Aecom constructs a better building from the ground up

Kelly Dawson
April 10, 2018
15 min read
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

Aecom is part of our Renewable Energy portfolio.

  • Aecom is responsible for One World Trade Center in New York City, Taizhou Bridge in Eastern China, and the stadiums for the 2016 Rio Olympics
  • They employ 87,000 people in 150 countries and partner with clients on the design, engineering, construction, and overall management of sustainable architecture
  • Aecom has a market cap of $6 billion, and saw its 2017 revenue surpass $18 billion

We’re often told that the world has gotten smaller — so small, in fact, that it fits into our pockets. We crane our necks to pass endless minutes staring into handheld screens, illuminations that can answer our every whim and entertain our every interest with the flick of our thumbs. And yet, as much as our attentions are tied to the tech in our palms, there is another form of revolutionizing technology that perennially continues to pique our interest: architecture.

Whether we admire the ancients for their ingenuities in Italy and China, or we marvel at the modern skyscrapers in New York City and London, our eyes are still drawn up and into the distance for the beauty that can be found in building. It’s work that unites generations, depends on longstanding trades, and will always require one thing that’s at the helm of every groundbreaking premise: creative drive.

A company that continues to be a force in our smaller, globalized world is Aecom. This Fortune 500 entity, which is based in Los Angeles, is the backbone behind some of the most buzzed-about structures in the last few years: One World Trade Center in New York City, Taizhou Bridge in Eastern China, and the stadiums for the 2016 Rio Olympics are just a few. All of these projects have made it into our palms, too — just scroll through the Instagram hashtag #oneworldtradecenter.

Aecom’s network of 87,000 employees in 150 countries partners with clients on the design, engineering, construction, and overall management of a range of projects, from high-rises and suspension bridges to train stations and sports stadiums. Its reach touches almost every aspect of today’s world and has had a lasting impact on how society defines its surroundings. If you’d like to think about that influence by the numbers, consider this: Aecom has a market capitalization of $6 billion, and saw its 2017 revenue surpass $18 billion.

In other words, its full-cycle system has the means, manpower, and ingenuity to shape the future as we see it.

Building blocks

Although Aecom can stretch its history back to the early 20th century, a golden age of early skyscraper construction, that’s only because its name rises from a number of strategic acquisitions. The company derives from Ashland Oil and Refining Company, another acquired brand whose origins provide that turn-of-the-century foundation.

The consolidations in Aecom’s past are like the scaffolding that gives way to a future monolith. After nearly a century of different oil-industry endeavors, Ashland bought Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall (DMJM) in 1984 as a way to break into transportation engineering. But a few years later, Ashland chose to focus on petroleum refining exclusively. An employee buy-back proposal brought about Aecom in 1990, and five Ashland subsidiaries were reorganized under its umbrella.

After that initial shake up, Aecom went on to live up to its name — which stands for architecture, engineering, consulting, operations, and maintenance, by the way — by spending its first few years building a brand. It obtained design, planning, and engineering firms known for their prowess in urban construction, sustainability, and forward thinking, and amassed 50 different names by the time it went public in 2007.

Now, more than a decade later, Aecom is a defining name in its industry for the array of projects it undertakes and the number of industries it participates in. Its global work links commercial and residential properties to educational and governmental buildings, just as hospitals and research laboratories share a common point with manufacturing, automotive, and agricultural sites. Hotels, museums, and stadiums are part of Aecom’s portfolio, too. Heck, even the things used to get to these places — tunnels, expressways, and open spaces — have been worked on by the company.

Aecom’s network of public and private creations stretches from America to Europe to Asia and beyond. It notes that it has partnered with projects on every continent, and some of that doesn’t even include the shelter and transportation of humans: Aecom has also had a hand in waterworks, too. It’s been so busy, in fact, that CEO Michael Burke reported that the company quadrupled its revenues and tripled its employee roster in the decade since it went public.

Where does a company that has such visibility and success go from here? After all, its four-tiered strategy of operations — design, build, finance, and operate — has made it a builder of icons, a major real estate and infrastructure investor, as well as a primary contact for global government projects that span from defense and security to environmentalism and development.

Well, the answer is straightforward, given those complexities. The next step may just be as simple as not fixing what isn’t broken.

On the road again

Aecom’s interests are vast, and the issues facing them are urgent. The world has gotten smaller, of course, but it also has gotten a larger population — and those people need shelter. The agricultural industry needs new avenues to feed this population surge in the midst of an altering climate, and the infrastructure that does exist needs repair. And that’s just the beginning: Everyone involved in the building process, especially governments, have to be on board for innovations.

Sometimes, Aecom has found, architecture may be up against too many challenges at once. And time isn’t necessarily on its side. “Amid the impacts posed by urbanization, climate change and the dizzying pace of technological advances, merely narrowing the infrastructure gap can no longer be a baseline goal for our industry, our clients, and governments,” Burke said in the company’s report on the Future of Infrastructure. “What’s needed is a giant leap forward — focusing the smartest minds, training and deploying more skilled workers, and leveraging new digital tools to deliver a better future through infrastructure.

The report focuses on how like-minded peers in the industry feel about the current state of their field and its future. The responses are clear: industry leaders are concerned about financing and security, as well as what can be done to push for new solutions in transportation, shelter, and public works.

So, Aecom has been working to address those problems. It’s proposed a new way of financing infrastructure in the U.S. through a few modern ideas (public-private and regional partnerships, for instance), it’s promoting young engineers, and it’s investing in the future of public works (like the Hyperloop). It is also providing assistance to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, which looks to develop action plans around some of the world’s most alarming issues, such as insufficient transit and crime.

Just as the Empire State Building or the continental freeways spoke to the power of architecture and infrastructure in their time, today’s society is forming icons around its own design considerations. These solutions have to include fixes for larger problems. But they will also embody the power that building has always had, and the passion that’s clear in Aecom’s mission: When we create works that give form to our collective imaginations, we can always find satisfaction in looking up and beyond.

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