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Challenges Are Ahead for KBR's New CEO on Board in June

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Stuart Bradie, the newly named CEO of Houston-based KBR Inc., faces a series of lawsuits, a congressional probe into alleged whistle-blower silencing, reduced defense spending and stiff competition in the North American liquified-natural-gas building market it was once set to dominate.

A former top executive at Australian engineer WorleyParsons, Bradie takes over on June 2. He succeeds the now retired William Utt, who was CEO since 2006. CFO Brian Ferraioli, hired last fall from Shaw Group Inc., is interim CEO.

BRADIE

These transitions follow 17 straight quarters of declining revenue. KBR's shares (NYSE:KBR) closed at $25.97 at ENR press time on April 15, down about 15% since January.

Jamie Cook, lead sector analyst for Credit Suisse, noted that, for the week ending April 11, KBR shares underperformed, by 3.7%, the engineering- and construction-firm stocks she tracks.

Counters KBR spokesman Rick Goins, "A CEO is retiring—it's a natural transition. KBR is a company in transition but not turmoil. The entire stock market is off 7% to 8% in 2014. It's an exciting time for KBR."

Work in the burgeoning LNG and hydrocarbon sector is key to KBR's future. "KBR is acknowledged as a global leader in LNG but has not had a lot of success winning large projects in the U.S., where a lot of work will be," says John B. Rogers, analyst for D.A. Davidson Co., Portland. Ore. "How it ends up doing in that market will be a factor."

The recent loss of the Kitimat LNG project in Canada to a Fluor Corp. group and Shell Oil's cancellation of a large gas-to-liquids project were key disappointments for KBR.

But Cook says the firm's March 25 win of a multi-year Shell blanket engineering award for future global onshore LNG projects positions it for work on existing jobs and "reiterates Shell's confidence in KBR as an LNG player globally," she said.

KBR's legal issues stem from an alleged $48 million in overbilling on Iraq troop facilities, which it built and maintained, and alleged subcontractor kickbacks to Kuwaiti firms.

Critics also claim evidence that points to KBR's attempts to silence employees before they reported fraud.

A U.S. district court recently ruled that its employee confidentiality agreements were not protected by attorney-client privilege, in a whistle-blower suit filed by an ex- employee who says the firm and former parent Halliburton illegally inflated construction costs.

KBR denies the allegations, which the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is probing.

Meanwhile, WorleyParsons on April 9 announced a restructuring to boost its own bottom line, said CEO Andrew Wood.

The changes, to take effect on May 1, follow a February operations review, said the firm, which ranks at No. 2 on ENR's list of the Top 150 Global Design Firms, with $6.47 billion in revenue. Its shares (ASX:WOR) rose 6.9% on the news and have held their gains since.

Published reports said the changes were in response to sagging profit margins. WorleyParsons will restructure into three business groups: services, major projects and "improve," it said. The former will handle 70% of revenue, and the latter will manage long-term operations and asset management work.

Said Credit Suisse's Cook, "Our channel checks suggest [Bradie] is a fairly good operator, brings strong customer relationships and was very close to being named the CEO of Worley 18 months ago."

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