Lammie says the business discipline imposed on a publicly held firm “was probably a necessary change in culture.” But Pierson notes, “There’s generally a longer-term view of performance in the U.K. than in the U.S.” Analysts believe that profits in professional services could drop in the next six-month reporting period, but they still expect the PB-led unit to deliver a 7% profit margin.
Balfour Beatty is excited about having PB’s asset knowledge in-house. “Actually having that as part of the same management structure here is hugely powerful,” says Tyler. “They know more about assets than J.P. Morgan or Goldman Sachs.”
BB now has basically three home markets for construction and support services: the U.K., the U.S. and, through its interest in Gammon Construction Ltd., Hong Kong. “We see more growth in the U.S. than the U.K. in the short and medium term,” says Tyler. The corporate center of gravity “will move more to the U.S. … It’s a market where I believe we have the capacity to deliver real value.”
Tyler also wants the company to combine its new skill set on complex projects such as the $2-billion Eagle public-private commuter rail project in Denver. Both Balfour Beatty and PB were a part of the concession before they acquisition. The team, Denver Transit Partners, received a notice to proceed on Aug. 16. Balfour Beatty has EPC and operations contracts totaling $830 million. “That’s exactly the type of project where we can provide value,” Tyler says. “It’s not just design and delivery of the physical infrastructure but integration of the entire system.”
PB also aims to lead the corporate charge in developing markets overseas. Pierson says PB will “maintain its focus” in the global transportation market, but it also sees opportunities in mining and power, particularly in South Africa. “We can encourage them to look more widely strategically, and we can add capital as part of a broader portfolio,” says Tyler. “PB can take greater risks as a business.”
The firm now manages construction of the 4,800-MW Medupi coal-fired powerplant, located near Johannesburg, set to be among the world’s largest when completed by 2016. “One of PB’s strengths is the ability to move people and skills around the world very fast,” says one observer. He wonders how that might change under Balfour Beatty, particularly in China and elsewhere in the booming Asia market. The firm’s deep pockets will fuel acquisitions in professional services as early as next month, in the U.S., Australia’s structural design market or possibly Canada’s water sector, officials say.
But PB insiders and observers say the linkage has not triggered a feared employee exodus. “The troops are perceiving stability,” says one ex-manager. “No big shoe has dropped.” Says David A. McAlister, executive vice president and global director of strategic planning, “Everything Balfour Beatty told us during the courting period has held up.”
McAlister says PB was able to delay rollout of a new Balfour Beatty safety policy until later this year so the firm could have input. Balfour Beatty is also continuing to develop a higher-profile corporate ethics standard following issues several years ago in the U.K. and abroad. “We need to behave like a leader,” exclaims Balfour Beatty’s March team review.
McAlister, who returned to PB in mid-2009 from a post as a CH2M Hill senior vice president, says other alumni are doing likewise. “PB has been through a lot of changes recently, but the leadership is now stable and focused on expanding its range of service offerings. It’s an exciting time to be back,” says Sallye Perrin, who left the firm in the 1990s to work for two competitors and just returned as vice president and strategic pursuit manager for public-private partnerships.
Even so, there is still some speculation that Balfour Beatty itself remains an acquisition target. In a June report, Standard & Poor’s placed the company on a list of major U.K. and other European public firms that could be vulnerable to a buyout by cash-rich U.S. firms that see “good value” due to falling European currencies. German contractor Bilfinger Berger AG also is among the firms that landed on the list.
S&P—like ENR, a unit of The McGraw-Hill Cos.—bases its speculation on analysis of firms involved in 620 cross-border acquisitions in the last year. But even with high-profile buys this summer of two U.K. industry firms by American heavyweights URS Corp. and AECOM, Tyler emphatically rejects the buyout contention as “rubbish.”
For now, Balfour Beatty is concentrating on the integration of PB while preserving the firm’s drawing power. “Unequivocally, we have acquired a business with a very strong brand, and we will continue to trade through that brand,” Tyler points out. “It would be insanity to do anything else.”