The inside story: Agilia’s move to an employee ownership trust

Co-founders Amar Qureshi and Mike Pugsley explain why they felt it was the right time to change the structure of the fast-growing advisory firm

“We have been looking at how to keep growing, and growing well - not just growing for growth’s sake.”

Amar Qureshi is explaining the reasoning behind the decision to take Agilia Infrastructure Partners - the company that he co-founded with Mike Pugsley back in 2017 - and turn it into something a bit different.

“Our clients in developing major infrastructure projects  are focused on ensuring there is great aggregation of perspectives to get projects done effectively and efficiently, and what promotes this better both in the project development and delivery spaces is the best blend of relationship based as well as  transactional based approaches to infrastructure,” he says. “So the question we asked ourselves is how do you create something organisationally that better reflects the needs of our clients?”

His co-founder, Mike Pugsley, agrees. “To get good organic growth, you have to look at how you can bring energy to the team. We are still a fairly young and ambitious company,” he continues.

The past six years have flown by for the Agilia team, but the company has developed from a small advisory with a handful of staff into a team of more than 50 infrastructure professionals, and the leadership has no plans to stop there. Alongside the experience of Qureshi (previously commercial director with responsibility for the RAB-based Tideway delivery model, and with a background in the Treasury unit Infrastructure UK, which he joined from law firm Allen & Overy) and Pugsley (who led the finance procurement for Tideway, and was a former senior member of PwC and Local Partnerships teams), Agilia has attracted big industry names such as Fred Maroudas (former director of financing for Network Rail), Mike Gerrard and James Stewart (both former chief executives of Infrastructure UK).

Having looked at various structures, the leadership team alighted on the employee ownership trust (EOT). This structure enables a company to become owned by its employees, something that was seen as a significant benefit for Agilia’s current owners in helping realise their ambitions for Agilia as well as its employees.

“It’s important to us to develop the next generation of infrastructure professionals,” says Pugsley. “The EOT is important in doing that.”

As part of its efforts in this area, Agilia has already been taking on apprentices, giving them opportunities to learn, develop and grow. They now form 10% of the firm’s overall workforce, and both Pugsley and Qureshi are passionate about giving chances to those from non-traditional backgrounds - something they consider is part of their own career experience.

“Our apprentices are hugely talented but simply have not had an education pathway that we associate with our industry,” says Qureshi. “One of the things we want to offer is genuine equality of outcomes. That has been our life experience and moving to an EOT reflects  that - giving our team, wherever they may come from, opportunities to grow individually and collectively but also benefit financially from that growth.”

“We have taken people from backgrounds where their life chances and opportunities were limited and changed that direction,” continues Pugsley. “The apprenticeships programme is one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Qureshi points out that it’s not just Agilia’s own internal drive that is leading the firm in this direction.

“There is a big push across the industry towards the wider benefits that infrastructure can provide, and we are trying to reflect that within the company,” he explains. “The EOT is shifting the traditional employer/employee relationship towards something that is more embracing and more relevant to our times.”

“Our organisational culture has always been incredibly important to us,” Pugsley adds. “So the EOT is the natural next step. It can help us embed that culture.”

Both acknowledge, however, that a structure can only get a company so far. In practice, the EOT - or any other model - can only ever act as a facilitator for the people within the organisation, and both Qureshi and Pugsley know that having the right culture and right people within the company is vitally important.

“It is the people within the EOT structure that will make or break it,” says Qureshi. “Ultimately it is the team that will create the success of the business.”

Pugsley and Qureshi underline that the change in structure does not signal their intention to get out of the business. Rather, they are both eager to embark on the next phase of Agilia’s growth and development.

“We remain hugely ambitious and in some ways it is the start of a new adventure,” says Pugsley. “We have some very senior expertise within the business, together with a young team that is ambitious.”

“We want to create the infrastructure professionals of the future,” adds Qureshi. He highlights the team that already exists within Agilia and the support of senior members, which includes those mentioned above such as Maroudas, Gerrard, Stewart and Martin Buck  - as well as experienced board director, Anne Tiedemann, who chairs the EOT and began her career on Wall Street in the 1980s - who are able to contribute and help develop those infrastructure professionals of the future by sharing their experiences.

Looking to future projects, Qureshi says the company will continue to work in the areas where Agilia has already made a name for itself, advising on some of the major infrastructure projects in the UK, including the Sizewell C nuclear power scheme. Agilia has also branched out to Canada, where as strategic adviser it is supporting the development of the huge High Frequency Rail project to connect Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec city (among others).

Qureshi and Pugsley believe that their new structure will not only help provide the support to these projects, but also ensure they can build on these experiences to keep providing clients with what they need to meet the increasing challenges of major infrastructure projects over the coming years.