Shefali Saxena, Louis Berger’s COO for Asia
Shefali Saxena, Louis Berger’s COO for Asia, in conversation with Maria R, discusses the challenges faced by women in the male-dominated construction industry, the company’s India operations, current order book, expansion plans and growth strategy.

How has been your journey of over 20 years in business and financial management, and what fascinated you in the construction industry, which has traditionally been male-dominated segment?

From the beginning of my career, I have had hands-on and challenging experiences in different facets of business and financial management. Operating in various functions, different companies and different cities, has made my work exhilarating and has given me the opportunity to learn and grow professionally. I have seen business evolve over time. I started my career at a time when there were not as many women in the corporate world. However, today, it is heartening to see more women in the corporate world as well as in leadership roles. That said, I believe we still have miles to go.

It is rewarding to see how our work contributes to the country’s infrastructure development and how it impacts people’s everyday lives. It gives me a sense of fulfillment as our company finds Solutions for a better world.

What are the challenges woman face in the engineering and construction industry, and what should be done to encourage more women into this sector?

The participation of women in the construction industry has been minimal, both in the onsite unskilled workforce and in managerial and leadership positions. Some of the major hardships faced by onsite women workforce are gender discrimination and inequality. Women in managerial positions are normally reluctant to work at locations far from their family.

Diversity is key to a company’s success. Companies with a greater diverse workforce perform better. Women bring a different perspective to projects and have a positive impact on them. Companies appreciate women’s contribution, but are not doing enough to bridge the gender gap.

In order to encourage more women to join the engineering and construction industry, companies need to actively recruit women and create programs that allow them to have a voice within the company. As for women in the leadership roles, they should mentor other women to inspire and encourage them to be confident in their capabilities.

If companies are serious about diversity and hiring talented women, then they need to take real, actionable steps. Louis Berger has taken that step through programs like Louis Berger Inclusion and Women at Louis Berger. The inclusion program empowers all employees to succeed and contribute to business success by building an open, inclusive and equitable culture. Our company is proactively taking steps to bring in more women in both technical and management roles.

How has your experience been working with Louis Berger?

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a company like Louis Berger that encourages strong gender equality, diversity and women empowerment. Louis Berger ramped up its efforts in 2013 when it established Women at Louis Berger, an employee-led initiative that provides guidance and support for women at Louis Berger. This grassroots committee brings together women and men to improve employee engagement to support women’s empowerment and greater diversity. The committee organizes various summits every year providing a great opportunity for women to network across the globe.
"In order to encourage more women to join the engineering and construction industry, companies need to actively recruit women and create programs that allow them to have a voice within the company."

What is your company’s current agenda?

The current infrastructure scenario in India is encouraging and upbeat. The central government has put a lot of emphasis on the infrastructure sector. We are also strengthening our commitment to the country’s development goals and actively seeking new opportunities to contribute to India’s strategic growth. Our company has all the necessary credentials and qualifications needed to bid on, win and execute various projects.

Additionally, Louis Berger intends to exceed client expectations through our execution of projects to the highest quality and professional standards. We plan to continue to increase our portfolio in the metro rail, highway, aviation and Smart Cities sectors.

What has been the tipping point for Louis Berger in India?

Louis Berger Bridge
“Our team worked tirelessly to generate new business and to execute & deliver the projects, infusing innovative ideas and technologies. We worked hard to finds Solutions for a Better World. As a result, we have had a phenomenal increase in the order book across various sectors of the industry.”
Louis Berger is participating in the country’s infrastructure growth story and is investing in its people. Over the years, we have increased our team of experts and built our design capabilities. We are also spearheading major system overhauls and policy implementations. Our team has worked tirelessly to generate the new business and then to execute and deliver the projects, infusing new ideas and technologies. As a result, we have had a phenomenal increase in the order book across various sectors of the industry. We are also fortunate to have the support of our clients across the country.

Besides our focus on business growth, the external business environment has also helped. The Central government is pushing for more infrastructure projects across sectors. We’re happy to take part in the infrastructure industry growth and participate in nation building.

Which important industrial sectors are being served by the company and its areas of expertise? Please tell us about a challenging project executed by Louis Berger in India.

Louis Berger, established in the United States in 1953, is a top-ranked global engineering and professional services corporation operating in six continents. In India, the company has been working with clients to solve their most complex infrastructure and development challenges for more than 20 years. With approximately 650 employees in the country, Louis Berger has a broad range of expertise across a wide range of sectors, including bridges and tunnels, highways and roads, rail and transit, aviation and Smart Cities.

The company has been supporting infrastructure development of several of the largest transit system expansion and Smart Cities in India. One of the most challenging projects was the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel – India’s longest road tunnel. Louis Berger, in a joint venture with LRP Consultants, was selected by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) in 2004, to prepare a feasibility study, a detailed project report (DPR) and engineering designs for four-laning the Udhampur to Banihal section of NH 1A, now part of NH 44. The 9-km Chenani-Nashri tunnel replaced the 41-km mountain road.

What about your current order book and the important projects in hand?

Over the last year, our company has won several key projects in India. We are working on projects across a wide range of sectors, including bridges and tunnels, highways and roads, metros, aviation and Smart Cities across the country. Some of the key infrastructure projects that we are working on, or have recently won, are Versova-Bandra Sea Link, Mumbai Metro Line 4, Bhopal-Indore Metro and Mumbai-Pune Expressway Augmentation.

Where do you see more stability in the order book: civil engineering, project management or construction services?

Louis Berger’s core services include feasibility studies, concept designs, detail designs, tender documents for construction, project management, construction management and operations and maintenance management. We are seeing an increase in the order book across all aspects, especially design and project management and construction management services.
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