New Murray & Roberts boss points to mining future

Posted On Friday, 01 April 2011 02:00 Published by Commercial Property News
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The new CE designate of Murray & Roberts, Henry Laas, says he has no immediate solutions for the group's financial woes, he hinted that the group would target the mining sector.

Henry Laas Murray & RobertsThe new chief executive designate of troubled construction group Murray & Roberts, Henry Laas, said on Thursday that while he had no immediate solutions for the group's financial woes, he hinted that the group would target the mining sector through its Cementation Group.

"I will succeed at a difficult time for Murray & Roberts," he said, adding that although he could not offer any immediate business solutions, he would be "committed to sustainable business growth".

Laas said that Murray & Roberts would target potential growth in its business sectors, highlighting mining through its Cementation Group. "I believe that is an area where we could see some growth in the future for Murray & Roberts," he said.

Outgoing CEO Brian Bruce said: "We are finding a lot of traction in the global resources sector."

In February, the group announced that revenues in its Cementation Group increased 43% to R3.5 billion, with a 34% increase in earnings before interest and tax (ebit) to R290 million.

The new chief executive has a background in mineral resources and mining contracting. He was appointed a director of Murray & Roberts Limited and Murray & Roberts International Limited during 2007 and would be appointed as an executive director of Murray & Roberts Holdings Limited from April 1. More recently, Laas was appointed as executive chairman of the group's engineering cluster of businesses.

Laas was managing director of Murray & Roberts Cementation and its predecessor, RUC Mining Contractors, for 10 years, having joined the group in March 2001. "During this period, he significantly improved the overall performance profile of the company, strengthening its position in SA.

"He also played an instrumental role in the global expansion of the Cementation Group, which is internationally recognised as the world's leading underground mining contracting company - with operations in Africa, Australia, Asia and the America's - and has a strong track record of successful mine project delivery worldwide," the group said.

Last month, the group announced a diluted headline loss per share of 177 cents for the six months ended December 2010, from diluted headline earnings per share of 200 cents previously.

Murray & Roberts said it recorded an attributable loss of R636 million, from a profit of R576 million in the six months to December 31 2010, including exceptional items of R795 million and a loss on discontinued operations of R326 million, primarily relating to the rationalisation of the group's reinforcing steel operations and operating losses in Johnson Arabia.

For continuing operations, revenue increased by 2.5% to R15.8 billion, from R15.4 billion in 2009, with operating profit excluding exceptional items reduced by 25% to R715 million, the group said.

On the appointment of Laas, Roy Andersen, M&R's chairman, said: "We were pleased with the depth of talent we found. The board was unanimous ... I can say publically that you were the best choice... It's lovely that it's an internal appointment and it's lovely that it's a South African."

Anderson added that Laas had been tasked to come up with a business plan and strategy for the group. Laas stated that he aimed to restore the balance sheet by disposal of discontinued operations while the group also aims to "make some progress" on the resolution of claims on major projects including the Gautrain system, Eskom's Medupi and Kusile power stations and the Dubai International Airport.

Anderson confirmed that no wholesale changes to the board, apart from normal rotation, would ensue and stipulated that the retirement of Bruce and Rees was not related to on-going collusion and competition matters that plagued the industry. "The resignation of Brian Bruce has nothing to do with competition issues," he said.

The group added that it was still in the process of appointing a new financial director, following the retirement of Roger Rees. It aimed to have a new appointment in place before the end of June 31, and would adopt a similar policy in appointing Laas.

Bruce again re-iterated the recessionary environment in the construction sector in SA. "The construction industry in SA is in recession, we are seeing the consequences of that." He added however, that the group was in a long-term "cyclical up", with an expected upturn forecast for the next 6-12 months, with the aid of government infrastructure commitments.

"I can never say that we haven't made mistakes, the cause of the situation that we find ourselves in is not directly as a result of mistakes by Murray & Roberts," Bruce said.

By 4.30pm on Thursday, shares in Murray & Roberts had climbed nine cents to 26.84 cents on the JSE.

Last modified on Friday, 28 June 2013 01:38

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