Samir Brikho, the Chief Executive of AMEC, one of the world’s leading international engineering, project management and consultancy companies, headquartered in London, gave an exclusive interview to Asia House Director of Corporate Affairs Charlie Humphreys following a private briefing he had given at Asia House alongside Sungnam Lim, South Korean Ambassador to the UK, which had been conducted under the Chatham House Rule.
Brikho, who took up the role of Chief Executive in October 2006, began his interview by offering his sympathies for the Korean people on their loss following the terrible Ferry disaster.
Asia is becoming critically important for UK industry as a whole and for AMEC’s expansion plans and there are many opportunities for UK and European companies to partner with Korean firms to do business in Southeast Asia as AMEC has done, said Brikho.
“Looking at GDP growth figures for Asia (seven per cent-eight per cent), Europe (0 per cent-two per cent) and the US (two per cent-three per cent), industry cannot just ignore the huge potential in Asia,” he pointed out.
AMEC was traditionally a UK company focused almost entirely on the UK market for almost 150 years. But over the last two decades it has been opening up to global markets and made a number of acquisitions in Canada and the US, he said.
“The 2013 numbers indicated that 87 per cent of the revenue came from OECD, mainly Anglo-Saxon, countries, i.e. US, Canada, Australia, UK,” Brikho said.
But Brikho’s vision, he said, was “very much to change that pattern” and in the long term to “generate a significant amount of AMEC’s revenues from Asia.”
“The short-term model is to move to a scenario where we generate a third of our revenue in North America, a third in Europe and third in Asia,” he said.
Brikho, a Lebanon-born Swedish citizen, said his longer-term vision for AMEC was that they might “generate approximately 45 per cent of our revenue in Asia, approximately 35 per cent in the Americas and a smaller proportion in Europe, as this will reflect where the business is.”
“We have a very clear view and vision of the global market and we are looking to position AMEC, though organic growth and acquisitions, in such a way that we are able to successfully serve that market,” he added.
AMEC is in the middle of concluding a purchase of Foster Wheeler, one of the biggest global engineering firms, for approximately US$3.3bn in a share and cash deal, attracted by the company’s downstream capabilities and regional presence in South America, Asia and the Middle East. The deal is expected to close later this year.
“In addition to the strategic benefits that the Foster Wheeler deal will bring AMEC, such as serving the whole value chain for oil and gas, i.e. upstream, mid-stream and downstream, it will also expand AMEC’s geographical portfolio considerably, and largely in Asia,” Brikho said.
He said that while there were no other acquisitions in Asia in the pipeline, AMEC “had looked at a number of opportunities and remained very open to joint ventures in the region.”
When asked to explain the secret of AMEC’s success in Asia to date, Brikho said: “The key thing is that you need to bring something to the table, to add value. AMEC tends to bring a number of key strengths – competencies, skills, references, experience, customer relationships – to our partners in Asia so there is more benefit by being together than by being alone. If the value continues to be brought from both sides, the work can continue, but it will stop if there is no further value being derived.”
He added that understanding and working with different cultures and ensuring AMEC delivered value for money was also fundamental to its success.
“We’ve done this in China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia, sometimes by setting up joint ventures with in-country businesses. Prime examples of our customers in Korea are Samsung and Hyundai whom we are assisting in their ambitions to expand into new markets, whether this is mining in Australia or nuclear energy in Europe,” he explained.
He said that AMEC was looking to support a number of Chinese companies in their growth plans outside of China including CGNPC on the Husab Project in Namibia and with Sinopec for a number of major oil and gas developments they are planning around the world.
“What all of these opportunities have in common is a desire to use AMEC’s worldwide and country-specific capability to better deliver the projects our customers and partners are pursuing,” he said.
AMEC won the 2007 Partnership between Korea and the UK Award from the British Chamber of Commerce in Korea for its pivotal role in a 30-year Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Incheon City for the concession to finance, deliver, maintain and operate the £800 million Incheon Bridge. This made AMEC the first ever foreign investor to lead a PPP in the country.
AMEC is also one of the few Western firms to have a stated ‘Korea Strategy’ whereby it has established joint ventures and cooperative projects with Korean companies in a number of third markets.
“With a very strong track record working in Korea and with Korean companies, we were well positioned to do this,” Brikho explained.
But AMEC’s interest in Korea goes beyond working with them in just Korea.
“Additionally, we saw that Korean companies had a good market share in many markets,” he revealed.
“For example, Korean companies enjoy a majority market share in infrastructure markets in the Middle East. By working with Korean companies in third countries, we had a vision to not limit our cooperative work to purely bilateral deals in either the UK or in Korea, but that we were also able to move into lucrative markets elsewhere,” he said.
He said that AMEC was able to enter markets with Korean companies since they were able to add value to each other in those third countries.
He gave, as an example, how AMEC has brought engineering and project management services to complex mining projects, generally a new business for Korean companies, who don’t typically have background in the mining industry.
