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TOP 100 PRIVATELY HELD COMPANIES: No. 15 Louis Berger feels it's primed to increase its international efforts

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Louis Berger Group President Thomas Lewis: “(Globalization) plays to our brand.”
Louis Berger Group President Thomas Lewis: “(Globalization) plays to our brand.” - (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Louis Berger may have been born in the U.S., but it grew up overseas. In the six decades since its founding, the engineering and consulting firm has built its business largely through projects on other continents, fueling its growth internationally long before the business ever grew at home.

So its executives have a reason to be optimistic at what they say is a pivotal moment for Louis Berger. In the next decade, the Morristown-based firm hopes to double its revenue to $2 billion — and that global experience figures to play a major role in its ability to get there.

“We are definitely at what I call an ‘inflection point’ in our history, both because of where we’re at as a company and where the markets are at,” Group President Thomas Lewis said. “Because of the trend toward globalization, it plays into Louis Berger’s strength. … (It) plays to our name, our brand, our history. So we really think that we’re in a strong position to take advantage of the trends in the world.”

The firm, which sits at No. 15 on this year’s NJBIZ Top 100 Privately Held Companies list, is undergoing a transformation as it marks its 60th year in business. In the past year it has reorganized and rebranded itself as simply “Louis Berger,” pulling together three closely held but separate companies — Louis Berger Group, Louis Berger International and Louis Berger Services — to form a one-stop shop for clients.

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Those operations had “separate identities” across Louis Berger’s expertise in infrastructure and development, Lewis said. But companies these days want to see “more of a programmatic approach across all their projects,” one that gives them access to the entire menu of services.

“Our clients want to see companies that are more seamless and are able to leverage resources regardless of where they’re coming from,” he said, whether it’s New Jersey, the Middle East or Latin America. “They just care that they’re hiring Louis Berger, and that Louis Berger will bring the right people and right resources.”

The firm was founded in 1953 by the late Louis Berger, who started with 12 employees and a single office in Harrisburg, Pa., and took his first international assignment within six years. Berger moved its headquarters to New Jersey in 1971 as part of a merger with another engineering firm.

Today, the operation has more than 100 offices in 57 locations worldwide, housing some 7,000 employees across a range of disciplines.

Click here to see the list of companies No. 100 through No. 1.

Its vast footprint has helped Louis Berger reach $1 billion in revenue in recent years. And Lewis said the firm is now targeting $2 billion within the next five to 10 years “through a combination of organic growth and strategic acquisitions.”

That will require a focus on burgeoning markets such as the Middle East, where Lewis said there is a surge in new infrastructure and development needs. The firm has averaged 20 to 25 percent growth there in recent years, thanks to projects such as the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel in Abu Dhabi and the Queen Alia International Airport in Jordan.

To meet those needs, the firm’s Middle East contingent has grown from less than 100 three years ago to more than 500 now — and Lewis projects there will be 1,000 within two years.

Hitting its targets also means focusing on growing sectors: renewable and conventional energy, water treatment, sustainable design and operations and maintenance of infrastructure, he said.

Not that doubling its revenue will be easy. Lewis said the industry is already consolidating around larger companies, so there are fewer acquisition opportunities. And the competition for talent is fierce.

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“That’s a huge challenge for us — and really the industry, in general,” he said, noting that more students are choosing business and other fields over science, engineering and planning. “It’s an ongoing battle to get the best and the brightest, and then once you get them, to keep them here.”

So it’s critical to come up with the right incentives and to become “more sensitive to fact that millennials view the world differently.” That’s one reason Louis Berger hopes to elevate corporate responsibility as a priority going forward, Lewis said.

“They’re a little less driven by the big office and the big salary,” he said. “They’re more driven by being connected to each other and their communities.”

TOP 100 PRIVATELY HELD COMPANIES: No. 1 Wakefern says ability to adapt to different needs and different times are keys to its success

Louis Berger Group
Headquarters: Morristown
Founded: 1953
Leader: Nicholas Masucci
Industry: Engineering, architecture, construction
2013 revenue: $864 million
Last year’s ranking: 7

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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