Samir Brikho: 'If we provide excellence, the profits will follow'
A Day in the Life: The head of Amec spends a freezing dayin London briefing investors on his company's rise to the threshold of the FTSE 100, before a festive supper in St James's
Saturday 15 December 2007
Samir Brikho starts the day with the news channels Bloomberg for financial and CNN for world news. Both, he says, give him food for thought, with the big story on the former being reaction to the decision by the US Federal Reserve to cut interest rates for the third time this autumn, while the latter focuses on deadlock at the climate change talks in Bali.
The rate cuts and the economic fall-out have obvious implications for Amec, a project management company which is heavily reliant on the energy sector. But then so does the latter.
Mr Brikho says both reports get him thinking, although the report from Bali gives him a wry smile. "They are talking about cutting carbon footprints, but they hold it at a place which is not at all easy to reach. I'm thinking that it takes at least two flights to get there.
"I also remember a British minister saying they should stay until they get something done. Well, I've been to Bali on holiday and it's a wonderful place to stay. I have the solution to this problem. Why not hold it in Baghdad? I think they might get things done a bit quicker in Baghdad.
"The environment is a big issue for Amec. It is a risk for our company, and what we do can have a positive effect, but also a negative effect."
After watching the news problems, he is faced with the first difficult decision of the day: finding a solid, neutral tie that will go nicely with one of two light blue shirts he is under orders to wear for a video shoot.
Mr Brikho has arrived at the office, his wardrobe dilemma solved. Breakfast a low-fat yoghurt is at his desk, and he cannot help but look glumly at it. He would much prefer the full-fat Greek variety.
"I say to myself, why am I doing this to myself. My Greek yoghurt has a little bit more fat but a lot more taste."
Still, the rest of the day holds much promise. Amec has undergone a remarkable recovery since Mr Brikho has been at the helm, and is now knocking on the door of the FTSE 100, a far cry from where it was 14 months ago when he joined.
Today the company will release its pre-close trading update, where it will inform investors that results will be towards the top of expectations, and announce the launch of one of Mr Brikho's big ideas "Operational Excellence" combined with the setting of new margin targets for Amec's divisions.
He will discuss the conference call with analysts and investors with his communications and investor relations teams, as well as Amec's finance director, before kick off at 8.30am.
The call begins and Mr Brikho needs to be at the top of his game, despite the fact that he is grappling with a nasty cold. Still, he is a confident and engaging talker with considerable charm, which should serve him well.
He takes the fact that he faces tough questions on whether the company should be doing more as something of a back-handed compliment.
"It is interesting. For a long time Amec was a company that did not perform, that did not deliver. Now we are delivering they ask us to deliver even more because they think I am holding something back."
He says he does not pay close attention to the company's position in the corporate league table, but describes a promotion into the blue-chip elite (Amec is a first reserve) as "a real honour given where we were, and quite an achievement. We must have been at around 180 when I joined".
It is time to shoot the video which will outline Mr Brikho's idea of "operation excellence" for Amec's staff. As the company leader he will again have to appear upbeat and full of enthusiasm, despite the fact that he might prefer to be in bed with a glass of Lemsip.
The shoot itself runs smoothly, but as things are wrapping up, inevitably, the fire alarm sounds. Even though Mr Brikho is convinced it is a fault, he is out of the door promptly, because he feels he has to set an example.
"Health and safety is absolutely central to what we do, so even if there is a fault with the alarm everybody needs to evacuate the building, including me."
As it turns out Mr Brikho says the false alarm provides him with an invaluable opportunity to talk to staff about various issues affecting the company.
After the all-clear is sounded, he slogs up four flights to his office and begins a discussion on strategy with senior staff, only for the alarm to sound again 15 minutes later.
"It is the coldest day of the year, and 200 people are shivering outside. I'm thinking that we really could do with some gluvine to warm them up."
The well-travelled Mr Brikho acquired a taste for this beverage German mulled wine during his time in Switzerland.
After a rehearsal session for the afternoon's presentation, Mr Brikho meets his "Operational Excellence" steering committee over a sandwich lunch. "I'd never seen so many sandwiches before coming to London," he says.
"My view is if we provide excellence in the field, then the profits will follow," he explains. "I would like to build the best army of engineers anywhere in the world. If we can do that, then we can improve the margins. By bringing excellence, you get more margins."
Amec is hardly the only company that talks about "vision", "excellence" and "being the best", of course. The key to the company's success will be marrying the bold talk with actions, something that companies often find hard. However, a glance at the performance of Amec's shares over the past year suggests that Mr Brikho, at least, is on the right track at the moment.
Mr Brikho will explain how his vision will be married to financial performance to the investor community at the presentation, which is held at the offices of Amec's broker, Dresdner Kleinwort. "I'm pleased," he says. "We have an audience of 60 to 70 people and a lot of Q and A's. It is very important for them to see that there are clear targets, clear ideas and clear delivery. At the end of the presentation we invite the analysts and investors to stay for a drink so they can meet members of the team and ask their questions in person rather than just having to ask me. It also allows us to wish them a merry Christmas, because we will not be seeing most of them until the new year."
The presentation complete, Mr Brikho and his senior team retire to L'oranger, a fashionable French restaurant in St James's. This will serve as the senior management's Christmas dinner, and they will also hear details of their bonuses.
"Having first had drinks, we have a lot of discussions and reflections on the day, and on the year. We talk about what has gone well and what we can improve on. It also gives me the chance to say thank you to them."
Mr Brikho will not arrive home until 11pm. Nonetheless on the news there is more of the same from Bali. Perhaps his idea of holding the conference in Baghdad should be considered next time.
Name: Samir Brikho
Educated: Master of Sciencein thermal technology,Royal High School of Technology,Stockholm, Sweden
19831999: Various seniorpositions at Asea and ABB inSweden, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Switzerland and Germany.
20002003: Senior management roles at Alstom in Belgium, France and Germany.
2003 2006: CEO of ABBLummus Global, Switzerland.
2006: Head of division, power systems; member of the group executive committee of ABB, Switzerland; chairman of ABB Lummus Global.
2006: Chief executive officer, Amec plc
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