KBR is the modern-minded business delivering solutions for tomorrow’s problems, today. President and CEO Stuart Bradie explores maintaining an agile, people-centric culture as the company pursues an upmarket trajectory
“The things that we do are hugely uplifting, and the main reason for that is that our people do things that matter.”
From its multi-billion-dollar business working with supporting NASA on the International Space Station, to creating a plastics circular economy with a revolutionary recycling technology, KBR is at the forefront of innovation, delivering solutions for the advancement of modern society.
KBR is truly a global enterprise, with approximately 29,000 employees around the world , an operational presence in 40 countries — particularly in the US, UK and Australia — and customers in more than 80 countries.
KBR’s diverse client portfolio ranges from high-profile companies to national governments around the world.
Over the years, KBR has accrued an impressive number of accolades and industry firsts that has earned it a well-deserved reputation as a world-class provider of differentiated solutions and technology.
KBR specializes in delivering leading-edge science, technology and engineering solutions, as well as value-added services and long-term operations and maintenance services, within the government, industrial and energy sectors – a significant departure from the company’s early roots in construction after its founding by the Brown brothers in Texas more than a century ago.
“Standalone construction became highly competitive, and the margins were reduced. So, despite 100 years of heritage, we exited that business.
“That was quite emotional for a lot of people, especially in Houston, but that was the right move for us and proves how we are able to react,” explains Stuart Bradie, President and CEO at KBR.
This ability to pivot and navigate a changing market captures the essence of agility and innovation that defines the organization today. Indeed, the shift to services within science, technology and engineering was entirely borne out of a long-term strategic vision and pioneered by Bradie after he embarked on his tenure as President and CEO in 2014.
“It’s important that we learn from our past, but we must trade on our future. Constant change is the new normal and it’s vitally important that our culture allows us to be adaptive and agile,” Bradie tells us.
“You can’t have innovation if you can’t be adaptive, and you can’t be adaptive if you don’t employ the right people,” he continues.
IT BEGINS WITH PEOPLE
KBR first came up on Bradie’s radar while at his previous position as head of global operations at a company with whom KBR had undertaken a number of joint ventures.
“KBR was a very well-respected brand that opened a lot of doors. The capability of the people that I met there was terrific and very impressive,” he says.
However, Bradie recognized that KBR’s “people potential” was yet to be fully unleashed and, consequently, he saw an exciting opportunity for transformation with a rejuvenated company culture at the fore.
“Over the past six years, the focus on people and changing our culture, which I began on day one in truly making KBR an exciting place to work, continues to this day.”
KBR employs a “Team of Teams” methodology, whereby a safe environment is created in which inclusive and diverse opinions are heard and valued, without fear of reprehension from those in senior positions.
“This means that you get the real voice of the organization coming through in a very constructive way, resulting in more good decisions than bad. We embrace that as a culture,” he tells us.
Bradie’s desire is that, by creating such an attractive work environment, KBR will become a true “talent magnet.” Not only does this strategy help create an empowered workforce, but it also has the additional benefit of establishing shareholder value.
KBR’s successes and numbers are testament to this worthwhile effort.
“We’re one of the fastest growing businesses in the US – it’s a terrific time to be part of KBR. Our people do things that matter, and my job is to empower them and facilitate them to do more.
“The day that people feel I’m not listening to our team is the day they should fire me,” he states.
SOLUTIONS THAT MATTER
This progressive company culture is the true bedrock of the innovative solutions that KBR delivers. Within KBR’s diverse and immensely varied portfolio, Bradie highlights several particularly dynamic areas of development.
In the vein of delivering solutions that matter, KBR’s sustainable technology business is a key point of differentiation.
“What’s unique about KBR is the way that we prioritize sustainability,” Bradie says.
Aside from helping other companies to achieve their own environmental commitments by delivering sustainable technology, KBR itself achieved carbon neutrality in 2019, and continues on a promising path to attaining net zero by 2030.
Externally, KBR is accelerating solutions such as decarbonization and energy transition in the global fight against climate change. It has introduced a cutting-edge plastics recycling technology to market, Hydro-PRT℠, that has the potential to be a true difference maker.
“We’re involved in advancing solutions around the next plastic circular economy. We have found a technology that revolutionizes plastics recycling by enabling us to recycle 90 percent of all plastics.”
