Manuel Perez – Senior Vice President & International Managing Director Civil Infrastructures, Louis Berger, Spain
Manuel Perez, SVP and MD of Civil Infrastructures at Louis Berger’s international division, with over 25 years’ experience in the Spanish engineering environment, describes the importance of flexibility and cross-cultural understanding in international engineering projects, the global importance of the International Design Center Division based in Spain, the ease of finding engineering talents in Cantabria and the opportunity to increase access to affordable energy through the medium of renewables.
Can you introduce Louis Berger’s operations in Santander and explain the changes that have occurred over the year and their implementation?
“We are small enough to remain flexible and agile; we have our operational teams thinking locally while having the financial capacity of the global corporation to support large projects and managerial teams thinking strategically at the global level.”
Louis Berger is an Engineering News-Record top-20 ranked, $1 billion global professional services corporation, with nearly 6,000 engineers, economists, scientists and planners worldwide working in more than 50 nations.
Over the years, Louis Berger has developed a strong ability to operate in challenging environments. As a matter of fact, Louis Berger is involved in multiple projects throughout the African continent, where we are often confronted with social issues, weak infrastructure or operational difficulties. The projects Louis Berger’s employees are involved in are usually more complex than they may seem at first. Nonetheless, at Louis Berger we all share a genuine sense of respect and stewardship for the places where we work and the people whose lives we impact, and appreciate the challenge of learning to work in these kinds of environments.
Our size is an advantage when it comes to handling projects. We are small enough to remain flexible and agile; we have our operational teams thinking locally while having the financial capacity of the global corporation to support large projects and managerial teams thinking strategically at the global level. Louis Berger takes pride in its capacity to deliver customized engineering solutions to its clients. No two projects are the same, simply because customer needs vary, as do the very specific conditions of each project environment. As projects change throughout the project lifecycle, our clients have new demands or issues that need to be addressed as the project matures. That is why it is so critical that our local engineering teams are able to demonstrate flexibility throughout the project lifecycle. We are very proud of our unique ability to adapt to local situations as a result of this approach.
Could you be specific about Louis Berger’s history in Santander, Spain?
The company’s roots in Santander date back 30 years, when five engineers from the Cantabria University founded an engineering start-up called APIA XXI. I joined the company in 1992 as one of 20 employees specializing in bridge design. The early 2000s was a great period of expansion as the Spanish government made significant infrastructure investments that fueled the company’s growth, allowing us to expand our service lines to include complex project management while also expanding into adjacent markets including highways and similar large structures.
By 2009, we employed over 500 people and reached our peak. The economic crisis that hit Spain triggered our international expansion by exporting our services overseas to other faster-growing geographic markets. By 2012, we faced the choice of growing bigger into international challenges or returning to the state of a smaller scale boutique engineering company.
Louis Berger, a global American company with whom we had previously engaged in a joint venture was looking to grow the company’s international engineering portfolio and enhance its delivery of complex infrastructure and energy projects to its global customers. In March 2013, Louis Berger acquired the company, which today operates as an international design center for the corporation supporting projects around the globe involving complex engineering design and alternative delivery models such as design-build and public-private partnerships.
The business complementarity seems evident. What have been the cultural changes since the merger?
The main changes resided in the fact that we integrated in a huge corporation in all senses: size, projects, policies and we needed to adapt very quickly to the new internal processes. Indeed, the financial and human resource management practices have evolved. We have undergone minor changes with our procedures and templates to optimize the way we operate. Nonetheless, the transition has been smooth and employees have remained committed to the success of the company. The accountability of these great engineers is still there, which is good from a managerial point of view. Furthermore, their eagerness to learn remains present. Additionally, I believe our governance is better now than four years ago.
Additionally, our new international scope is an opportunity for our employees to learn how to look at projects from different perspectives because the approach is different from a country to another. We have become better at managing complex projects in challenging environment – a differentiator that Louis Berger takes a lot of pride in delivering to our clients. We have been able to combine the technicality and innovativeness of our engineers with a pragmatic project management approach that provides more consistent delivery. The more our employees understand why and how other approaches exist, the better it is for our business. If we manage to remain flexible in the way our activities are conducted, continuously learning from the professional cultures we are involved in, our long-term success is guaranteed.
How do you manage to find new talents for the company particularly here in Santander, Cantabria?
Spain is renowned for its engineering heritage and has successfully built strong global corporations in the construction and Oil&Gas sectors since the 1980s. Companies such as Ferrovial, Iberdrola, ACS, CEPSA or Repsol are now leading firms in their industries. In part, I believe this is a consequence of our technical abilities. In other words, we have managed to differentiate ourselves from international competition through state-of-the-art technical solutions. The engineering education dispensed in Spain is one of the toughest in the world, and recruiting good engineers is therefore easier than in many countries.
