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Global Construction Race Heats Up

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Managing safety, particularly with local talent, was another area that firms said were a pinch point. "Standards are different," said summit attendee T.J. Lyons, construction safety manager for Gilbane Federal. "We expect our staff and laborers to go to another country and use their gear, when, in fact, it's not rated as we would expect. Something simple, [such as] railings on scaffolding, in many countries are lower than what would be allowed in our country."

Leading in a Turbulent World

Top global engineering and construction firm executives offered insights on challenges in managing people, projects, procurement and payments as global economic and political turbulence grows.

John Murphy, president of construction and procurement for Black & Veatch Corp., said the firm focuses on finding "local leaders." He said leaders "have full authority but are accountable to corporate guidelines. If we didn’t have local knowledge, we couldn't mitigate risk." Murphy pointed to the importance of local knowledge, pointing to past projects on which this was lacking.

"We focus on early risk identification," he added, noting that the firm's proposal review board focuses specifically on risk identification and mitigation strategies.

Added Pierre Shoiry, president and CEO of WSP Global, Montreal, "You need good leadership to empower locally. The business is more sophisticated, and we need to develop skill sets other than technical."

Cristiano Kok, president and board director of Engevix Engenharia in Brazil, said the firm had difficulty getting paid by its client on the Baghdad subway project.

In their home countries, panelists noted mixed opportunities in infrastructure markets. B&V's Murphy said the firm is focusing on work related to resiliency improvements in the U.S., but opportunities are down from a few years ago. WSP's Shoiry acknowledged the decline in mining in Canada but believes that market will recover in the next few years and points to growing P3 work. Overall, Shoiry sees the country as "a strong and stable market for us."

Guillermo Aparicio, who heads investor relations at Madrid-based contractor FCC, noted difficult times for local contractors in recent years but sees improvements in the next three. He predicted major opportunities in the water infrastructure market, which he characterized as an "$800-billion market."

Kok of Engevix foresees growth in Brazil's power sector related to nuclear, gas-turbine and transmission engineering. In oil and gas, investment in offshore expansion is "huge," he told the conference visitors.

Kok also expects to see more concessions to private firms, particularly from Brazil and Spain, for domestic transportation projects for ring roads, ports and airports. "But there is growing price competition" as a result of new government rules, said Kok.

As for pressing issues ahead, Murphy said they include impacts to staff due to IT developments, improving the firm's global spread of revenue and more employee "empowerment." Meanwhile, Shoiry pointed to the need to stimulate the firm's organic growth and "challenging the status quo."

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