When Samir Brikho comes on board, few doubt that the group will be demerged

The appointment of Samir Brikho as chief executive of Amec means that no doubt remains: construction’s biggest group will split up by early 2007.

For nearly a year Amec has toyed with the idea of demerging into contracting and energy businesses, but has maintained the line that this is one of several options available to turn the group around after a jittery 2005. Others have included retaining the companies but running them as separate entities, and selling off smaller bits of the group.

But last month’s announcement that the 48-year-old Swede is to succeed Sir Peter Mason as chief executive from 1 October cracks that facade. Jock Green-Armytage, Amec’s chairman, has given Brikho until the end of the year to work out the details.

As one Amec insider says: “A demerger is the base case, but this guy has got to deliver it, so it’s only right that it’s his decision.”

In reality, the board has made the decision itself by unanimously agreeing to Brikho’s appointment. The Amec brand has always been set to remain with the more successful energy business if a break-up occurred, and would be the more highly valued of the two companies. And Amec has looked outside of the construction industry for its boss, with Brikho joining from Swiss energy group ABB.

One eagle-eyed construction analyst wryly smiles: “The break-up is now inevitable, he won’t want to keep construction. I can’t see an energy man turning around and keeping a construction business that is dragging back the price–earnings ratio.”

As a result the construction business, which made a pre-tax loss of £58m in last week’s interim figures, will be spun off and left to fend for itself.

Brikho’s language suggests a man with little time for businesses that might hurt his targets

Although most agree that this will be Brikho’s strategy, he is not a particularly well-known man.

Many energy and capital goods analysts have not met him because he has never sat on ABB’s board: “We weren’t given any access to him,” moans one.

However, he is a significant figure, having turned around the group’s oil and gas processes business, ABB Lummus Global.

Having taken orders for projects at the wrong prices, Lummus once posted a loss of $400m, but was $49m in profit last year. Brikho, who took over the business in 2003, takes much of the credit here and was rewarded at the start of this year with a promotion to head up ABB’s $5bn power systems business.

In a rare public foray at an analysts’ conference call in February, Brikho’s language suggested that he was a focused, direct man with little time for businesses that might hurt his targets. Asked about Lummus’ strategy, Brikho replied: “Good market. Good strategy. Good portfolio and we continue. Execution.”

One of the analysts on that conference call, James Stettler of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says that Brikho “is clearly very well liked” at ABB. The way that more senior figures occasionally deferred to Brikho on the call is evidence of that, as is the fact that Brikho, who first joined ABB in 1983, was poached back in 2003 after a four-year hiatus with French transport and energy infrastructure group Alstom.

Stettler also points out that Brikho achieved success at Lummus by reducing the size of the firm. With experience of energy and reducing the scale of a business, he sounds like the perfect choice to cut Amec in two.