Women In Construction


June 2018
Working in this industry gives immense satisfaction as you are working towards nation-building, says Shefali Saxena, COO for Asia, Louis Berger

"Multitasking" doesn't even begin to describe it! In her current role as COO at Louis Berger, Shefali Saxena provides strategic, operational and financial support to the company's Asia team. She reviews the multiple projects the company executes across Asia from the commercial, financial and profitability perspective, to identify issues that need to be addressed immediately.

Additionally, she offers support to finance, human resources, IT, contracts, legal, administration, PR and compliance. Saxena also ensures operational efficiency, profitability, cash flow and effective support services to the company's business. She elaborates more on her role and the company's growth plans in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.

After you took over as COO for Asia, the company's business in the continent has been booming. What do you consider your achievements in this direction?

I would definitely say teamwork is what led to this growth and success. This has only been possible because of our hardworking team, led by the business development and talent acquisition teams through their efforts on proposals and the technical and project teams through their successful delivery of ongoing projects. Also, there has been constant support from the management, finance and other teams.

Over the past couple of years, we have augmented our team to keep pace with the significant growth witnessed in India's infrastructure sector and take charge of the various facets of business we wanted to grow further. We also spearheaded major systems overhauls, policy implementations and shifts in business management processes that have turned around the fortunes of Louis Berger in Asia.

We believe India ranks among the company's fastest growing markets globally.
Yes, India is indeed one of the company's fastest growing markets globally. The majority of new projects won by Louis Berger in Asia, in 2017, were in India. We have won projects in a variety of sectors, including bridges and tunnels, highways and roads, public transportation systems, aviation, and smart cities. 

Tell us about the company's landmark projects in India along with services offered.
We are currently working on some of the major infrastructure projects. We are proud to act as the independent engineer for the Hyderabad Metro project, a section of which was inaugurated in November 2017; general consultant for the 33-km underground Mumbai Metro Line 3; Navi Mumbai Metro expected to be completed in 2019; the Bhopal and Indore Metro and the 33-km elevated Mumbai Metro Line 4 for which we are providing general consultancy services.

We are also working on two major contracts on NHAI's Bharatmala programme and the Versova-Bandra Sea Link, which is a 10-km extension of the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. We are providing project management services for the new alignment of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway in the Western Ghats section that includes a 10-km long tunnel and a cable-stayed bridge. We also are involved in Pathanamthitta Airport and several smart city programmes. 
Additionally, we have worked on Mumbai Metro Line 1, Navi Mumbai Airport, Mopa Airport in Goa, while we have also been involved in the detailed design for the Chenani-Nashri tunnel in Jammu & Kashmir, which was inaugurated last year.

In which segment do you see maximum growth?
Every infrastructure sector is witnessing unprecedented growth in India. We see our best opportunities in metro rail projects as several cities plan to move forward with their respective metro rail programmes, smart cities programme, and highway and expressway expansion programme. We are also tracking the government's Sagarmala programme to bring our global ports and marine works experience to India. In addition, we are also looking for opportunities in Southeast Asia, where several infrastructure programmes have been launched. Present in India since 1995, we at Louis Berger are upbeat about the infrastructure sector across Asia and look forward to participating in nation building. 

From a growth perspective, what are your plans for Louis Berger?
Our mission is to deliver world-class, high-quality projects within the recommended timeline and budget. With our leading talent and experience in multiple sectors in India, we believe we can meet the challenges of new and next-generation projects and continue finding ''solutions for a better world''. At Louis Berger, we also look to hire the best talent and develop them in-house with comprehensive training. In 2016, our project management office organised and implemented the company's global Manager Training programme. As of today, our programme participation has grown to include more than 500 project managers around the world.

How does it feel being in a business leadership role today, especially in a male-dominated business?
Having more women in leadership roles has changed the corporate landscape, especially in a male-dominated business. That said, leadership always comes with a lot of responsibility. My role does give me a sense of achievement and satisfaction. It also encourages me to empower and mentor other women on my team. Louis Berger constantly strives to bring gender diversity to every step of progress in the organisation. Female leaders in our company serve as a support system, enabling other women to discuss challenges and seek advice.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?
It is important to have a work-life balance because one has to give adequate time not only to their work but also to their family; it gives you a sense of fulfilment and happiness. I also love to travel, read, exercise and watch movies, and I take time to indulge in these hobbies whenever I can.

Speaking from your experience and growth trajectory, what would you say to women in this industry?
Compared to other industries, there are fewer women working in the construction industry. However, working in this industry gives you immense satisfaction as you are working towards nation building. I would encourage women to always guide and support each other. I believe it is important for women in leadership positions to mentor other women to encourage them to be confident in their capabilities.

Over the years, Louis Berger has focused on creating a culture in which all women within the company are able to achieve career satisfaction. In 2013, the company established Women@Louis Berger (WLB), an employee-led initiative that provides guidance and support for women throughout the organisation. The committee has been providing additional support and organising summits for women within the company. In addition to gender diversity, racial diversity is another priority for us. Louis Berger has taken that step and started Inclusion@Louis Berger. Through this programme, we empower all employees to succeed and contribute to business success by building an open, inclusive and equitable culture.

Is there any update on the company you would like to share on a concluding note?
We recently secured a few major projects in India. As a company, we look forward to continued growth in India and Asia, completing our existing projects, and getting involved in new projects.