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Volker chief picks route through mire

VolkerWessels UK chief executive Alan Robertson is targeting bigger jobs in the energy, waste and rail sectors to continue the company’s growth in the face of looming public sector cuts.

Mr Robertson told Construction News that he has been looking to shift the company’s focus onto these sectors, where he believes there is likely to be work in the future.

He said: “We have to be more selective about the projects where we can have a greater certainty of continued investment in those sectors, and where our skill set will enable us to stand a greater chance of securing the work.

“Our bidding and estimating teams are busier than they’ve ever been. We’re not scrabbling around for work. We may be in 6-18 months’ time but I’m very cautiously optimistic.” Mr Robertson said the company would be targeting work with Crossrail - which he said was set to “boom” - and Network Rail, as well as with train operating
companies, which he believes will be charged with delivering more investment in the network.

He added that VolkerWessels was monitoring “continuing investment across the waste-toenergy spectrum” as well as large civils projects with technological elements.

He expects the technological expertise of Dutch parent company VolkerWessels to help in the pursuit of work in these sectors, and said that the UK company’s integrated structure - which saw all seven businesses brought under one brand in March 2009 - has given it more clout in the industry.

“We are much better in terms of being on clients’ and competitors’ radars. Eighteen months ago, people did not know that the parent company of Grant Rail, Fitzpatrick, Crowley, and Laser was the same company.”

Mr Robertson said he had no plans to target sectors that would be new to the business. He said: “We’re not going to be trying to enter new markets that we do not have expertise in. That would be foolhardy. It’s more
expansion on the areas that we have been historically strong.”

He stressed that the company would not be taking on any work outside its skill set, under terms and conditions that it would not normally accept, or in new geographical areas.

“On an ever-increasing basis we have to be very, very aware of the risks within projects and the markets in which we work.

“All the good work we do for 11 months of the year could go out the window if we don’t manage the risks in the 12th month. We’re not going to overstretch and then under-deliver.”

Mr Robertson said he was expecting a decline in work for VolkerWessels’ highways maintenance business, which currently has a turnover of about £125 million, from the 2011/12 financial year onwards.

He added that he was not overly concerned about falls in general building work in the public sector because it was not a “primary focus”.

The VolkerWessels group results for 2009, published last month, saw the UK business’s turnover fall from €785m
(£706.6m) to €513m. But the figures in both years excluded the contribution of VolkerRail, which normally adds around £125m of turnover.