Britain’s Atkins expands with PBSJ purchase

By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 6, 2010

A London-based engineering and design firm, WS Atkins Plc, will acquire The PBSJ Corp., an engineering, construction and environmental firm with a big presence in Atlanta.

Doug Hooker, Atlanta-based vice president and director of the Southern states for Tampa, Fla.-based PBSJ, said Atkins has been looking for a platform for growth in North America because it did not have a major presence in the United States.

“PBSJ has such a strong market share in the southeast United States,” Hooker said. “We’re particularly strong in Florida, Georgia and Texas, and that was attractive to them.”

Before joining PBSJ, Hooker led the State Road & Tollway Authority of Georgia and was commissioner of public works for the city of Atlanta.

“The culture of the two companies is remarkably similar,” Hooker said. “They want us to be able to maintain our culture. Plus, their business strategy and model is very similar to ours. It’s a relatively easy fit in terms of a merger.”

PBSJ’s Atlanta office employs about 250 people. The company employs a total of 3,500 in North America and Puerto Rico.

By comparison, Atkins has about 15,600 employees around the world. Atkins also is ranked as the 11th-largest global design firm, according to Engineering News Record, with revenue of $2.2 billion.

After the acquisition of PBSJ, the combined firm will become one of the 10 largest engineering design firms in the world with offices across Europe, Australia, China, East Asia, Central America and the United States.

For PBSJ, the acquisition will give the firm new capital. Hooker explained that as an employee-owned company with many employees with stock nearing retirement, it needed cash to redeem that stock.

“That left very little for our growth initiatives,” Hooker said. So PBSJ began looking at alternatives for new equity, including selling the company. Its board of directors then decided that Atkins was the best option.

Hooker said the plan is for PBSJ to operate as a separate subsidiary. Eventually, the PBSJ name probably would be replaced by Atkins.

“It doesn’t change anything in terms of my day-to-day duties,” Hooker said. “What it will change is having access to a deeper pool of experts in a variety of areas.

Atkins is active in the building industry in construction management, architecture and engineering. Atkins also is “very strong in sustainability,” Hooker said.

Atkins also is involved in several high-profile projects. It is designing and building the first high-speed rail system in South Africa. It also is the lead design firm for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games that will be held in London.

Selected PBSJ projects in Atlanta

Hartsfield-Jackson Fifth Runway

Mall of Georgia (all of the civil engineering)

North Point Mall (all of the civil engineering)

Georgia International Horse Park (all of the civil engineering)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (most of the civil engineering for the Emory and Chamblee campus expansions)

Ronald Reagan Parkway in Gwinnett County (design)

Georgia 120 Widening (in Cobb County, currently under way)

I-75/85 HOV (all the survey and design for the HOV lanes put in prior to the Olympic Games)

Silver Comet Trail (designed the first part of the trail that was built)

Fitzgerald Wastewater Creek (plant expansion in Cherokee County)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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