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.