Photo courtesy of Balfour Beatty U.S.
Despite the large national footprint of the U.S. division, Balfour Beatty's "success will come through every one of the firm's local businesses," says Layman.
Photo courtesy of Balfour Beatty U.S., copyright Aerial Photography Inc.
The firm is part of the joint venture upgrading the 2-million-sq-ft, 862-bed Parkland Hospital, a test bed for innovation.
Video courtesy of Balfour Beatty U.S.
Layman talks about the firm's strategy as the economy improves.

Mark Layman has just finished a breakfast meeting as he greets the latest guest on his calendar. On this drizzly December morning, Dallas is still shaking off the effects of a major ice storm, and heavy clouds obscure the view from his office. This being prosperous Texas, however, construction cranes poke through the thick cover across the city's booming skyline.

"Sorry we can't offer you better weather," he says. No matter. Layman's demeanor is sunny and relaxed as he sits down to talk about Balfour Beatty Construction Services, the U.S. headquarters of the London-based infrastructure firm, which he took over in January.

The 48-year-old Layman comes to the CEO and Chairman role after 25 years with BB U.S., most recently as president. He takes over from Robert Van Cleave, who retired after 17 years with the company, 10 years as CEO. The strategy they devised to differentiate the firm of about 3,000 from the competition is entering a critical new phase.

They call it the "BB Way," and it includes a "closed-loop system" of capturing innovation and systematically removing waste. "We think this is blue-sky opportunity for the firm," Layman says. "Our most sophisticated clients are looking for [teams] who already have a strategy and are moving toward it. We've invested heavy resources and money against becoming the leader in this area. We have scale and innovation."

On the surface, the Dallas native enjoys a charmed life. Recruited into construction soon after earning a finance degree at Texas A&M and groomed for the corner office, he is a family man, married 22 years, and an athletic southern gentleman with Hollywood looks. He's the type of guy a lot of guys like to root against.

But beneath Layman's laid-back appearance and soft Texas drawl is a seasoned construction executive who has had his share of knocks during the industry's boom-and-bust years while working through the ranks of finance and operations. He says he's lucky to have learned from some of the best along the way.

As the U.S. construction industry emerges from a brutal recession, Layman is not taking anything for granted. "We weathered it well but had to make a lot of hard choices like everyone else," he says of the downturn. "But we also stayed stable."

Now, with markets improving, the firm is on a mission to drive more waste from projects and harness innovation across all divisions, then scaling out that knowledge. The plan draws on 30 or so recruits from across the BB U.S. footprint, which stretches from the mid-Atlantic through the Carolinas, then across the Southwest to California and the Northwest. Their job is to make it happen, office by office.

It's an ambitious goal. BB U.S. came to be through a string of acquisitions by the global parent, notably when it acquired, in 2007, Centex Commercial of Dallas, where Layman got his start and many of the firm's executives came from. Other acquisitions include contractor SpawMaxwell of Houston, RT Dooley of Charlotte and New York City's storied engineering and design firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff (one of the few BB U.S. acquisitions to keep its name, a sister company to Balfour Beatty U.S.). The acquisitive streak bought the firm a lot of cash during the downturn and a strategic entry to key geographic markets. It also bought the firm all the headaches of integrating different cultures and operations.

"About a year ago, when we moved to a single operating model for the enterprise, we created something called our capability center," Layman says. "We took the strongest individuals across the firm's footprint and got them focused on taking this waste out of the system. We asked them to tear apart the entire delivery process, clear down to the supplier level," he says. They have structured their efforts into work streams that align with what Layman describes as the four main areas of waste.

"One is with information, which is really the lifeblood between all the many pieces which interact to deliver a project. There is still so much fragmentation and underutilization of information in our industry relative to the advancements realized in most other industries," he says. Second, "there is too much waste in the fragmented project-delivery chain, which has been the traditional model for this industry, with still too little collaboration and integration among the partners—the architect, the owner, the contractor. There is so much opportunity there."

The third area is the supply chain. "It's not about the contractor controlling the supply chain—quite the opposite. It's about figuring out how the pieces, including the contractor, work together in new ways to change the game," Layman adds. "And, fourth, the introduction of modern methods of construction, ranging from more sophisticated approaches to project planning to off-site manufacturing. There are many opportunities in this area to move the needle. We're going after them all."