KBR – A Win-Win Partnership

We learn how KBR has forged an innovative partnership that is more than the sum of its parts.

KBR is a company with a diverse offering in two business segments; Government and Technology Solutions. KBR provides high-end engineering, science and technology solutions and support to governments and companies worldwide.

“The Technology Solutions business at KBR deals in high-end engineering services, technologies and digitalisation solutions supplied to the fertiliser, refining, chemicals and inorganics sectors, as well as to the energy and industrial sectors. We have developed intellectual property and patents, internally and with our partners, to offer more than 70 technologies to the industry. We are leveraging our expertise to help our clients optimize the ongoing operation of their facilities using digital tools such as AI to support reliability-based maintenance.”

“Our Government Solutions business provides engineering and mission support for clients such as NASA, the U.S. Department of Defence, and the U.K. Ministry of Defence. This business is growing and we just acquired another company called Centauri that provides high-level, sometimes-classified services and research,” explains Doug Kelly, the company’s President for Technology.

“We also provide consulting and advisory services to governments and companies for developing their renewable energy transition strategies,” Kelly tells us. “We deal with issues such as how to move from a hydrocarbon intensive industry into sustainable technologies like green ammonia. We’re really on the forefront.”

To drive these sectors, KBR depends on having a deep pool of talent to draw from. Fortunately, its team contains some genuine leaders in the field.

“Our people and their experience base are truly differentiated,” Kelly says. “We have people recognised as leaders not just within KBR but the industry as a whole. We also differentiate ourselves by using our abilities, experiences and technologies to provide solutions rather than products for our clients. We have technological know-how and experience to address the challenges our customers face from environmental regulations or sustainability initiatives.”

A Ground-Breaking Partnership

While KBR has a stable of world-leading talent and expertise, it appreciates the ways collaboration can unlock even greater value. This is why the company has recently inked a deal with Johnson Matthey to license a ground-breaking ammonia-methanol co-production process.

“I’ve been with KBR eleven years now and this alliance has brought in more interest than any other alliance in my KBR experience,” Kelly says.

The foundation of the cooperation is based on one of KBR’s key competencies, their know-how around ammonia technology.

“One of the market-leading technologies that has been with KBR since the beginning is our ammonia technology, which is used predominantly to generate fertilisers. It’s part of the food supply chain,” Kelly explains. “Then you’ve got a company, Johnson Matthey, who similarly is a market leader in methanol technology.”

These two powerful knowledge-bases have come together to provide flexible solutions in response to a growing industry need.

“Flexibility is one of the keywords clients are talking to us about with uncertainty at an all-time high,” Kelly says. “Clients want to adjust their operations efficiently to respond to market dynamics, and an idea our team had was to take this opportunity to put together our best-in-class ammonia technology with Johnson Matthey’s best-in-class methanol technology.”

KBR and Johnson Matthey put their experts in a room together, metaphorically, obviously, under current restrictions, to create a flow sheet letting users produce more or less ammonia or methanol depending on the market.

“There are cross-synergies so it’s an integrated flow-sheet that allows us to have a reduced capital cost,” describes Kelly. “Not only is it flexible but it’s cheaper than building a stand-alone ammonia plant and a stand-alone methanol plant.”

The key to the partnership, Kelly tells us, was mutual benefit.

“In my experience partnerships work best if you walk before you run, but we’ve worked very synergistically together on early opportunities and there are other potential projects that have developed since then,” Kelly tells us. “It’s two market-leading technologies brought together in an innovative way. I’ve seen potential alliances that haven’t worked well because one party or the other couldn’t get along, or the business case was stronger for one side or the other. I would say that the challenge was to come up with an agreement with enough business case drivers and skin in the game for both sides so that it was an interesting business for both companies. We feel there’s a lot of enthusiasm and support in management and at the working level across the board.”

Going Where the Talent Is

The talent KBR brings to the table is the result of careful recruitment processes. The company tends to recruit candidates with extensive experience through other companies that do similar work or that utilize the solutions KBR deploys. It also means being able to look further afield for the skills and knowledge that they need.

“India’s a key part of our strategy. When I first came to KBR, we had a very little footprint in India and now we are doing whole projects there,” Kelly points out. “We’re recruiting on a global basis because we’re a global business.”

As Kelly explains, KBR’s policy is to go to the talent, rather than force the talent to come to them.

“In India alone, we have three centres. We found there’s a certain type of engineer with a certain skill set for heritage process technology that is easy to find in Delhi, so we have an office there,” Kelly says. “People with skills in digitalisation and digital tool development are mainly found in Mumbai, and detailed engineering-type skills are generally found in Chennai. We haven’t forced one location to provide all the skills we need. Instead, we open offices near a critical mass of the skills we need. Our main offices are in Houston and London, and then we have satellite offices to handle local culture and language. We have offices in Korea, China, and Russia that focus on all our technologies, with the skills necessary to support each region. Additionally, we have engineering centers in Singapore, Azerbaijan, and Middle East. We go with the talent.”

Looking to the future, Kelly believes KBR will take this concept still further. He says, “We’re reimagining the future workplace. Traditionally we require people to work in one of our centres but if you’ve got the right person with the right skill set we can allow a lot more flexibility to bring that talent in. We’re investing in diversity and the inclusion of people with the right skill sets and abilities to deliver the best solutions possible wherever they are in the world.”

The first rule of recruitment remains the same, however. If you want the best talent to work for you, be the company that the best talent wants to work for.

“KBR is an exciting place to work. Our CEO, Stuart Bradie, has done a great job of leading us through the challenges of 2020. From a financial standpoint, we’re continuing to grow and the growth potential for KBR is incredible as we look at strategic partnerships and acquisitions,” Kelly says. “I love to learn and the number of people here who are experts in their field at KBR is exceptional. Working at KBR is exciting and rewarding for me personally and I have the pleasure of leading a team of excellent people!”

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