Ten years ago when it last graced our cover, the 49-yearold engineering construction company had just articulated a new vision and mission.
Then starting to bag several blue-chip projects, it committed itself to “nation building and uplifting quality of life of the Filipino” through the infrastructure it builds, and by creating businesses that generate sustainable value. It is considered a bigger scale contractor that can jointly underwrite large engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts.
The government’s Build, Build, Build program and the unprecedented spate of building in the past decade presents an excellent opportunity for companies like First Balfour.
First Balfour itself had its beginnings in 1969 as Philippine Engineering & Construction Corporation (PECCO), the power plant construction and design unit of Meralco. It was during this period that the utility was experiencing its own golden age, continuously building new power plants.
By 1976, PECCO became known as Engineering and Construction Corporation of Asia (ECCO-Asia), signaling its expansion into power transmissions, oil refineries and industrial plants in addition to its engineering construction business.
A series of mergers and name changes spanning almost a decade was capped off with the emergence of “First Balfour” in 2004.
Echoing its beginnings in Meralco, as much as 80% of the company’s business in the recent past was with the Lopez Group.
But today, as much as 95% of First Balfour’s current order backlog are with non-Lopez Group companies. These include contracts to design and build the Novaliches-Balara Aqueduct 4 and the CebuCordova Link Expressway (CCLEx).
“The water aqueduct project will bring water from La Mesa to Balara. It’s the first aqueduct that deploys a tunnel boring machine in the urban setting, which is the same machine used for building subways,” says First Balfour Inc. president and COO Anthony L. Fernandez of the P5.3-billion project, which First Balfour will undertake with joint venture partners CMC di Ravenna and Chun Wo Construction & Engineering.
Meanwhile, the CCLEx between Cebu and Mactan Island will be one of the Philippines’ first cable-stayed bridges. It will feature a Magellan’s Cross on top of each pylon that will be visible from any point in Cebu and Mactan. At 8.5 kilometers, the CCLEx will also be the longest bridge in the country upon its completion in four years.
The P22.6-billion CCLEx project is a joint venture with Acciona Construccion S.A. and D.M. Consunji Inc.
“Over the past 10 or 15 years, our motto has been ‘Move up the value chain.’ We like to do design and build projects because we can create more value for us and for our customers,” he stresses.
“We needed reliable equipment for our projects but we also immediately recognized a big market for renting out efficient, productive and safe equipment. Today, even our competitors in the construction industry are renting from us,” Fernandez says.
For now, however, construction remains First Balfour’s bread and butter, accounting for as much as 90% of the company’s revenues.
Within the Group, First Balfour has ongoing major projects with ABS-CBN, First Philippine Industrial Park, Energy Development Corporation, First Gen Corporation and INAEC.
“The challenge has been finding and developing the next generation of leaders that will bring this company to beyond 50 years,” Fernandez notes.First Balfour’s vision resonates with like-minded Filipinos, making it an attractive option especially among engineers and other professionals. Fortunately for those outside the capital, having projects all over the Philippines means recruitment is not Manilacentric. The company gladly takes in graduates from the provinces, including Baguio, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Legazpi and Leyte.
“We’re one of the leading engineering construction companies in terms of infrastructure, and we really take to heart our vision-mission of building nations. Sometimes people join us because of that. Young kids are very idealistic…They take pride in being able to say they were a part of this project or that project,” Fernandez says.
First Balfour became one of the first Investors in People (IiP)-accredited companies in the Philippines after receiving the standard certification in 2010. It achieved the Bronze level in 2013 and was granted the IiP Silver accreditation in 2017, making it the first and only IiP Silver-accredited engineering construction company in the Philippines.
Employee development IiP, considered the “international benchmark for companies that aim for business improvement through people management,” affirms First Balfour’s focus on employee development.
Another thing that attracts prospective employees to the company is its being an early adopter of the latest technology, such as GPS equipment and drones.
The company also owns a multimillion-peso simulator that it uses for training its people in operating cranes, bulldozers, excavators and other heavy equipment.
“It is critical that our people know what they’re doing, and they’re safe, efficient and productive,” Fernandez asserts.
With construction being literally a “dirty” business, First Balfour makes a concerted effort to minimize its impact on the environment.
“Among the construction companies in the Philippines, we take a lot of pride in taking the lead in sustainability,” Fernandez notes.A plaque from the Philippine Green Building Council at the lobby, in fact, declares the First Balfour headquarters in Sucat as the country’s green building No. 00001.
“We have a solar rooftop that generates up to 40% of our own power, we recycle our water… We try to take this environmental awareness and sustainability mind-set to our project sites. We aim to be the leader in the construction industry in terms of that kind of sustainability,” the First Balfour president says.
As the Philippines experiences what Fernandez calls the golden age of infrastructure, First Balfour looks to leverage the extensive experience and expertise that it has built up over four decades to pitch in and do its share.
Today, on the eve of its milestone anniversary, First Balfour affirms its commitment—to build for the long haul, for the Filipino, for good.