Len C. Rodman has been chairman, president and CEO of Black & Veatch, the Overland Park, Kan.-based international engineer-constructor that specializes in power and water infrastructure, since 2000. He has worked for the employee-owned firm since 1971. B&V ranks 14th on ENR’s list of the Top 500 Design Firms and 34th on its list of the Top 400 Construction Firms. On Jan. 12, he sat down with ENR editors in New York City.
ENR: How is the economic recovery going?
Rodman: I’m between cautiously optimistic and bullish. But Washington needs an energy policy in place. Clients are dubious. High costs make it tough to make decisions. Without the clarity of set policy, it’s hard to see the finish line. I’d like to see the government stick to policy and let industry develop solutions.
Are carbon capture and sequestration still feasible options?
Absolutely, but we will have to consider the impact on the cost of power. Carbon capture is an expensive price tag to add to existing systems. Will customers pay extra when the quality of power is no different? We are progressing to a low-carbon economy, but we can’t afford now to just turn off the switch to coal. There must be a plan. There’s a lot of wind in western Kansas, but you need transmission facilities, and they are expensive.
What lessons can the U.S. learn from other countries?
Countries like Singapore are better at resource recovery. It wants to be water-autonomous and not dependent on Malaysia. Singapore exports technology leadership. I’d like the U.S. more in tune with that. We don’t value water enough here. We have to think of it like a fuel. Australia is already convinced that hydrogeologic cycles are changing. It has desalination projects in place that are powered by wind and solar energy. But our largest single project is a coal-fired power-plant in South Africa. Apartheid put the country behind the curve on power development, and it’s trying to catch up.
How are you coping with the funding squeeze in U.S. public-sector infrastructure?
There will be a number of municipalities that become insolvent. We don’t have a lot of history on that, but we are developing an initiative to help clients. Our Infrastructure Management Group finds financing to manage assets without a client giving up ownership. We’re discussing this with several clients now, and we’re working with investors to see if we can find the right match. The model is not rocket science, but you have to put the right people together and get the thinking going.
How are you seeking to enhance growth? Is acquisition a potential?
There’s a lot of cash in the economy today, and B&V has a great brand and is in good market spaces around the world. A lot of people think the firm would make a good trophy, but so do our own employees. Growth is important to us—how you do that varies. But my objective is to increase our service value chain. Last year, we acquired Enspiria, which is big on smart grids. We would like more construction capability. We also need more in start-up and commissioning—it’s a differentiator. Offering services from start to finish allows an entity to be creative and innovative in technology. Clients don’t want to make those decisions anymore.