Shap­ing To­mor­row

Bespoke - - VISION -

In terms of lead­er­ship, Samir Brikho is a phe­nom­e­non. He has a style that’s not solely driven by re­sults – though it cer­tainly pro­duces them – rather his in­flu­ence is rooted in the pas­sion he has for his work and his abil­ity to in­spire those around him to reach ever-higher goals.

When it comes to Arab ti­tans of busi­ness, we’re all familiar with the Ghosns, Slims and Hayeks of this world. I would as­sume you’re also aware of oth­ers like Lubna Olayan and Nemir Kir­dar. You may even know that Steve Jobs is among our greats given that he was the bi­o­log­i­cal son of a Syr­ian em­i­grant, Ab­dul Fat­tah Jan­dali. But chances are you’ve never heard of Samir Brikho. It’s a shame that, be­cause if you were to judge him based on his per­for­mance as a chief ex­ec­u­tive, he de­serves to be up there with the very best of them. Of course, un­like watches, con­sumer elec­tron­ics, tele­coms or fi­nance, many might strug­gle to un­der­stand what Brikho’s com­pany, Amec Foster Wheeler, ac­tu­ally does. (It’s one of the world’s lead­ing in­ter­na­tional en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices com­pa­nies and one of the U.K’S old­est and most re­spected pub­li­cally listed firms.) Brikho has been at the helm since 2006 and, in that time, he has so suc­cess­fully trans­formed its ail­ing per­for­mance that he’s now the sub­ject of case stud­ies at the pres­ti­gious INSEAD busi­ness school. “I joined Amec about eight and a half years ago, in Oc­to­ber 2006. The board had been look­ing for a CEO that could bring a new vi­sion, a new strat­egy, set up new val­ues and cre­ate a new cul­ture,” says Brikho as we sit and chat in his com­pany head­quar­ters in Lon­don, sur­rounded by pho­tos of him with lead­ing global fig­ures like Bill Clin­ton, David Cameron, Kofi Annan, Yasser Arafat, Shi­mon Peres and Ni­co­las Sarkozy. Though this could be mis­con­strued as a lit­tle self-ag­gran­dis­ing, Brikho ex­plains that the col­lec­tion of por­traits is ac­tu­ally “just a bit of fun” and a pet project by him and his as­sis­tant that may have got­ten a lit­tle out of hand, be­fore burst­ing into an in­fec­tious laugh. Born in Beirut in 1958, Brikho was raised in Swe­den where he and his fam­ily had fled at the on­set of the Le­banese civil war. There he re­mained for his un­der­grad­u­ate and post­grad­u­ate de­grees, which were in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing and ther­mal tech­nolo­gies re­spec­tively (with ad­di­tional stud­ies in nu­clear and re­new­able en­ergy). Swe­den is also where he first be­gan his ca­reer with ABB, who hired him straight out of uni­ver­sity, although he later moved to their head­quar­ters in Switzer­land. Start­ing out in their power gen­er­a­tion di­vi­sion, he worked his way up un­til he ran that par­tic­u­lar busi­ness – even af­ter it was ac­quired by Al­stom – and later re­turned to ABB to head up their oil and gas di­vi­sion. “When the board of Amec hired me, they knew they were get­ting a hy­brid, some­one who had both power, and oil and gas ex­pe­ri­ence, and there aren’t many of us around,” ex­plains Brikho. “But more than that, I had made a name at ABB for be­ing a good leader and some­one who had been re­spon­si­ble for a num­ber of trans­for­ma­tions, and that’s what the mission was here. They wanted to trans­form Amec so they needed some­one who could rock the boat. When I joined, the com­pany’s mar­gins were only around 3.5 per cent, and the board’s as­pi­ra­tion was that the new man­age­ment team in­crease them to 4.5 per cent. 73 days later, I pre­sented Vi­sion 2010 to the mar­ket and this laid out our am­bi­tion to take the com­pany’s mar­gins to 6 per cent by 2008 and 8 per cent by 2010. What we de­liv­ered at the end of the day was 9.2 per cent by 2010. To be hon­est, I think even the board was sur­prised by the speed with which we were able to un­der­stand what were the main is­sues and pos­si­ble reme­dies.” Patently, Brikho was the right man for the job but the ques­tion is, how did he do it? He cred­its ac­tiv­ity-based-cost (ABC) mod­el­ling, which al­lowed him to ex­am­ine each of this 132-year old com­pany’s 40 busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties in their own right, and says that it took just 60 days for a re­veal­ing pic­ture to emerge, one that showed which busi­nesses could be con­sid­ered core. “A core busi­ness is a busi­ness where you have the right skills, the right tal­ents, the right cus­tomer re­la­tions, an of­fer­ing that’s dif­fer­en­ti­ated from your peers, and some­where you con­tin­u­ously make money,” he ex­plains.

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