Big Apple Talent Spreads On Global Projects
Brad Perkins may run out of room for immigration stamps in his passport soon. Earlier this year, Perkins, a principal and founder of Perkins Eastman, New York City, set off on a 17-day tour to visit prospective and current clients. It took him from New York to Mumbai to Delhi, and briefly back to Mumbai before hitting Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and finally Seoul.
I saw the inside of a lot of planes, he says.
Perkins hopes to rack up projects abroad along with his miles. In order to leverage its existing talent during the economic downturn, Perkins Eastman actively seeks ways to keep U.S.-based employees busy on global projects.
It was a basic part of our strategy when we saw the economy beginning to impact parts of our domestic practice as early as 2007, he adds. Today, the firm counts 120 projects across more than two dozen countries, with New Yorkers engaged on most of them.
Although not openly apparent in design drawings, estimating reports or engineering studies, the Made in New York label appears on work executed around the globe. As local firms pursue opportunities across borders, they work with a cadre of New York-based professionals dedicated to sparking, spearheading and supporting international projects.
The formulas these firms use are fluidowing to the different cultures and conditions they encounterand the strategies vary among architects, engineers and contractors. Still, a common theme is that as tasks get more sophisticated, local firms report that they are more likely to inject New York-area staff into the mix.
In some cases, its as simple as asking colleagues for help, such as the call a few weeks ago to Parsons Brinckerhoffs tunnel ventilation engineering experts in New York from Peter Allibone, the firms chief project manager on the $4.6-billion Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit job in Toronto. His onsite team is supporting project management and developing engineering standards and review criteria, but it relies often on PB professionals elsewhere.
We had to verify the fire resistance for concrete tunnel linersthats very specialized work, Allibone says. That type of request is fairly frequent on a small scale.
In a similar vein, Turner Constructions mission-critical data center experts in New York were called in recently when the company won a preconstruction assignment for a large Mexico City data center facility, says Nicholas Billotti, president and CEO for Turner International.
The horizons stretch far for New York firmsfrom the hyperactive Abu Dhabi, China and Vietnam development scenes to bustling emerging markets across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Some firms made strategic calls when the current downturn tempted them to extend their global client bases. For example, Tishman Construction, New York, looked at demand, costs and profit potential from various markets before choosing to start in Abu Dhabi, where it is building two resorts.
We won the job [here] and then set up our presence there, says John Livingston, Tishmans president.
Hazen and Sawyer recently stepped up efforts to increase its environmental engineering services to foreign markets. Although the firm has performed work in Latin America for several decades, its now picking up work in Africa and the Middle East, says Ian Seed, a senior associate at the New York-based firm. Over the past year, we have become more positively assertive about finding work overseas, with a preference for projects where we can have much of the work done in the home office, he adds.
Though not every foreign project demands New York-based resources, examples abound, particularly for architects who export design work.
In Perkins Eastmans case, despite having six overseas offices, 75% of work not handled onsite taps New York resources. Thats often because New York is home to teams with core specialties, such as the health-care group, Perkins says. The 700,000-sq-ft Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital in the United Arab Emirates ranks among the health-care groups recent work.
Other current projects relying on New York contributions include the new Mohali Campus for the Indian School of Business in Chandigarh, India. The school is partnering with RSP Design Consultancy to design a 725,000-sq-ft complex that should open next year. The firm also used New York resources on designs for the 484,375-sq-ft, 600-room Baia Bianca Resort Hotel in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, set to open next year.
Hazen and Sawyers New York office provides lead consultant duties on development of a master planincluding feasibility study and preliminary designfor a sewage collection system and wastewater treatment plant in Dakar, Senegal. The firm is also lead consultant for teams of onsite engineers planning wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Haifa, Israel, and in Johannesburgincluding an effort in South Africa to power their facilities using the methane gas they emit. New York staffers provide guidance and oversight for that gas propulsion specialty, because local market engineers have limited experience, Seed says.
Meanwhile, New York experts have pitched in dozens of times on designs for Torontos 33-km light rail scheduled to break ground this summer, PBs Allibone says. And weve got another 10 years to go, he adds.
Tishmans New York staffers provided extensive early support for its Abu Dhabi projects, including the Westin Hotel & Spa, a 176-room resort and conference facility to be completed this year alongside an upgraded Abu Dhabi Golf Resort.
And Turner has numerous projects overseas tapping New York teams. The roster includes the $5-billion, 226-building urban redevelopment of central Doha, Qatar; Kuwait Citys $500-million, 80-story Al Hamra Tower; the 51-story LEED Gold Torre BBVA Bancomer project in Mexico City; and the $1.5-billion Triple Square Resort starting construction this year in Busan, South Korea.
Division Of Labor
Clearly, some tasks are more suitable for home offices than others. For architects, its usually high-level conceptual work, Perkins says. Today, Perkins Eastman sends 80% of traditional design work for the China market back to New York. On any given day, about 60 New York staffers handle international project tasks, Perkins says.
While language skills are key for New York staff on global projects, strong computer and communication skills are equally critical, both because of time differences with foreign offices and also the need for staffers who go abroad to be self-sufficient. They wont have that support structure of a big office around them, Perkins says. Theyll be sitting in the client office 13 hours away and are expected to perform at long range.
International work never consumes all of New York professionals time at Hazen and Sawyer, but they make significant contributions, Seed says. Around 40 staffers worked on the Dakar study, starting with two senior engineers who visited the site for in-depth reviews before bringing back much of the design work.
At PB, international collaboration tends to be informally organized, with project leaders on foreign market jobs often tapping peers through the firms practice area network, a sort of internal social-networking forum, Allibone says.
For Turner, New York resources focus on preconstruction, administrative and engineering systems development tasks, such as logistics planning, scheduling and estimating, Billotti says. We have 25 to 30 people in New York who provide corporate support to our people in the field, he says.
Teams hired in the country lead the work, but New York specialists still get on airplanes to help advance sophisticated projects. Billotti says the most important skill to bring overseas is the ability to project a humble image and remember that you dont know what you dont know when engaging foreign market partners.
A willingness to travel also helps, adds John Braley, director of business development for Turner International, who travels regularly and notes that an attempt to assemble the groups senior leadership today would take months to schedule.
Tishman similarly asks foreign market offices to run point on construction after having tapped New York-based legal, human resources, marketing, estimating and finance teams. While its Abu Dhabi staff has grown to 30 in two years, it regularly leans on six to eight operational and administrative staffers in New York, Livingston says.
A big driver of this model is that owners dont want construction executives to parachute in, Livingston says. They want the lead people sitting there.
Architects face different onsite staffing expectations, but also often need leaders on hand for clients, Perkins says. He recounts what he thought would be a one-time fly-in to join a four-firm international design team in 2008 bidding on a master plan for Hanoi. Only after the group won did Perkins find out Vietnamese officials wanted a visible American presence at key junctures of the redevelopment planno small chore for a principal of a 600-person firm based in New York.
I ended up going 26 times and spent 150 days there over a two-year period, he says. Thats how for two years I became chief planner for the city of Hanoi.