“These three years have been a huge but difficult learning experience.” These were the words with which Paul Hamer started describing developments at WYG under his leadership.
“What is interesting is that we’ve effectively given birth to a new group as of July 2011 through the refinancing we did. Most people now are surprised but pleased when they understand that WYG bears little or no resemblance to the old White Young Green. We are now focused and strategic and understand simply what we are good at and where we are strong.”
“There is a lot we have done as a company and that I’ve done as an individual that was without precedent. It has been hugely difficult and painful from a human perspective. We had to lose around two and a half thousand people, which is a terrible process to work through. But the thing that sustained me through that was the recognition that we had fantastic people here that the company had let down, and the need to create a strong, new company that the great people of WYG could build on. Three years in and now it is their turn to drive the business forward and show just how good we are in our chosen markets.”
This spring, the new WYG signed a partnership agreement with Magnum Technology. Paul explains how this fits with future plans.
“One of the areas we are investing in is innovation and research and development. This is being done in a focused way, with things like BIM, and where new technology will drive change in the industry. Glenn Thorn, who recently joined us from Halcrow to become our global head of buildings and infrastructure, will be responsible for creating an R&D incubator to help enhance our offering.
“That is where Magnum fit. We have been working with their team that has developed a new low weight product that can be used for modular construction of low cost housing, which particularly suits the housing and development markets in Asia and Africa. It is a green material and it is so simple to use in modular form that indigenous workers can do the construction. That helps to build local capacity across the developing world and allows a significant number of units to be built faster and cheaper than any other current method. Magnum fit well with WYG as they bring the material expertise whilst we act as overall programme managers to create a full turnkey solution for our joint clients.”
“Magnum also has other properties that we are exploring for different uses. It is an exciting new product and it really fits with what we are seeking to associate the new WYG with – being forward thinking about what construction will look like in 20 to 30 years’ time rather than what it looks like today. When you look at the global challenges we face, both social and economic, history will tell you that it is engineers and inventors that come to the rescue. Many global construction companies are developing expertise in modular construction, making construction safer by doing the majority of work off-site. The demands of clients and of global expansion will drive companies to innovate to makes things faster, easier to build, more durable.”
So what does Paul Hamer see as the key growth areas for WYG?
“Because of the journey that we have been on, the next couple of years should see the group grow its profitability just by maximising its current potential. In the short-term, we don’t need our top line to grow significantly. We are in the midst of a self-help programme through which we are making WYG fitter and stronger.”
“Looking forward, we have a clear investment strategy for the Middle East and North Africa, which includes Turkey where we have a strong, market-leading position that we intend to leverage. In terms of sectors, we expect to see significant growth in transportation, where we are now recruiting key skills. Urban and commercial development is also important. That’s all about accommodating population growth in all its guises, be it retail, shopping, housing or increased infrastructure. Particular to WYG, given our footprint, is our focus on the water and waste water sector which is another targeted growth area for us – particularly across the developing continents. Their industrial and social growth is very much pinned to creating that basic infrastructure.”
Paul Hamer is also chairman of ACE in 2012, a role he is keen to stress the importance of.
“I’m absolutely honoured to be chairman of ACE, an organisation that has withstood the test of time to be around for nearly 100 years. ACE is an organisation with significant standing within industry and within government. When ACE speaks I think people listen. And I think that being part of ACE introduces you to a new network, offering the chance to meet competitors, the supply chain, advisors and partners all in one place.
“One of the reasons I put myself forward was because I am absolutely passionate about maintaining a voice for industry. Our voice, at times, can become too diluted, with too many bodies giving similar but fragmented messages to government. As the line between engineer, consultant and contractor gets ever more blurred, do we have to go forward with such separate identities or can they somehow be brought together? We all want the same thing - investment into infrastructure. So we must set about creating strategic partnerships with other bodies like the professional institutions and other trade organisations. If we can make ACE a strategic collaborator, then we can bring an enhanced strength to our industry’s message.”
Paul is pleased that the core message has made an impression on government, though there is more to do.
“The moves on the National Infrastructure Plan are welcome. With so many other pressures on government it could have been overlooked. Step one, which was the first few billion that government could fund itself, does seem to have triggered some activity this year. It may not be quick enough for some people, but it is at least starting to happen.
“However, it will be the medium to long term objectives that will prove most challenging for government. They are looking for significant investment from non-government sources to fund new infrastructure. There is a lot of speculation about where that money will come from and the type of deals that will be needed to make it happen. Those sorts of deals do not come together in weeks, and you’re lucky if they come through in months. So there is a lot of work to do yet to realise government’s ambitions.
“This will be a fundamental issue for ACE and its members going forward. We do a great job in extolling the virtues of our industry, and emphasising the demand for UK expertise abroad. ACE has to make sure government recognises that and helps to make other potential funders recognise it too. By doing so, we can create confidence and help secure vital investment for those much-needed projects.”