Robert Uhler

The merger of Montgomery Watson (MW) of Broomfield, Colo., and Chicago-based Harza Engineering was an inspired one, according to the leadership of the two companies, blending MW's expertise and worldwide experience in environmental, water and waste management projects and Harza's equivalent worldwide experience in energy resources, particularly hydropower generation.

Its merger complete since June 2001, and now known as MWH Global, Inc., the company's revenues have jumped from $721 million in 2000, to $800 million in 2001 to an estimated $930 million for 2002, according to its CEO, Robert Uhler.

Uhler has worked for MWH for 25 years, coming up through the ranks as it accomplished some eight mergers beginning in 1992 when James M. Montgomery Engineering acquired Watson Hawksley of the U.K to become Montgomery Watson. Uhler was appointed CEO in April, 2001, taking over the reins from Murli Tolaney, now Chairman of the Board of Directors of MWH Global. When Tolaney took the job of CEO in 1992, the company had annual revenues of $200 million.

Trained as an environmental engineer, Uhler has a BS from the US Military Academy, an MS from the University of Florida and completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University's School of Business. Before being promoted to his current position, he served as president for four years of MWH Americas, a $400-million business unit with operations in North and Latin Americas. Before that, Uhler had served as chief operating officer of the company's industrial and federal operators, and director of strategy and marketing. Earlier in his career at MWH, he serviced as program manager of the Walt Disney EPCOT Living Seas Pavilion.

Uhler outlined the qualities the two separate companies brought to the merger making for some inspired synergies. He described Harza as a jobs company driven by projects, specializing in major hydro and dam projects worldwide, which it would design in its Chicago office. It would then transport personnel to oversee project construction at locations scattered around the world.

MW, on the other hand was organized by region and driven by local contacts. Water projects said Uhler, by their very nature, are sponsored and paid for by local agencies such as cities. MW found it could be successful by establishing local offices and getting plugged into communities politically. It now has 178 offices around the world which operate completely indigenously.

In recent developments in some countries, project owners want to build local skills and ask, as part of the contract, that MWH train local people. And the company can do it, Uhler said, because it has established these relationships in the local region.

Uhler noted that these synergies, together with MW's highly developed skill for managing large expensive projects, made possible the company's newest project expected to start soon in the Dominican Republic. There the company is building a water treatment plant, a dam, a hydro generation plant, power distribution grid and water distribution system.

Worldwide, the market for hydropower is stable, Uhler said, and three or four major companies compete for the business, Harza having been one. Clearly, its merger with MW will make the new company a much stronger competitor for these limited projects. Most of the major rivers in highly populated countries have already been damned and, beyond the environmental and sociological concerns, building a new dam would require relocating large numbers of people, an unlikely event in Europe or the US

For this reason, China has become MWH's newest frontier for infrastructure. It has formed an alliance with one of China's leading environmental firms, BODA and one of its largest construction firms, Beijing Urban and Rural Construction Group. The MWH-BODA Environmental Engineering Co., Ltd. now has a staff of more than 100 professionals and a charter to tackle China's large and rapidly growing market for environmental infrastructure.

Its first project was a 600-cubic-meter-per-day wastewater treatment facility built in less than six months for Intel for its new flash-memory facility in the Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone in Pudong, Shanghai.

Harza brought to the newly merged company work on a privately built hydroelectric project located in the foothills of the Cordillera Central mountain range on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. For the past four years, Harza has served as review and quality assurance engineers of record for the $1.2-billion San Roque multipurpose hydropower project which will eventually produce 345 MW of peak power , as well as flood control, water quality improvements and downstream rice irrigation. MWH is now providing off-site engineering review during the design and construction phases of the project and on-site quality assurance services.

Uhler plans to widen MWH's scope of work. Its water clients are moving into pumped storage, clearly within the capabilities Harza employees bring to the new company - now 5,500 strong.. Its clients want pumped storage capability to push water to a higher level at night when power costs are low and drop it during peak daytime hours to generate electricity.

Information technology, asset management and management consulting are other areas the company is expanding into, according to Uhler. Its utility clients want schemes that make the company more efficient, Uhler said, like automated decision-making that optimize costs. This ability is made possible with the centralized storage and use of large data collections from different departments of a large organization or a city. Designing and building data warehouses is difficult in that all assets must be combined in such a way that individual pieces of information can be pulled out when needed.

"A lot of things we do are (in the area of) emergency management," Uhler said, noting that since September 11 work in this area has been expanding.