Consultancy giant eyes UK market for expansion

US consultancy giant Louis Berger opened its new international headquarters in London at the end of last year. Andy Walker went along and spoke to the firm’s CEO Jim Stamatis and international president, Tom Topolski.

Louis Berger’s CEO Jim Stamatis (left) and international president Tom Topolski (right) at the opening of their new international headquarters in Richmond, London.

Relocating Louis Berger’s international HQ from Paris to London amidst all the uncertainty of Brexit Britain might seem like a risky move, but the company’s CEO Jim Stamatis and international president, Tom Topolski, tell me it’s a vote of confidence in a market that they have high hopes for over the coming years.

The move is part of the $1bn global professional services corporation’s three-year business strategy aimed at further expanding its international operations globally, as well as expanding its foothold in the UK and in Europe.

“One of the factors behind the move has been that as our business in the Middle East has grown – from 200 people to almost 1,000 over four years – a lot of our key project managers and programme managers have come from the UK,” says Topolski, “so we have been in the UK for about 20 years and it’s been a great source of high calibre engineering and management talent. We want to do more private sector work for leading international clients and many of those companies have their headquarters in London so it makes it more convenient to be here,” he says.

“As we started growing the international practice it didn’t make sense for us to continue to be based in Paris because our client base and our potential growth areas in the finance and natural resource sector were companies that were based in the UK, so London is a much better headquarters for our international operations,” agrees Stamatis.

The firm has a limited presence in the UK currently and their offices have the capacity to grow to up to 70 people. “We have every intention of filling this office and hopefully having the enviable problem of outgrowing the space,” Topolski says. Given the people that the firm has working on large rail programmes in the Middle East and other transport programmes elsewhere, Topolski says that they are looking forward to supporting UK transport initiatives like HS2, Network Rail, Transport for London and at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Topolski and Stamatis said that they weren’t concerned about the Brexit vote having an effect on their business plans going forward. They see the decision to leave the EU as a process rather than a one off event. “London is a city that has been around for centuries and it will always be a prominent world city so we feel very, very confident about our future here,” says Topolski.

The pair clearly view the UK as a very strong market. They see the application of technology as an emerging area and plan to apply the expertise they’ve developed with Stanford University around building information modelling to bring the latest technology and systems into the UK market. “Thanks to technology, transportation is going through a seismic shift where you will have driverless vehicles very soon, there’s increasing moves towards developing the hyperloop and we feel that we can support those initiatives with clients in the in the UK,” Topolski says.

So, how will they look to differentiate Louis Berger in the UK market. “One of the key skills that we bring to the market as a global company with American headquarters is excellence in programme and project management,” Topolski says. “American companies have always been out in front in the management of big projects and there are obviously major programmes here in the UK in the rail, aviation and housing sectors and we can bring our skills and technology to bear over here,” he says.

But what about success and what will that look like for the firm from their presence in the UK? “Success will be to become a permanent player in the markets we wish to serve, which is primarily civil infrastructure, transportation, water, waste water and buildings and facilities,” says Topolski. “We want to be considered amongst our peers in this industry with companies like Atkins or other US companies like Bechtel or AECOM – we want to be considered in that space,” he says.

“We are absolutely looking to grow the business - organically and by acquisition - in all those sectors,” Stamatis says. “Wherever we are in the world we want to be among the top three to four service providers to our customers so that those customers can say ‘we are a better provider to our local community and economy because we have a consultant like Louis Berger working with us’,” says Stamatis.  

If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.