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Follow the money

The transformation of SGB into Harsco Infrastructure is more than a new name − it marks a strategic change in direction, as Margo Cole reports.

It’s time to bid farewell to one of the best-known names in UK construction. Access specialist SGB has officially become part of Harsco Infrastructure. The company was bought by industrial giant Harsco in 2001, but has continued to operate independently. Now, the parent company has combined SGB with US access firm Patent and German formwork specialist Hünnebeck to form Harsco Infrastructure.

The company insists the new name is far more than a rebranding exercise, and represents a shift in business direction. “Our vision for the next five years is to partner with global construction contractors and industrial process operators and to support our customers to grow in existing and emerging markets,” says Paul O’Kelly, recently appointed Harsco Infrastructure European managing director.

This means a focus on larger customers that work on a global scale, and as the new company’s name suggests, those customers are likely to be in the infrastructure sector. “A lot of the work that we’re trying to win is in transport, utilities and power supply,” says Harsco Infrastructure marketing manager James Hurst. “We will continue to support building, but our focus is really on the long-term markets.”

Although SGB saw a decline in its services to the building sector following the collapse of the property market, Hurst says the move into infrastructure was planned before the recession.

“We need to be working with customers who are working in a lot of countries.”

James Hurst

“The reason we’re developing the infrastructure business is that, as a worldwide operation [the company has a presence in 42 countries], in order to leverage our size we need to be working with customers who are working in a lot of countries.

“It’s the infrastructure companies that are global businesses and that’s where we can add value. Utilities and transportation infrastructure need real engineering applications and specialist products that allow them to become effective.”

The new business has 10,000 employees and a $1.2bn (£786M) turnover, of which Europe makes up about 60%. Its parent company, Harsco, has a workforce of 20,000 and a global turnover of $3bn (£2bn) and has global interests in rail, metals businesses and minerals.

SGB made its name initially as a scaffolding company before moving into complex formwork and temporary support systems. The new company is not shunning traditional customers, but O’Kelly believes it can capitalise more on its design, engineering and project management skills, especially by transferring knowledge and assets internally.

Engineering expertise will be shared, as well as knowledge about local clients and markets.

The company is prominent in the UK but Harsco Infrastructure’s biggest client is Shell.

For over 50 years SGB has carried out maintenance for the oil giant - as well as for other industrial clients - including insulation, shot-blasting and painting, and is now planning to grow this side of the business still further.

Until now, the company supplied all the access equipment for this service but had to hire in the labour. However, it recently acquired Nicol, an Immingham-based multi-disciplinary contractor that specialises in this type of work.

Combining equipment with a contracting capabilty also open up new routes to market - for example in PFI, where some of the company’s traditional construction clients manage and maintain facilities after they have been built.

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