Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with Uwe Krueger, CEO of Atkins, from the World Economic Forum 2017 with Steve Sedgwick and Geoff Cutmore.
SS: Right, President Elect Trump has promised to ramp up infrastructure spending, we might have mentioned that once or twice in the last month or so, in the United States. He's advocated what he describes as America's Infrastructure First Policy, to support investments in transportation, clean water and electric. I'm delighted to welcome to the show Uwe Krueger, who is the CEO of Atkins, and Uwe, you've been very patient, I know you've been waiting in our green room for quite a while, so thank you for that, as well.
SS: Right, around about 20% of your business is in the United States. Are you excited about what Mr. Trump can offer, or do you want to be just a little bit more cautious about it?
UK: Well, clearly, I mean, this increase of infrastructure spend is badly needed in the US. We all see the deplorable nature and status of infrastructure, be it roads or be it rail or be it airports, so clearly I welcome that, but I also caution. Nothing is going to happen overnight, and so we see a gradual increase of this infrastructure spend. We also see ballot-based initiatives in states which is very concrete, that's happening much faster now. In Los Angeles, in California and elsewhere, where people voted for an incremental increase of taxes in order to fund concrete projects in infrastructure, so I think there is an emerging consensus that that is needed, and I welcome that very much.
SS: That's an amazing line, 'The deplorable nature of the infrastructure in the United States,' your words, and-, but how much of this can be changed by a federal diktat? We have a federal system in the United States where we have the states who actually control a vast amount of the spending, and the decisions to up infrastructure. I mean, for instance, in New York, it's the Ports Authority, as well, are heavily involved, as well. So how much has the federal government got to do, or can it do, to improve the state that you mentioned, which is in a deplorable situation?
UK: Look, let's prepare to be positively surprised here. I think what we are going to see, I think, today, what I would expect is the formation of an infrastructure taskforce with very good people, lots of experience here. How you specifically can match federal funds and state funds with more private money in order to fund infrastructure. So the, kind of, again, increase of PPP spend for roads, and for public infrastructure, that will be key to get that going. We will have to see a more harmonized, kind of, legislation across the states, in order to enable more public money, private money to pour in, and all that, I think, is going to happen over the next 100 days. We will see this plan emerging, and that's all positive news, I believe.
GC: Can I ask you about your business and the energy price? We've had a number of CEOs up here who work around the energy services operations, who've said, '2017, year of transition, the problem is a lot of the big energy companies are just holding back investment. If anything they're cutting investment still.' When do you think that comes back on tap, and how critical is that going to be for your business?
UK: Geoffrey, all concentrating on oil and gas at the moment, with regard to those questions, but let's keep in mind-,
GC: I said the energy price, I didn't say oil and gas.
UK: Yes, that's fine, but energy is a broader picture. We talk about renewable, we talk about lots of investment into offshore wind, at the moment, across the planet, and of course there is nuclear as well, as a major topic where we see new build initiatives, not only in the UK but elsewhere, emerging. So I think in general, with the light at the end of the tunnel on oil and gas at the moment, with the increase, step by step increase over that, that unleashes more investments and we see that already happening but in these other energy areas, we see a much stronger momentum building, and that's also good news, both for consumers with regard to more competitive pricing on the energy side, but clearly also for investment, that is-,
SS: Very quickly-,
GC: I just wanted to come back on that-, the windmills, and the renewable and so on, because the other part of Donald Trump's platform, as we know, has been to promote carbon based fuel sources, and talk down the Paris Accord. Any nagging doubt in your head, that some of those projects in the United States will get rolled back over the next four years?
UK: Well, I don't think so. I think we will have a broad energy mix also emerging in the US, as kind of a mainstream development, but more importantly, we have a fundamental consensus on a worldwide basis that that needs to be the case. You saw the Chinese president here in Davos advocating that very much, and so I am confident that that will be the mainstream thought.
SS: And Uwe, we didn't even get a chance to ask you about Brexit, but we'll do that next time, hopefully in a slightly warmer environment, but again, lovely to see you today, have a good rest of Davos.
UK: Thank you very much.
SS: Right, Uwe Krueger, who is the CEO of Atkins.