Despite the still sluggish economy, Broomfield, Colo.-based MWH Global is coming off its best year ever, with $1.6 billion in worldwide revenue for 2012. The wet-infrastructure and water-engineering company is not only ranked No. 5 among the largest design firms in both the Colorado and Intermountain areas but also consistently earns top honors in international markets as well.
The key to the company's growth can be best summed up with one phrase: "Thinking globally, acting locally." MWH provides design, consulting and construction management services to municipalities, governments and multinational private corporations around the world. From helping rebuild Christchurch, New Zealand, in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake, to leading the historic expansion of the Panama Canal, MWH is known for its high-profile international work. But the company's portfolio is diverse, with projects of all sizes in all corners of the world.
MWH's portfolio ranges from public and private wastewater treatment plants and regional pipelines to massive hydropower systems and dam rehabilitation projects. Notable past work includes the $3.3-billion United Utilities capital improvement program in the United Kingdom, the $350-million government-funded Tekeze hydropower project in Africa and a number of U.S. government contracts totaling several billion dollars.
MWH takes a global approach to improving its projects at the local level, drawing on the expertise of its staff spread across six continents. The company operates 150 offices in 35 countries. Each office is staffed with professionals from within the country and operates as independently as possible—a deliberate decision to encourage innovation and different perspectives within the company, says Alan Krause, MWH president and CEO.
"We network our knowledge and experience from around the world so local communities and their projects can benefit from the expertise of our entire company," Krause says. "We were among the first in this industry to make a big push into global business and embrace the 'world-is-flat' mentality. At times, we stumbled. International business is challenging, but today our global operations play a big part in our success."
Through strategic mergers and acquisitions, MWH has grown from a mid-size shop in Southern California to one of the largest water-infrastructure firms in the world. "Unlike other companies, we've been content to focus our efforts on water. While our competitors have diversified into other sectors, we chose to say no to other opportunities and put all our energy into being a world leader in the wet-infrastructure and water-engineering space," Krause says.
In 1992, Pasadena, Calif.-based James M. Montgomery Consulting Engineers took what was seen as a bold and risky step, merging with the water-engineering firm Watson Hawksley Ltd. of High Wycombe, England. The two companies became known as Montgomery Watson and in 1999 moved the corporate headquarters from California to Colorado to be more centrally located for the company's growing network of global clients, partners and offices.
MWH in its modern state came into being with the merger of Montgomery Watson with Chicago-based Harza Engineering in 2001. Best known for work in the energy and environmental sectors and hydroelectric power development, Harza helped position the company to serve the increasing global demand for renewable energy generation using hydropower.
The company continued to expand its services through acquisitions. In 2010, MWH acquired United Kingdom-based Biwater Services Ltd, a leading water and construction-engineering firm with a history dating back to the 1820s. Biwater's strengths and reputation helped MWH secure its current role as the program manager for Thames Water's multibillion-dollar infrastructure improvement project in London. In a joint venture with Skanska and Balfour Beatty, MWH will develop Thames Water's Asset Management Period No. 6—a $3-billion to $4.5-billion infrastructure program that will run from April 2015 to March 2020.
"We have offices everywhere so we can have our people near our clients and can take care of our clients and build strong relationships that generate repeat business," says Bob Armstrong, Rocky Mountain business unit leader and vice president at MWH Global. "For any given project, whether it be in Uganda or in Utah, we leverage talent from all over the world. We may have multiple offices in multiple countries contributing ideas and performing design work on a project."
Strong Regional Portfolio
MWH is applying this collaborative approach to its ongoing work on the 140-mile Lake Powell pipeline, which crosses federal, state and locally administered lands in Utah and Arizona. MWH teams in Boise, Denver and Salt Lake City head up the Lake Powell project. They work with the hydropower design team based in Chicago and are also supported by designers in Pune, India, who prepared the preliminary drawings. As the project moves to other phases, additional teams—including hydropower engineers in Chicago and Bellevue, Wash.—will be brought into the mix as well.
"Managing the multiple interests involved in the project and the restrictions on the land use is a challenge," says Brian Liming, Lake Powell pipeline co-project manager and technical lead based in MWH's Boise office. "The pipeline begins on lands managed by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and then travels mostly through [Bureau of Land Management] Utah- and Arizona-managed lands, including the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument."