WGM Engineering (WGM) is a MEICA self-delivery design and build partner, offering innovative and sustainable solutions to the water sector across the UK. Its unique self-delivery model is underpinned by off-site manufacturing and an impressive range of in-house capabilities, such as technical design, project management, planned and preventative maintenance, and a number of off-site engineering facilities, promoting DfMA, modularity, and a circular economy approach.
In 2022, WGM was acquired by RSK Group (RSK), a leading integrated environmental, engineering, and technical services business that provides bespoke end-to-end solutions across a variety of sectors. Under RSK’s umbrella, the acquisition has enabled WGM to collaborate, not compete, with other RSK companies, particularly those with a presence in the water industry.
With this in mind, we’re joined by Ian Mathieson, Managing Director of WGM, and Scott Aitken, Managing Director of Binnies UK to discuss the company’s evolution and the recent joint venture between WGM and Binnies, which combines WGM’s self-delivery capability with Binnies’ more than 100 years engineering expertise. The pair exemplify how companies can effectively collaborate, with Ian, the second generation of WGM, bringing a historical perspective to complement Scott’s outlook on how legacy brands can embrace innovation.
Focusing firstly on WGM, Ian opens: “We started life back in 1986 as a three-man operation consisting of myself, my father, and my mother, operating from our garage in one of Scotland’s small towns. Our name originates from my father’s initials, Walter Gerard Matheson, and acts as a tribute to him since his passing.
“We started off selling mechanical seals for pumping equipment in the industrial sector, but quickly diversified into other areas. We acquired a small subcontracting machine shop in Paisley in 1998, which saw us enter the engineering sector, as opposed to just being a distributor. We took over a large facility in Livingston in 2000, with an aim to strengthen our presence in the water industry as we had started to experience demand beyond our mechanical and electrical engineering offering.
“We later split the business into three distinct divisions – E&M (electrical and mechanical services) for planned and preventative maintenance services; ES (engineered solutions) for fabrication and specialist coatings, as well as significant workshop services; and projects for the delivery of long-cycle capital work In 2010 we also established a separate WGM Civils business to support self-delivered, ‘turnkey’ solutions to our clients, in alignment with our ‘total service’ offering. The business was growing significantly, and having won our first capital, Tier 1-type framework with Scottish Water in 2015, we decided to merge WGM Civils into the core business in 2020.
“In 2021, we secured a second capital framework for the regulated SR21 period with Scottish Water,” he continues. “Then, in October 2022, we were acquired by RSK, which positively transformed the business going forward. The acquisition has provided us with new opportunities, opening the door to new ventures, including a joint venture with Binnies.”
Ian adds: “WGM was already a successful organisation and brand operating in Scotland, but it was much less well-known in England. We created bWGM, a joint venture between WGM and Binnies, another RSK company that is a well-known and respected organisation among the majority of England’s water companies. It made sense to bring two great water engineering brands with rich heritages together, and it’s a bonus that there’s geographic rationale too.
“The joint venture has been a tremendous success so far, winning both of the frameworks we initially targeted , meaning we have a 100 per cent success rate to date. It’s been very well received by clients and a phenomenal success for both Binnies and WGM under the RSK umbrella. We embrace collaboration and will remain on the lookout for other strategic framework opportunities as they arise.
“Although it’s still early days for bWGM, we’re about to begin work on three-to-four projects under one infrastructure contract with Southern Water,” Scott continues. “One of these projects includes a complex refurbishment of a major pumping station, and another requires improvements to maintain consent compliance and meet increasing flow requirements at a wastewater treatment works. We’re also scheduled to commence a programme for United Utilities later this year, which is around Dangerous Substances and Explosive Area Regulations (DSEAR).
Ian reflects: “Being able to combine the strengths, expertise, capabilities, and resources of WGM and Binnies has significantly accelerated WGM’s offering in England’s water industry. Also, the partnership has allowed us to bring solutions to market in a timescale that would be unachievable if working alone.”
Under this new partnership, WGM and Binnies boast additional capabilities that play into emerging opportunities in the market. “Being acquired by RSK means that we’re part of an ecosystem that enables us to collaborate with other companies under its ownership, such as Nicholas O’Dwyer in Ireland and design and build contractor, MWH Treatment,” Ian explains. “RSK also has the Water Research Centre (WRC) in Swindon in its portfolio, so we can access their research facilities, cutting-edge technologies, and industry-leading expertise.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time with our teams coming up with four broad values to establish bWGM’s culture: people focused, collaboration, sustainability, and continuous improvement. The first value represents our commitment to people, as they are absolutely key to the success of each standalone operation, as well as our joint venture. It’s crucial that we attract the best talent out there, and retain them by providing the right platform, environment, and opportunities for growth.
“While we’re investing in local jobs, we encourage internal promotion and dedicate around 1.5 per cent of our turnover to investing in our people through development programmes,” Ian continues. “We also take on a fair share of young people through apprenticeship and graduate schemes. In fact, we’re currently recruiting over 200 people to fill these roles.”
Scott adds: “Collaboration speaks to how we can achieve best practices through working together, which is evident in our partnership with WGM. Our third value, sustainability, refers to adopting a circular economy approach to our work, while the value of continuous improvement is our commitment to innovation.
“Innovation is a word that can often be misunderstood, so we refer to this area of Binnies as our ‘imagineering hub’ to assess areas for innovation and continuous improvement,” he continues. “Both sustainability and continuous improvement also strengthen our first value, people, as they provide our employees with both a challenge and a sense of purpose.”
Returning to WGM’s operations specifically, Ian explains: “As a self-delivery organisation, we provide a totally unique offering in the market that doesn’t rely on the subcontracting community. However, it also means that we’re responsible for bringing people in as direct employees, which is necessary for us to grow and expand our portfolio.
“It’s often a challenge, but one that differentiates us from our competitors,” he states. “We’re going to be opening a 60,000-square-foot off-site engineering facility near Birmingham next year, for instance, so we’re tasked with putting staff on the ground to bolster the capabilities of that site. We have also just taken the keys to a new, 40,000-square-foot off-site engineering facility in Newbridge, near Edinburgh, supporting a significant increase in our capability and capacity, helping us expand our services in this area.”
With added capabilities and investments due to its acquisition by RSK, WGM is sure to continue delivering engineering excellence, as is bWGM, its joint venture with Binnies. “It’s an exciting time to be part of WGM, Binnies, and bWGM, as we’re gearing up to take advantage of the opportunities coming to market over the next few years,” Ian concludes.