"SNC’s track record of instituting culture change enabled the company to continue winning massive government contracts not just in Canada but also abroad," said Maxim Sytchev, construction sector analyst for Dundee Securities, Toronto.

But Card has been an outspoken advocate for changes in Canada's debarment process, one that he has said is more inflexible and without the same due process that exists in other countries.

The federal court case has already faced several delays this year, but Card does not expect any resolution until after Canadian elections in mid-October. "We want deferred prosecution and are confident it will happen," he said.

The likelihood of that outcome was reinforced this year when the firm and team members were awarded multi-billion-dollar contracts by Canada's infrastructure ministry for major public-private transportation projects in Montreal and Toronto.

The approach "forces the client to fully understand what they want to buy at the start of a project," said Card.

Critical Hire

Card told ENR that Bruce, a former chief operating officer at industry giant AMEC before its purchase of Foster Wheeler, was a critical hire to manage company growth as the company's legal and public relations issues kept the chief executive distracted.

Bruce was key to SNC-Lavalin's purchase of UK-based oil services firm Kentz Corp. and its growth in mining, power and oil-and-gas markets. Chairman Stevenson told Canada's Financial Post that his elevation to COO was done to give him "more [board] visibility ... as a lead candidate to become the CEO."

Card says the complex sale of SNC-Lavalin's Ontario highway assets "needs someone with a long time frame." He adds that while winning the recent large P3 projects in Canada is "rewarding, they need delivery experts" to execute them. "It's up to Neil to wrap them up and take them home," said Card.

But Lynk noted Bruce's ties also to "execution challenges" and difficulties in positioning its oil-and-gas capabilities in a drastically changed market since the Kentz purchase, adding that "a laser focus on execution will be needed."

Sytchev said he views SNC-Lavalin in a "stabilization" stage, particularly in its infrastructure practice. But he sees some upturn in future profit with backlog growth and "a seasoned executive at the helm who is intimately familiar with the company."

Bruce's "delivery of backlog is job one," Card added. "I am very confident of success."