“Where there is a specific need for this kind of particular expertise, there may be a role for British companies to enter markets in this way,” he pointed out.
Korean companies are currently investing heavily in the US and Canada in renewable energies. Brikho explained this was not a sector which Korean companies have had a great deal of experience with, having been more focused previously on electronics and manufacturing.
“This has demonstrated the possibility for UK and European companies if they cooperate with Korean companies in this way,” he added.
There were ample such opportunities for UK and European companies to partner with Korean companies in Southeast Asian countries, he said.
“Korean companies had a great deal of government support to start exporting to Southeast Asia through exim [financing] and government policies which gave a lot of support to businesses starting to export to and establish operations in emerging economies. UK companies are not as well networked and experienced in the region, so there may well be opportunities for UK companies to partner with Korean firms there as well. UK companies can bring a great deal of service delivery expertise and Korean companies have the ability to manage big projects, so there should be collaborative opportunities,” he pointed out.
“The trend of increasing economic integration in Asia reflects a global trend of a reduction in political barriers to trade and markets opening – eventually globalisation will bring all markets much closer together in that sense,” he said.
Many of the Asian markets have been quite highly protected historically, but that is changing now, and more markets are opening up, so they are becoming more competitive, and international companies have the opportunity to compete in local markets on a more level footing, he explained.
“A good example of this with Korea is how Tesco have been very successful competing with Korean companies in the retail sector and now Korea is now a very significant retail market for Tesco outside the UK.”
Brikho, who is also Co-chair of The UK-Korea CEO forum, which was established last year on the back of the State Visit of President Park Geun-hye to the UK, said: “I strongly believe that the CEO Forum has the potential to unlock significant new partnerships for UK businesses and to increase the likelihood of Korean investment in the UK.
As for the impact of The EU-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which came into effect in July 2011, on AMEC, he said: “AMEC has had excellent relations with Korea for many years (such as the Incheon Bridge) and this has not been directly affected by the EU-Korea FTA, though of course such initiatives do make the business climate more conducive.”
Nevertheless Korean business was investing in Europe, particularly with the UK, because it is the springboard into the EU market. “The English language, openness of the society and supportive business regulation makes this easier,” he said.
In fact Korea’s goods exports to the UK increased four per cent to £3.2bn in 2013 from £3.1bn in 2012.
Korean conglomerates, with large financial and human resources, are leading these investment activities. “They are very interested in the £300+ billion UK Infrastructure Investment Plan unveiled last year, particularly in renewable energy (offshore wind and biomass), railways, highways, bridges and water projects,” Brikho said. “These infrastructure projects fit well with the appetite and competence of Korean companies. From an investment angle, Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and PPP fit the requirements of the Korean Export-Import Bank and Korean pension funds,” he added.
The UK is now the second largest goods exporter to Korea among EU countries – second to Germany. The UK’s total exports to Korea increased 5.6 per cent and non-oil exports increased 16 per cent in 2013 from the previous year. Total UK exports to Korea more than doubled (2.1 times) to £4.8bn in 2013 from £2.2bn in 2010 before the EU FTA came into effect. Non-oil exports increased 34 per cent to £2.9bn in 2013 from £2.2bn in 2010.
Brikho said that the Korean Government was taking steps to redress the domination of the conglomerates (known as Chaebol in South Korea) and to encourage SME’s to expand their share.
“In Korea the unwinding and rebalancing of a system with its roots dated back to 1960’s is a time-consuming process and we must be patient, but of course persistent too,” he said. He said there had been some initial successes in some business sectors such as solar and wind energy, IT and so on, where the conglomerates do not have a major presence.
“We believe it is heading in the right direction. AMEC has helped encourage the contribution of SME’s through our work with our supply chain,” he added.
Globally, within the oil and gas sector the large Korean and Japanese contractors have been active for many years, particularly in the Middle East, he pointed out.
But he said what has changed over the past few years is their entry into new regions, such as Australia, Africa and Europe and new markets such as mining and power. “The good thing for AMEC is that we are involved in the all these regions and industries and are able to provide support,” he added.
“There is also more outward focus from Chinese companies looking to invest in key commodities and industries,” he added. “The growth in the outbound investment from Chinese and Asian companies has been substantial with particular focus on Australia, Africa and North America. This has created increased competition and if western companies do not adapt then they will find their market share reducing significantly,” he said.
“We have found that these outbound investors are looking for help in making sure their investments are successful and they are looking for help from firms like AMEC. This is where the substantial opportunity exists for western companies,” he added.
AMEC is a Company providing consultancy, engineering, project management and construction management services to the world’s oil and gas, minerals and metals, clean energy, environment and infrastructure markets.
AMEC is a Corporate Partner of Asia House and Samir Brikho is a member of the Asia House International Advisory Council. Samir was appointed as CEO of AMEC, following a highly distinguished career in the energy and engineering sector.
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