Water and environment specialist MWH is ready to exit the downturn as a more responsive and globally focused business. Margo Cole reports.
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MWH is the UK’s top consultancy in the water sector. While its aim is to enhance this top spot, it also plans to expand its wider range of activities, building on expertise elsewhere around the globe. And the recession has provided a catalyst for that diversification, according to MWH regional manager Jon Pike.
“Along with a lot of businesses, 2009 was a challenging year for us,” he says. “We looked at our own business and made sure we were lean and efficient and prepared for the future, so that we could respond to opportunities. But we’re ambitious going forward and we see a lot of opportunity in the UK and continental Europe and Africa, so we’re broadening our remit and looking to grow our activities much more.”
The three main priorities are to strengthen the engineering consultancy service MWH offers; build up capability in management-led services, like programme and project management; and grow the construction side of the business. All this, Pike claims, will lead to growth both in the existing water sector and within three other key markets: energy, waste and infrastructure.
“In each of these sectors we already have significant presence with clients in the region [Europe-Africa] and outside,” he explains. “We’re looking to grow and expand on that existing presence.”
“There are great opportunities to experience management and engineering”
So, for example, Pike sees potential to build on existing UK water expertise to take on new projects elsewhere in Europe, while at the same time using skills in other sectors − like waste and renewable energy − to open new doors in the UK.
“We absolutely want to stay number one in the water market in the UK but we would also like to grow to a similar position in other sectors and at the same time use the excellent UK experience in water to build up a position in water in continental Europe,” explains MWH Europe-Africa president Wim Drossaert.
“And do the opposite: for example the waste business is a pretty mature market in northern Europe and we have excellent experience, so we can ship that knowledge into the UK.”
Pike adds: “The sectors we operate in have similar assets and are within regulated environments. Project management, engineering and environmental skills are all transferable between the different sectors.”
“We want to stay number one in water but we’d like a similar position in other sectors”
MWH also has considerable experience in the transport sector elsewhere in the world, and Pike believes this could be transferred to the UK and Europe. “We always look to provide good opportunities for our staff, ” he says.
“The way the company is structured means there are great opportunities for engineers to experience management, engineering and construction so they can get the full range of experience of the industry within the firm.”
Looking to the future Pike envisages that engineers will move more between projects, sectors and locations than they have in the past. “Having a global workforce is going to be a differentiating factor,” says Pike. “Working in virtual teams and doing work remotely is going to be an increasing feature.”
He believes this will only strengthen the deeply-rooted culture that means the firm tends to attract people with a concern for society and the environment. “It’s taken a long time for that culture to form and coalesce, and I don’t see that disappearing,” says Pike.
Drossaert adds: “We all work on the same subjects, but we have different backgrounds, for example Australia, and the US, so we can learn from each other. Our clients like this international expertise and it brings some innovative thinking.”