More specifically, our Cantabrian location is attractive. It does not compromise our ability to conduct business in the capital, allows us to benefit from lower business costs and better employee productivity as a result of a better quality of life. In fact, many science, technology and engineering firms have chosen to establish their headquarters in the Cantabria and Basque regions. This is also the case of small and mid-size companies in banking and law.
Additionally, having offices in Santander close to University of Cantabria and University of Santander is an asset we can leverage upon to pool of young talent. The graduates we recruit are inclined to stay within our ranks because they can experience a genuine quality of life in Cantabria while also having an expansive range of international opportunities working on projects across Louis Berger.
What is the strategic contribution of the international design center concept to Louis Berger’s worldwide operations today?
Louis Berger operates in 12 major technical service areas: alternative project delivery, planning, engineering and design, program management, operations and maintenance, architecture, capacity building and technical assistance, construction services, economic and financial services, emergency and disaster management, environmental services and heritage resource management.
The advantage that our design center concept provides to the company and to our clients is the consistency of teams. The performance in planning and design services is extremely reliant upon technical quality, where consistency of teams working together reduces risks by allowing teams to focus on quality technical solutions rather than the construct of a new team on every project. By providing a very stable team with a great depth of experience working together our clients can rely on quality engineer solutions that help them solve their most complex engineering challenges.
Our design centers provide design and planning engineering services, working with our geographically-oriented divisions, for the transportation, water, environment, buildings and facilities, urban development and power and energy markets.
Let me highlight here how important is this approach, the adequate balance between the local knowledge and the strong technical capabilities are the key of the success for any planning or design project.
What are your oil and gas projects around the world, and to what extent Louis Berger has been supporting them?
Power and energy sector is very important in Louis Berger. Our presence in the market is pretty significant. From renewable energy development to temporary power solutions, Louis Berger provides a wide range of services to plan, engineer and deliver power infrastructure to meet the world’s growing need for cleaner, more cost-effective and more reliable electricity and energy.
Louis Berger has studied the economic impact of the oil and gas industry for numerous clients throughout the United States for the past 20 years. The firm’s assignments have ranged from evaluating the socioeconomic implications of oil and gas development activities to assessing oil and gas rules and regulations for various states and agencies.
In Texas, the United States’ most oil-rich state, Louis Berger completed an economic and fiscal evaluation of potential oil and gas development and production using enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technologies along the region’s Gulf Coast.
Klohn Crippen Berger (KCB), a Louis Berger affiliate, has been working within the Athabasca oil sands since the mid-1980s. The focus of the firm’s operations has been the planning, design, construction, operation and closure of tailing management facilities. The Athabasca oil sands in Alberta, Canada, represent the third largest resource of hydrocarbons on the planet, after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
On the other hand, BergerABAM, another Louis Berger’s affiliate, recently provided consulting engineering and construction support services to Melones Oil Terminal Inc. (MOTI) for the development of a bunker fuel transfer pier at Melones Island, a small rock outcrop located 8 miles from the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. The purpose of the terminal is to store and distribute bunker and diesel fuel to vessels traveling through the waterway.
Last but not least, we have built the world’s largest floating power generation facility in Venezuela. BergerABAM analyzed, designed and supported the construction of the steelconcrete composite plinth supporting the gas turbine for the generation facility. This floating power generation facility is expected to alleviate Venezuela’s existing electricity shortages and sufficiently meet the nation’s growing energy demand.
To what extent do you consider the fact Spain is home to some of the strongest international Oil&Gas companies as an opportunity to engage more in these types of projects?
Undeniably, our proximity to leading companies in sectors of our interest is a great advantage. We are in a good position for negotiations, especially with regards to our working culture.
Furthermore, energy companies are loyal to national EPCs. One of the most important energy companies in Spain, Iberdrola, is already our partner in the renewable sector, and we look forward to working with Iberdrola on international projects similar to the wind farm we developed jointly in Mexico. Cepsa and Repsol, two other main Spanish players in the energy industry, are yet to be our partners in the Oil&Gas segment but we could work with them if the project concerned renewables.
What message would you like to send to the oil and gas community on Spain?
I am optimistic about the future. The country has almost fully recovered from the crisis, and the investments are no longer on hold. I have witnessed tremendous improvements in the renewable technologies this year. In fact, I think the technologies in this sector are improving faster than in the oil and gas ones. As a result, the price of building renewable energy infrastructure is falling, and this should affect the price of renewable energy.
More precisely, the cost of building a solar farm has been cut by two since 2010. We expect the technologies to improve and associated costs to continue falling.
If the affordability of renewable energies should no longer be an issue in a near future, the access to energy remains problematic in certain regions. Renewable energies, solar in particular, can be one of the solutions to improve access to affordable energy in Africa. I hope Louis Berger will contribute to the implementation of such solutions. Our generation will be the one improving access to energy.