After acquiring Amec Foster Wheeler in a $2.6-billion deal earlier this year, Wood Group plc has set a strategy to get some of the debt from the acquisition off its balance sheet, says CFO David Kemp. And part of that involves speeding collections of money it is owed.


The acquisition jumped Wood Group to No. 7 this year from the previous year’s No. 27 on ENR’s Top 500 Design Firms. The total head count has stayed level as Wood Group has saved millions combining redundant departments and functions. A rebound in oil markets means that project-level staffing is up. 

The company aims to improve its debt to EBIDTA (earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization) ratio to 1.5 in about 18 months. It was 2.4 at year’s end. Revenue is up 13% from the prior half year, to $5.38 billion, and debt is down to $1.7 billion from $2 billion. The company expects to dispose of about $200 million in non-core assets. Says Kemp, “We own a road in the U.K. and wind farms in Italy and Europe.”

But Kemp says the real key will be boosting profits, and part of that involves shaving days from the time it takes customers to pay. “There are no silver bullets,” to do that, he says. Collections had become more difficult during what Kemp describes as the “three-year down cycle” in oil and gas that is only ending now.

The opportunity to collect faster has tangible benefits, says Kemp. At the end of 2017, the average collection for the combined group required 83 days. It was 76 days for Wood Group on a standalone basis and 93 days for Amec Foster Wheeler. In reducing the time needed to collect by just one day, the company will require $20-million less annually in borrowed money on which to operate.

“Some of our customers increased their payment terms,” during the downturn, and the improved business cycle should help, says Kemp. But the company also has to pay closer attention to collections. “When we sign contracts, one of the things we have been making clear to our contract people is the importance of focusing on margin and actual cash.”