While Marcelino Fernández Verdes was leading the contractor's negotiations over Hamburg's troubled phil-harmonic project, the shareholders of Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA (ACS), who were buying Hochtief A.G., Essen, were lining him up to become the company's chief executive officer.

Fernández has since launched a major corporate restructuring, including U.S. operations, and managed divestitures of the group's airports and services businesses. He is waiting for the right time to sell its real estate operations.

"The strategy is to focus the company in the core business … infrastructure, and [sell] non-core assets to strengthen our balance sheet," says Fernández. Generating cash is a priority. Previously, some subsidiaries "were more focused on being profitable but not in collecting cash," he adds.

Since assuming the CEO post in November 2012, Fernández seems "more proactive and swift at affecting change" than the previous management team, believes Jawahar Hingorani, an industrial analyst at S&P Capital IQ, London.

ACS's reforming zeal has been most acute in the U.S., where the parent company has replaced the top management team of its infrastructure subsidiary, Flatiron Construction Corp. "We think that we have a nice opportunity in coming years," says Fernández. New York City-based Turner Construction Co. ACS's main U.S. asset, is "very, very well managed," he adds.

Fernández is also in a hurry to remodel Hochtief's European operations. He is sweeping away the former sector-based structure, which he believes lacks transparency. He is replacing it with geographical subsidiaries that maintain their own balance sheets.

Due to start work next year, the new divisions will provide monthly reports to headquarters. Having information "in due time and making decisions as soon as possible—this is the secret [to success]," he adds.

Fernández's U.S. and European strategies "will drive significant margin expansion at these businesses," predicts Chris Moore, a financial analyst at Joh. Berenberg, Gossler & Co. KG, London. The firm's rising share value this year, up 40% between January and October, reflects changes made by Fernández, he adds.

Fernández, 58, became Hochtief's chief operating officer, responsible for the Americas and risk management, in April 2012. Before then, he was CEO and chairman of construction, concessions and the services business of Spain's biggest contractor, ACS Group, Madrid.

In 2011, ACS built up its Hochtief shareholding, securing control with more than a 50% stake, despite strong internal opposition to the hostile takeover led by former CEO Herbert Luetkestratkoetter. After the consolidation, Hochtief has became the Spanish firm's main international construction operation, says Hingorani.