Within the role of driving energy transition, KBR has adopted a strong advisory voice, guiding national agencies such as the Singapore PMO and the Japanese government in terms of strategy, policy and investment in the move towards decarbonized economies. KBR is also taking great strides within the hydrogen economy, with the transportation of ammonia in liquid form both quickly and efficiently.
“For the hydrogen economy of the future, we have got the mousetrap to create ammonia, and we are the world leader in that technology. This allows energy to be transported around the world in a very carbon-friendly way.”
KBR is also the world leader in human space flight and is committed to the advancement of humankind through its work with NASA and the International Space Station (ISS).
“We are becoming a more prominent presence in the commercial space sector. It’s an evolving field and we do a lot of work in supporting its development. For example, we train all the astronauts that are sent to the ISS,” Bradie explains.
With so much of our everyday lives reliant on assets in commercial space – from the GPS on our phones to the way that we communicate with each other – there is potential for KBR to play an integral role.
The company also works in alignment with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), helping develop, deploy and operate the agency’s new space weather antennae network. This essentially enables the accurate monitoring of space weather, which helps to the protect the lives and livelihoods of millions across the globe.
Complementary to KBR’s sustainability efforts, the company can monitor and gather accurate data pertaining to global environmental issues, such as deforestation and the depletion of arable land, thanks to the remote sensing Landsat satellites it operates for the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA.
“The Landsat satellites are constantly orbiting the Earth gathering data that is transmitted to the U.S. Geological Survey Earth Resources Observation and Science facility in South Dakota, which we operate as well. We create advanced data products and distribute them globally to government agencies, academia and the public,” he adds.
KBR’s extra-terrestrial role also encompasses military purposes. “We’re at the forefront of space superiority around military space and are helping stake that out for the US and the allies. We do see this as the next war fighting domain with China and Russia.”
Back on Earth, this extends to a prominent effort to advance the defense sector, both on the ground and in the digital realm, by helping protect and advance the intelligence community around cyber.
“In terms of national security, we do a lot of work in the intelligence community. We’ve got a lot of very clever people working with offensive and defensive cyber.”
KBR also leads the field in terms of developing truck-mounted lasers that are able to take down drones, which is becoming an increasingly critical system of defense.
When asked how KBR can continue innovating and maintaining its position at the forefront of industry, Bradie returns to the importance of agility and stresses the need for speed in order to stay ahead of the relentless pace of industrial evolution.
“Agility and innovation are table stakes today – you have to bring them every day as part of your culture and what you deliver,” he says.
“You have to be quick off the mark and pragmatic in recognizing how you operationalize certain things pretty quickly. We do that within climate change, we do that within digitalization, and we do that within digital engineering.”
The company boasts rapid prototyping processes that take projects from idea to life-sized demonstrations at unparalleled speed, a key differentiator.
On the subject of digital engineering, Bradie highlights KBR’s technological prowess through the example of pioneering digital environments that enable the trialling of new products in a faster, more streamlined process.
“For example, if a government wants to put a new jet fighter into operation, you previously had to trial that physically with one very brave pilot and several iterations. Now, you can create that digitally and have a digital environment in which you can factor all of the variabilites that a pilot would have to endure in testing.
“This enables much quicker testing, and with far less risk.”
R&D is the true backbone of all innovation efforts at KBR. KBR has several active prototyping contracts with contract vehicles designed to facilitate innovation.
“We are extremely operationally focused in taking R&D concepts and realizing them into operation far quicker than any of our peers.
“We have also got innovation incubators and a kind of dragon’s den process – I’m sure that lots of companies have that, but I think it’s the culture and capabilities that we have within the organization that align strategically with larger things, such as the global power competition between China, Russia and the US,” he explains.
EYES ON THE HORIZON
Turning his attention to the years ahead, Bradie outlines the big-picture strategy that will guide KBR as it aspires to continue upmarket while evolving and adapting to the world’s shifting needs.
This includes developing its consulting role in the high-end arena, identifying growing opportunities within the government sector and in the cyber and digital realms in particular. As for the company itself, Bradie remains steadfast in his priorities and values.
“It’s incumbent on us to remain humble and not to believe that we are infallible. We must continue to run a very flat organization to ensure that we remain connected to our people.”
Ultimately, KBR will continue to invest in its people while relentlessly pursuing that white space that sparks innovation.