Having been at the helm for nine years, Murray & Roberts Chairman Roy Andersen will retire at the end of February. He leaves a legacy of a world class construction and engineering business that has weathered the most severe of challenges to emerge focused, fit and ready to enter a new era of growth. He shares his memories and future plans with Robust.

What are the highlights of your tenure?

In a volatile decade, one of the key successes was our disposal and acquisition strategy. The disposal of our interest in Unitrans in 2004 enabled our investments in the businesses of Cementation and Clough which have positioned Murray & Roberts in key global natural resource markets. The subsequent acquisition of Concor strengthened our domestic construction capacity. Our recent decision to align Murray & Roberts more closely with its core competencies of construction and engineering, and the disposals of the steel businesses and Union Carriage & Wagon as part of that process, will, I believe, bear similar fruits.

Another highlight has been our strength in enduring some of the greatest challenges Murray & Roberts has faced, including the difficulty in collecting payments due on major contracts such as Gautrain and the Dubai Airport Concourse 2 and the absorption of losses on the Gorgon Project in Western Australia. We have recovered from these undoubted setbacks and are stronger for the experience, better protected from a risk perspective and well positioned for the next phase of growth.

The journey we have taken to create a safe working environment for our people has been a matter very close to my heart and it is deeply encouraging to see the good results that are emerging from our decisive safety interventions.

I feel confident that I am leaving behind me a strong management team, a wise and experienced Board and a return to profitability.

Murray & Roberts has been through periods of extreme challenge in the past decade – which have been the most difficult for you?

The loss of life on a Murray & Roberts site has a profound impact on all of us and I think that this has galvanised us to work even harder on measures to avoid future fatalities.

The problems I referred to on some of our major contracts – which incurred significant losses and impacted our cash flow – compelled us to conclude a rights issue to recapitalise our business. There are inevitably psychological consequences of setbacks of this magnitude and our management team has worked hard to restore the morale of our people and re-energise our business.

What is your view on the future of the construction and engineering industry?

The long-awaited infrastructure spending in South Africa has been delayed as Government has digested the expenditure on the 2010 Soccer World Cup and the impact of the global recession, but it will materialise and it represents significant future opportunity in the domestic market. Further afield, I have no doubt that the opportunities presented by Africa will be realised as the sustained demand for natural resources continues to contribute to the positive economic trend on the Continent. For contractors with global experience, Australia, and the Western Australian oil & gas and minerals sectors in particular, offer significant ongoing growth potential.
A challenge for the industry is its cyclical nature. I believe that Murray & Roberts is adequately diversified geographically and sectorally to minimise the peaks and troughs that often characterise performance in the industry.

As chairman of the King sub-committee on Boards and Directors, you have played an important role in developing the corporate governance framework in South Africa. Is it achieving its intended outcome?

I believe that the King Report on Corporate Governance has had a generally positive impact on South African businesses and it is encouraging that South Africa is regarded as a world leader on governance. The challenge, of course, is to ensure that the impact of governance remains positive and contributes to sustainable growth rather than stifling it by over-dominating enterprises.

What are your future plans?

I intend to reduce my workload – I’ll continue to serve on the Boards of other companies but not as chairman. My military career is also drawing to an end as I approach retirement age. My plan is to devote increasing amounts of time to my hobbies and interests which include military history and heritage, and collecting classic sports cars.