Arcadis chief: ‘We don’t like just being in the mix. We want to be a leader’

Sustainability design firm’s newly appointed Asia chief executive Matt Bennion says its global reach allows it to compete with anyone in the region

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2016, 3:00pm

Arcadis Asia’s newly appointed chief executive Matt Bennion first became passionate about building projects in the 1980s as he watched his quantity surveyor father work on Singapore’s Marina Square development.

“I can remember going on site visits with him as a child and just going, ‘wow’. And ‘how do I become a part of this?’. And that was really my inspiration – that’s where my interest was sparked.”

Bennion took over the helm of the Asia arm of design and consultancy firm Arcadis in September after two and half years based in Hong Kong, as the company’s global business line director for buildings.

He’ll be leading the 4,000 staff based in Asia, a fair chunk of the company’s 27,000 staff worldwide, though those staffing numbers are down on two years ago after a company reorganisation.

Bennion is now focussed on helping Asian economies improve their liveability through a range of projects, from consulting on event spaces such as Kowloon West Cultural District, to helping cities like Wuhan, in central China, improve their flood resistance.

He considers consulting on Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport as one of his proudest moments, and one that he hopes will encourage his three kids to get excited about the infrastructure around them.

“When my daughters are in the car, they point at it and say ‘hey Daddy, you built Terminal 5’. And there’s a little bit of me that thinks ‘hey maybe they’re a little bit inspired to come into our industry as well’.”

Q. Last year, Arcadis brought Langdon & Seah, EC Harris and inProjects under one organisation. How is the integration going?

We’ve made great progress. We’re now in a position where we’re freely able to bring the great stuff we do elsewhere in the world here to Asia. So that’s genuinely helped us win, and we’ve been successful in picking up new global frameworks by being able to connect up our global business with our regional business here. We now go to market as a single brand, Arcadis. We have a few products to finish up on the integration, but we’re very pleased with where it is.

Q. You’ve just taken over as CEO in September – what are your major goals?

We have a unique opportunity having bought the different businesses together over the last two-to-three years. We now need to show the market the differences that we bring with our international capacity and our very strong local expertise. That’s something which is already helping us win new commissions and projects.

Q. What are some stand-out projects for Arcadis over the last two years?

Our ability to bring international capability and local expertise here in Hong Kong has helped us be successful with the operations consultancy of West Kowloon Cultural District and more recently with the border crossing [with China] which is a new commission for us.

In both of those operations, we’re able to bring great local knowledge and an experience of our operational capabilities here in Hong Kong.

We layer in specialist knowledge – in this case crowd management – in some of the simulation and management around global events in West Kowloon, but also our knowledge of operating facilities, like the border crossing, from other parts of the world. Put both of those together and it creates a great outcome.

Q What upcoming Arcadis projects are you excited about?

We’ve laid out a plan which focusses on some of the emerging priorities in international investment. Unquestioningly one of those is the One Belt, One Road programme.

We’re also focusing on transportation corridors, whether that’s rail or high speed rail, that will run between Malaysia and Singapore. Those are great opportunities to bring our capabilities to bear and actually help the governments achieve their objective which is all about improving the quality of life for their citizens in Malaysia and Singapore.

We’re seeing really exciting movement now of Chinese money into foreign markets. [Arcadis is working with an Indonesian client on a building] in all likelihood that would be funded with Chinese money, developed by a Chinese contractor. The role we have there will be using the knowledge of the Indonesian market place and our knowledge of Chinese investors and contractors and bringing that together to help make that project effective.

Q. Are you concerned about Hong Kong’s rising property levels?

Longer term, the demographics point to the fact we will continue to see increasing property prices. Wherever you have scarcity of land and population growth that’s going to happen. The current levels cannot be sustained and in the medium term, I definitely see that once everyone gets used to the new norms post-Brexit, we will get a bit of stabilisation. I see some of that current speculation easing off.

Q. Would you buy a house in Hong Kong?

I might fall into the affordability gap on that one myself. Longer term, that’s obviously a sensible thing to do. It’s not an easy place to be able to do that.

Q. In terms of the Asian markets, what are Arcadis’ goals?

We don’t like just being in the mix. We want to be a leader in what we do. Our goals across Asia are really to bring about that new form of consultancy, and be recognised for that as a leader in our market. We want to be famous for helping Asian economies and governments and cities improve their livability, mobility, and urban sustainability, and also improve their resilience to issues like climate change. We don’t really differentiate between Hong Kong and China and the rest of Asia – those are objectives for Asian business. But being the leader in what we do is what we aspire to be.