SNC-Lavalin picks exec from rival firm as next CEO

Mon Aug 13, 2012 3:49pm EDT
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(Reuters) - Canadian engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc (SNC.TO: Quote) has turned to an outsider to revive fortunes that were badly dented by allegations of improper payments, naming a veteran from a competing firm as its next chief executive.

New CEO Robert Card takes over on October 1 at the Montreal-based company, whose shares are down more than 25 percent since the start of the year after a steep fall in February when it said it was probing tens of millions of dollars of mysterious payments. The stock edged lower on Monday.

Card is a long-time executive with privately-held U.S. rival CH2M Hill Cos Ltd and was chief operating officer for a CH2M joint venture that helped manage the construction of London's Olympic venues and infrastructure. He was under-secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy from 2001 to 2004.

"I think the market was expecting - and needed - someone to come in from the outside," said Canaccord Genuity analyst Yuri Lynk. "He's going to be able to take a fresh look at the company."

But Lynk said investors would not pass judgment before hearing more from Card, who was named to the job in a company news release after markets closed on Friday.

SNC, like CH2M Hill, does business all over the world, in a wide range of industries, from mass transit to mining, water management and nuclear power. Quebec-based SNC has a market capitalization north of C$5 billion, making it one of the province's biggest companies.

Card does not speak French, which could raise hackles in the French-speaking province, where language is a major political issue, and the separatist Parti Quebecois leads in opinion polls ahead of the September 4 elections.

Company spokeswoman Leslie Quinton said in a statement that Card, who will be based in Montreal, plans to learn French.

"It obviously would have been an ideal situation to find a candidate who spoke French to be the next leader of this great Quebec institution," she said. "However, at a time when the company requires strong, decisive and insightful leadership, the most important criterion was to hire the best overall candidate with significant international experience."   Continued...

Pedestrians walk past a sign for the head office of SNC Lavalin in downtown Montreal March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi