US consulting giant moves to London and targets UK infrastructure market

US consulting giant Louis Berger is relocating to London as part of a major restructure that will see the firm target the UK infrastructure market. The $1 billion global professional services corporation is moving its international headquarters from Paris to London.

Explaining the rationale behind the move, Jesper Damgaard, Louis Berger senior vice president and managing director for Europe, and Thomas Topolski, president for Louis Berger’s international operation, spoke to Infrastructure Intelligence.

Can you explain briefly what the move is all about?

Louis Berger’s international operations will be headquartered in London, moving from Paris. We will host a formal office opening in November. Louis Berger’s corporate headquarters will remain in Morristown, New Jersey, in the US.

Most of Louis Berger’s international corporate management will be based in the UK. We also will be scaling up project staff and working to establish a UK-based operation that will offer the full suite of services provided by our global operation as part of our three-year plan. Because we operate in a project-based industry, most of our employees will remain positioned at project sites around the world. 

An increasing portfolio of Louis Berger’s work globally is with private sector clients, many of whom have headquarters or bases of operations in the UK. As a result, we do expect our private sector work with these UK-based multinational firms to expand in addition the nationally-funded infrastructure programs being contracted in the UK. Louis Berger’s priority growth markets in Europe and the UK are rail, energy, buildings and facilities and highways and bridges where we are best positioned to offer our clients a full range of complex business solutions from traditional engineering design and PMCM services to our more customised financial analysis and asset management services. 

The international operating unit provides a broad range of engineering, planning, architecture, development, construction management and program management services to national, state, local and private clients outside of the US. The international operation of Louis Berger oversees operations across the following geographies - Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa.  

Louis Berger has worked in more than 35 countries across Europe, where the firm has successfully completed more than 500 projects during the past 40 years. The company currently employs nearly 700 permanent and contract staff and thousands of project experts in the region. Louis Berger operates across a number of market sectors in Europe — water and sanitation, environment, transport, buildings and facilities, energy and institutional development — spanning all project stages from planning and economic development to the design, construction and maintenance of small- and large-scale infrastructure projects.

So what is the reasoning behind the move?

“London is an international centre for engineering and business. Relocating Louis Berger’s international headquarters to the UK is a strategic decision that supports both our growth in the UK market and our international growth as the UK is home to many of our international lending, contracting and EPC partners as well as the home country for a large pool of Louis Berger talent who play business and project leadership roles around the globe,” said Thomas Topolski, Louis Berger’s international president.   

Is the move part of a reorganisation of your firm?

Louis Berger has been undergoing a massive reorganisation and modernisation effort over the past half-decade, where we have transitioned from a regionally decentralized organisation into a more consolidated and structured operation under new leadership. When Louis Berger first established its international headquarters in Paris in 1975, the company was largely supporting infrastructure and development projects in the post-colonial regions of the world, funded by development banks. 

Today, Louis Berger is a large multidisciplinary professional services firm working on some of the largest, most complex and modern infrastructure projects around the globe from the World Trade Center redevelopment programme in New York to some of the largest greenfield metro systems in the world currently underway in Doha and Riyadh.  

Are you particularly targeting the UK infrastructure market? If so, why?

Louis Berger is initially focused on furthering our established relationships with the private industry partners based in the UK who we work with around the world, but we also are assessing broader opportunities to partner and bid specific to the rail, highway, power and water markets, where we are best able to leverage our global expertise as a strong local partner here in the UK.

Are you not worried about the UK’s Brexit vote?

“With or without Brexit, London will continue to serve as an international centre for engineering and business. So it makes sense for Louis Berger’s international operations to be headquartered here,” said Thomas Topolski, Louis Berger’s international president.  

“We believe that there are still a number of large capital infrastructure programs in the U.K. that will start in the coming years and we are confident that our strengths play well to these projects. We are particularly strong in development of large-scale infrastructure, which we believe will be an asset in the UK market,” said Jesper Damgaard, senior vice president and managing director for Europe.    

Are you looking to work with or even acquire UK consultancy firms going forward?

Absolutely. Today’s large-scale infrastructure projects require industry partnerships that bring the strengths of each firm together to deliver on our client’s most complex programs. We will continue to develop strong relationships within the UK market.  

Commenting on the move, ACE chief executive Nelson Ogunshakin said: “It is significant that a firm of the size and influence of Louis Berger has decided to move into the UK market by relocating their international headquarters to London. It is a vote of confidence in the UK infrastructure sector in the wake of the Brexit decision and a £1bn top 20 consulting business like Louis Berger relocating to the UK should also strengthen the British consultancy sector as the global centre of excellence. As the business association for professional consultancy and engineering firms, ACE will be looking to make contact with a view to work with Louis Berger and ensure their successful move in to the UK market.”

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