The Chairman’s vision

A TALK WITH MANUEL PELTIER, CHAIRMAN & CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SOLETANCHE FREYSSINET

Soletanche Freyssinet's activity was particularly buoyant in 2016. What conclusions do you draw from this performance?

With revenue coming in at just over €3 billion, the Group's volume held steady at its highest ever level. The slight decline from 2015 was primarily due to exchange rate differences and shifts in the schedules of several major projects. At the same time, order intake was very strong. We contracted a record €3.4 billion in new business in 2016. These results reflect the strength of our Group and our business model, which is rooted in both major operations and the smaller-scale projects regularly carried out by our companies operating close to our clients. We offer a one-of-a-kind commitment to every project: meeting our clients' requirements and delivering quality of service, operational excellence and risk control safely and on time.

How do you account for the Group's strength?

At a time of growing demand for our specialist expertise, Soletanche Freyssinet's six brands offer an unparalleled array of skills that meet the construction industry's current and future needs. Our extensive international coverage based on our network of some 270 subsidiaries softens the impact of economic crises. In 2016, when the sharp decline in oil and commodity prices slowed or halted a large number of industrial investment projects in Australia, Canada and Latin America, our activity held steady in the rest of the world. Our strength is also due to the composition of our project portfolio. In Mexico, for example, where public sector infrastructure investments have been sharply cut back, our subsidiaries have compensated by shifting to the private high-rise building sector, for which we construct the foundations, and by expanding our structural repair business. There are huge requirements in the urban development, transport, water, energy and environmental sectors. We will continue to work on expanding the scope of our technical solutions and innovative services.

Fostering collective intelligence

What can be done to foster innovation?

First you have to move beyond the conventional idea: "We must innovate to grow, to create value, to keep our competitive edge". Innovation is an integral part of our history. The companies that make up Soletanche Freyssinet were built from the start on exceptional technical innovations that have since become standard in their respective fields all over the world and have driven pivotal progress in the art of building. We are of course imbued with this culture and will continue to enrich it. Innovation often involves inventing new solutions to address new issues. I am confident, for example, that the Grand Paris Express programme in France will be an excellent case in point. To build underground metro stations (some of which are as big as underground cathedrals) in very difficult ground, we will need to use state-of-the-art geotechnical capabilities. More generally, we create momentum in our R&D work by broadening and fostering collective intelligence to help spawn new ideas and share them across all our business activities.

Is collective intelligence the key to the digital revolution?

It is an important aspect. In our work within our Group and with our partners, digital tools facilitate more collaborative working methods, promote the flow of information in real time and shorten the decision-making process. They also enable us to massively mobilise our teams to work on training or innovation issues and make the most of the scope and diversity of our human resources. The digital revolution also paves the way for new client services. Sensor technologies have progressed to the point where they can now collect very large amounts of data from instrumented soils, structures and machines. We can analyse the data to optimise structure design and construction methods, with the clear-cut goal of reducing overall cost. These are matters of importance in the construction industry and we are making sure we keep pace with the digital revolution. We have therefore set up a new business line, which we have called Sixense, to deliver monitoring and decision solutions for use across the entire life cycle of a structure. It builds on three capabilities: engineering, technologies and digital services. Sixense will be our main way of providing our partners with the efficient tools and services that enable the construction industry to take advantage of digital technologies. It is one way we can boost innovation to serve our business activities and our clients, and pave the way for the world of the future.