Bilfinger CEO

The Man With a Plan

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Tom Blades needs to convince investors he has the right strategy for Bilfinger in place after years of the one-time high-flying construction firm treading water.

  • Facts


    • Tom Blades, a Hamburg-born British executive, took over Bilfinger in the middle of last year after a short-lived run by Norwegian CEO Per Utnegaard.
    • The company has been remaking itself from a construction firm into an industrial and energy services provider, shedding numerous businesses and cutting its revenues in half to €4 billion.
    • Mr. Blades plans to rearrange some 600 individual subsiaries into 160 by 2020, cutting about half of the 70,000-strong workforce in the process.
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Will Tom Blades finally be the man to turn Bilfinger around? Source: Uwe Anspach/dpa

He may spend at least 12 hours a day dealing with the usual pressures of top level management, but Tom Blades looks the picture of calm. The Hamburg-born British chief executive of Bilfinger is on a mission to transform the fortunes of the ailing industrial company and clear up the mess left by his predecessors – summed up by six profit warnings in just two years before he took the helm in July 2016.

Setting out his strategy on Tuesday, Mr. Blades identified three key priorities: a sensible company structure, a solid business model and an operational plan to steer Bilfinger away from its well-publicized troubles. He calls it the 2-4-6 structure, in which 600 previous business units will be rearranged into 160 by 2020. The company’s employee base of 70,000 will be cut in half in the process.

“The new Bilfinger is an attractive prospect,” Mr. Blades said in an interview with the business weekly WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt Global. “We’ll have two areas of business, four core regions and six industries. Combined with our engineering services, we’ll grow stronger than the markets. Both business areas will grow each other. It’s the logical approach.”

Strategies, though, can go as quickly as they come. Just ask Mr. Blades’ short-lived predecessor Per Utnegaard, whose own plans for Bilfinger went up in smoke when activist investor Cevian, a powerful 26-percent shareholder, pushed for the sale of the company’s lucrative real-estate operations last year.

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