...the recession, like mining and metals, infrastructure and oil and gas,” says Pierre Duhaime, recently appointed CEO of Canada’s SNC-Lavalin. He says SNC also has been helped by its program and construction management and operations and maintenance services, giving the firm a steady revenue stream.

“When the global financial crisis hit, we saw some project deferrals and cancellations,” says Zimi Meka, CEO of Australia’s Ausenco. He says the firm reduced staff by 10%, but beginning about in March, he began to see some turnaround. “We are working on feasibility studies on about $20 billion in work,” he says.

The financial crisis has had its greatest impact on smaller, less-capable construction firms working in the international market, according to Ayman Asfari, group CEO of Petrofac Ltd. He says the construction sector is highly leveraged, so banks may revise their policies on lending in the industry. If this happens, “many small and medium companies will go out of business,” Arafa says.

Many contractors agree. “The tightening of credit facilities by banks could drop small contractors out of the construction market,” says Aziz M. Bassoul, director and CFO of Lebanon’s C.A.T. Group. “Demand over the last few years has meant that the smaller contractors grew in size and will now most likely shrink back to original pre-boom levels or disappear altogether,” says Thomas Patrick Barry, CEO of Dubai-based Arabtec Construction LLC.

Not Regions, but Markets

The impact of the worldwide recession on design firms is not evenly distributed but rather market-oriented. “Rather than regions or countries, we are finding the private-sector property and buildings and resources sectors most challenging,” says Nicholas Apostolidis, general manager for client development for Australia’s GHD Pty. Ltd. “Fortunately, GHD is a diverse business, with most of our people working on infrastructure projects.”

“We are not depressed,” says Peter Gammie, CEO of the U.K.’s Halcrow Group. “The diverse nature of our business means we can make opportunities. Anything to do with the private sector is difficult.”

For some firms, the recession has not been entirely negative. “We have seen a retraction of the industry back to 2007 levels, which by any measure was still a great year,” says John Pearson, global managing director for energy for Canada’s Hatch Group. If this recession has a silver lining, it is that project failures due to talent shortages in the overheated market were likely prevented, he says.

While the recession has taken its toll on construction markets, many big European contractors are being buoyed by infrastructure orders. “We are growing the business this year...and I suspect we will be no less busy next year,” says Ian Tyler, CEO of the U.K.’s Balfour Beatty Group. “We had only a couple of projects canceled: one in Russia and one in Dubai,” adds Michel Cote, deputy chief executive of France’s Bouygues Construction.

Germany’s Hochtief A.G. has “a steady flow of new orders,” comments Herbert Lütkestratkötter, CEO. On average, the firm has 19 months’ work, with individual units reporting “at least one-year visibility,” he adds. “That’s a good cushion.”

Italy’s Impregilo SpA is leading a consortium that is once again working on the vast Messina Strait bridge...