Andrew McNaughton sets out ambitious expansion plans for Systra

New COO also reflects on Tidal Lagoon Power prospects

Andrew McNaughton, new chief operating officer of the French engineering group Systra says the firm will double its turnover in less than a decade through siezing increased opportunities in the sector and acquisition.

McNaughton said he expected turnover to double from current 527m euros( £419m) and that firm was on course to grow to its target of 800m (£637m) euros by 2018. 

His brief was “to take the company from being a French-based company working internationally to becoming a truly global brand”, levering his British Industry Ambassador role. Currently half the turnover comes from France and half international work.  

“The reason the growth strategy is feasible is because urbanisation is inevitable. And the global requirement and expenditure on transport is enormous.” 

Systra made its name as a mass transit planning consultant and rail specialist and is part owned by transport groups RATP and SNCF from which it can draw expertise.

McNaughton took up the post at the beginning of June in a surprise move from Tidal Lagoon Power where he was director of Engineering and Construction.

“I joined Tidal Lagoon with a specific remit to help develop the technology for Swansea and then roll it out across other projects. We had huge success last year with the supply chain in place and the budget established. But with the review now launched it is likely to take a lot longer to move to site and we agreed it was a good time for me to use my skills to move into a more operational role within infrastructure.” 

“I’m still passionate about lagoon power. It is a low cost source of clean energy with a potential life of 120 years and that’s why I’m staying on in a part time advisory role.”

McNaughton said that he welcomed the review of the technology announced in February. The independent review will be led by former Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry and will assess the strategic case for tidal lagoons and whether they could play a cost effective role as part of the UK energy mix. Its findings are expected in the autumn.

“Setting up an independent review provides facts and data which government can draw on and I’m convinced there will be a “positive outcome. It is a must have source of energy.”

He has also said that The removal of China Harbour Engineering Company from the £1.3bn Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon where it was due to carry out the marine works would make the scheme more financially viable and more attractive to the government.

He said that going forward however, the company would have to “get their heads round having other players in the market.” 

At Systra McNaughton is splitting his time between London and Paris and his home in Cornwall. Although a large part of his career was spent at Balfour Beatty, he says that moving to a consultancy is not a new experience. “I was in charge of Parsons Brinkerhoff which had 13,000 engineers around the world.” 

He also says that the regional structure now established at Systra was akin to the structure at Balfour Beatty.

Systra has regional businesses in Pacific, South Europe, North Europe, Latin America and North America and sees hotspots in the Americas and North Africa and significant opportunities in the UK where it has recently bought a transport planning consultancy in Edinburgh.

Systra has teamed up with Mott MacDonald in consortium with Balfour Beatty and Vinci for one of the main works packages on HS2. It is also working on Crossrail and the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail upgrade.

McNaughton was appointed to the role because of his international expertise and operational and project management capabilities, as well as his M&A experience.

Aged 52, he has spent much of his career within the Balfour Beatty group, one of the UK's leading construction groups, which he joined in 1997. Between 2007 and 2009, he led Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering Ltd, where, notably, he was project manager for CTRL (HS1), before being appointed COO of the group in 2009. He served as its CEO from March 2013 to March 2014 before moving to Tidal Power April 2015.

In recent months Systra has made a series of acquisitions and set out ambitious growth targets. In April it acquired SIAS the Edinburgh based transport planning consultancy. 

In March Systra acquired Scott Lister, an Australian head-quartered company specialising in systems engineering and risk management, largely for the railway sector. This acquisition gives the firm the wherewithal to build up its activity in Australia, a high-potential market for transport infrastructure.