability and with preparations for the 2016 Olympics in full swing, received a number of responses from interested parties.

“The UKTI offers a good structure to work in and allowed us to meet the right people,” said Oliver, who said MLM representatives have made numerous visits to Brazil in the years since to oversee operations and to build relationships

The secret to succeeding in Brazil, according to Oliver, has been to have a strong set of policies and guidelines that shape the way the firm approaches contracts in foreign climes..

Taking time and not rushing into anything, and being sympathetic to and working with how things are done on the local level can also win you friends.

“In Brazil there are strong unions, labour laws and social regulations which we respected. We also sought out the right local legal advice and the right banks – it gave us a strong network on which to base the business.”

The lessons learnt from Brazil have coloured other projects abroad that have followed since in places like Ireland and Scandinavia – spotting local opportunities and understanding local ways of working. Mexico is another destination MLM is now eyeing.

But while the international operation is an exciting part of the business, Oliver is keen to emphasise the good work going on in Ipswich as well. Having a blend of interesting local projects and a growing international operation, so there are opportunities to travel, is also a useful way of attracting new talent.

He said currently £6million of the company’s £32m turnover has been generated by projects in the IP1 or IP2 postcode areas.

“It’s good mix. People want the chance to travel overseas but they also want to get involved in interesting projects in local markets as well.”

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