Norman Anderson Interview

“Hello, this is Norm.” Sometimes it is an advantage to catch a busy man at full flight. Norman Anderson is President and CEO of CG-LA Infrastructure and I finally caught up with him in the transit lounge of Tunis Airport – he claims not to be affected by jet-lag but the last seven days or so had seen him in Manila, Tokyo, Rome, London and Dubai. But he is not a man who needs to think too hard about the message he lives – and travels – to proclaim.

CG/LA Infrastructure Inc is an almost 30 year old firm dedicated to building global competitiveness and opportunity through infrastructure project creation. It does this for businesses, private investors and public policy professionals in the USA, South America and the growing markets of Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Hence Norman's intense itinerary! Anderson focuses on infrastructure project creation, aimed at increasing the level of infrastructure investment, and the performance of existing infrastructure stocks, in developed and developing countries alike. “The real focus” he explains, “is dramatically improving the level of investment in infrastructure and the quality of that investment. Our goal is to help grow economies, create jobs and help countries become increasingly competitive.”

The problem that has to be solved is that global investment in infrastructure is around half of what it needs to be, he says. “We try to address that issue by focusing on projects. Our mission is to support the doubling of global infrastructure investment by 2020 and derive the maximum benefit from that investment.” He describes his organisation's business model as 'reverse engineered', discarding traditional thinking, in which funds are generated and projects conceived at government level and designed in back rooms. The real life participants and paymasters of the project namely the people whose life it affects, may be consulted late in the process if at all. That is what needs to be reverse engineered. The people who fund the projects need to be brought into the process, early and enthusiastically.

One of the most effective ways CG-LA has addressed this problem is through its Global Infrastructure Leadership forums. This year's, in New York from February 26 to 28, is the seventh, and it is rooted in real business experience and a fundamental commitment to creating a market place that catalyses opportunities in infrastructure. “When we talk about the Strategic Infrastructure Leadership Forum,” he explains, “there are a couple of key words we fill with a different meaning than other people might. One of them is strategic infrastructure. The idea is that you have an asset that you invest in now and it is supposed to be optimum, or useful for 30 to 40 years. It is strategic in the sense that it is critical for the country's development. Strategic infrastructure is critical investment for a country: there is no more important investment apart from your education investment.” The concept of infrastructure as 'public works' projects no longer has any relevance, he believes, since the rapid pace of globalisation means that you have to think in 20-30 year terms.

The Forum focuses on real projects moving forward in the next 3 to 18 months, and it draws together project developers, C-Level executives, public officials and other infrastructure leaders. With public and private meetings and over 40 project presentations by sponsors from all over the world it presents a unique opportunity for business development, project financing and benchmarking. The Project of the Year awards are a particular draw for project leaders.

The Project of the Year awards recognise performance in five categories – strategy; job creation; green infrastructure, finance; and engineering. Last year observant readers will recall our feature on the Hyderabad Metro when we recorded its managers' delight at being named Engineering Project of the Year.

Which brings us neatly to the second concept that Anderson fills with a new meaning – leadership. The forum celebrates leadership for a reason. “The leadership part of this is absolutely critical. We think the people who actually develop and build these projects are magicians, and they deserve a lot more recognition than they get – that is why we are bringing together the top 100 projects to help them build communities of experts. These are the individuals and teams who can make the project happen – and the next project as well, since it is the network of optimised projects that creates sustained growth, competitiveness and opportunity! This is why I am travelling around the globe meeting people and getting them revved up about what they are doing. We see these guys as stars on the global stage but they don't necessarily see themselves that way, because it is just part of their daily lives.” While great project managers are recognised in the project development community and to some extent among investors, they are too often unknown to the people who use the facilities they create, and that is a matter for regret, he thinks.

That might not be the case if the users were better involved in the development process, and consulted at the pre-design stage. If this does not happen, pushback gets out of control. Value for money becomes increasingly important as the element of private investment, and with it the element of users paying fees either directly through tolling or indirectly through peripheral commercial development. “Users need to be engaged earlier in the design part of the project. If you don't do that and take the venom out of the problems early on, then you will be dealing with a PR storm that never stops!” he says. “ I would like to get people to think in a much more sophisticated way about how you include this new fundamental participant, the user who actually pays for this stuff, in your equation when thinking about the project.”

When assessing a project, the headline investment figure tells only the start of the story. The challenge is to draw together the many strands, not just the technical, using adaptive leadership, a concept we needn't try to define here but of which Leonard Wong has said: “Adaptive leaders learn to live with unpredictability. They spend less time fretting about the inability to establish a routine or control the future and focus more on exploiting opportunities.” As Anderson puts it: “There are so many things on the soft side that make infrastructure projects happen. It is never just a technical solution these days.”

Job creation over the life of a project is a key indicator of success, though even here it is not necessarily all about the numbers – even a small project can make a big difference to people's lives and even to the economy of a country. Then there's carbon efficiency, an essential ingredient these days, he says, on which attention is intensely focused by the IDB awards: “For example if they are burning diesel fuel to generate electricity in a Central American country and someone comes up with a smart way to get natural gas to them, that is a big deal.”

Other concepts that fire him up include opportunity creation and the ideal of creating 'liveable cities' where the space is created for entrepreneurs to thrive, and idea that was right at the heart of the Hyderabad project. And when it comes to working out the lifetime value of a project, he was incensed by the idea that the internal rate of return (IRR) so conveniently seized upon by economists, could be trotted out so glibly. “You do have to have that but it is about ten percent of what you should be looking at in terms of the value creation of a project!”

The thing that really gets me up on the morning about infrastructure is the full combination of things – the generosity of people building projects, the intellectual complexity of putting all of the pieces together, the fact that it is truly one generation’s gift to the next generation, and the fundamental fact that if we do it right everyone’s lives are better!

There was a lot more to say, but his flight was called and Norman Anderson had to head off to his next destination. But no doubt we will catch up with him again in a week or so in New York, when we will be looking at some of the companies presenting at the Forum and honouring the award winners.

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