Emerging Stars of Infrastructure

The future leaders of infrastructure represent a new generation with powerful new skills and insights.

A new generation of players are emerging to plan and build our highway express lanes, bridges and airports.

Many are flocking to the hot infrastructure space from other career pathways.

One emerging star studied to be doctor but found the tug and pull of crafting public-private partnerships to rebuild tomorrow’s cities a more compelling way to spend her work days.

A lawyer for the Ashurst law firm in New York, who also serves on the the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corp, is so passionate about young professionals flocking to infrastructure that he and a few others three years ago put together a small but growing network for them called YPI, or Young Professionals in Infrastructure.

Matthew Neuringer

The JAG, Matthew Neuringer, an infrastructure lawyer specializing on public-private partnerships at Ashurst, provided Icons of Infrastructure with contact information for some of the rising stars of YPI.

They work for law firms, engineering companies, banks and other companies engaged in infrastructure work.

In their personal lives they surf, play tennis, cross country ski and engage in triathlons.

To a person they are smart, passionate and committed to their work.

Having grown up in a world of social media and crowd-sourcing, they are all about finding new ways of funding projects. Talk of P3s – public-private partnerships – roll off their lips the way earlier generations talked about the Grateful Dead and I-phone apps.

Kat Sadeghi

Kat Sadeghi who grew up in Tucson, put it this way: “We know we are a part of something that’s increasingly important. We are looking for alternative delivery methods for infrastructure in the United States which has to be a significant part of the infrastructure landscape moving forward.”

Sadeghi, 37, an Iranian-American born in the United States, is an investment director for AECOM Capital in New York. She studied at the University of Pennsylvania, lived in Turkey as a Fulbright scholar and previously worked as a lawyer at Ashurst.

Currently, she is working on bids for the I-75 highway expansion project in Detroit, the LAX ConRAC in Los Angeles, and  a project to bring a broadband fiber-optic network to a 550-mile stretch of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Each of these projects is being procured as a long-term public-private partnership, providing a role for the private sector in the design, construction, finance, operation and maintenance of public infrastructure.

“The involvement of the private sector – we may see that to a larger degree moving forward,” Sadeghi said, referencing public-private partnerships.

Definitely, agreed Allison Larr, an associate in the public finance department of Citi.

Allison Larr

Larr, 30, said that as a banker, P3s represent an important tool, part of the “landscape of financing.”

Larr skis, plays guitar and piano, hikes and explores New York City eateries with her husband.

For her day job, she thinks about urban resilience in America.

“Resiliency is going to be real important for a lot of cities starting to prepare for climate change and build infrastructure appropriately, she said.

Repairing the backlog of basic infrastructure across America that is crumbling – that will take up a considerable part of the work lives of Larr and her generational cohort.

“It’s going to be a huge list for the country for the next few years and decades,” she said. “We certainly need leaders who understand the engineering aspects” of the work.

The upcoming generation of infrastructure professionals is eager to look to alternative methods to deliver infrastructure, such as P3 or Design-Build, than has been used over the past 30-40 years,” Matthew Neuringer said.

Neuringer, 31, said the new emerging generation of infrastructure sector leaders represent a new breed ready to be put through their paces. The work, he said, “can be life consuming.”

“If you don’t see the bigger picture and are not passionate about what you are doing, it’s going to be very difficult to power through,” he said.

Beyond that, 20- and 30-year olds are bringing new attitudes and skill sets to the tasks they are tackling.

“The upcoming generation of infrastructure professionals is eager to look to alternative methods to deliver infrastructure, such as P3 or Design-Build, than has been used over the past 30-40 years,” Neuringer said.

In addition, they are exploring new approaches to tackling the risks associated with major projects, and new ways to build lifetime maintenance programs into infrastructure undertakings, he said.

“P3s represent a different mentality,” he said. “It has become apparent that the upcoming generation of infrastructure professionals is eager to look to alternative methods to deliver infrastructure, such as P3 or Design-Build, than has been used over the past 30-40 years,” Neuringer said.

To help companies working on P3 efforts to network – and to help their emerging leaders get smarter, faster, Neuringer and a few friend and colleagues launched YPI.

Neuringer said that about 60-70 companies are working on P3s. About 25 of them, and a smattering of government entities who have tested the waters of P3 finance, are active in the organization.

All told, about 150 individual members are actively engaged in committee work, workshops and gatherings. More than 1,000 professionals have attended YPI events. Members have toured LaGuardia Airport as its massive rebuild has proceeded. The organization has forged links with a number of universities.

Mariana Torres

That kind of networking on steroids appeals to Mariana Torres, director of infrastructure economics at Louis Berger engineering firm in New York. Torres earlier in her career worked at the World Economic Forum and the projects spawned by meeting of global leaders each year at Davos.

With that background, she said, she values “the 30,000 foot-approach to identifying problems and linkages across industries” to solve them.

She has studied transport initiatives around the world and can talk in depth about diverse projects, from one of the world’s most extensive bicycle transport systems in Bogota to how transport options in China shape Chinese public behavior.

Her day job: “I am director of an economics team that does a series of evaluations of projects at the planning stage. We help public clients and private bidders plan, develop, and finance transport infrastructure projects.  This includes conducting demand forecasts, risk assessments, and supporting the financing process of transport assets,” she said.

“We do transportation, we have special expertise in toll roads, bridge crossing, tunnels and intercity rail,” Torres said.

“We focus on providing valuation and understanding of how people behave today and how they are likely to behave tomorrow,” Torres said. And in some instances, those prognostications extend as far out as 80 years.

Torres, 35, is a triathlon athlete and occasional travel writer.

She gets passionate about infrastructure wins like the Brightline rail project – pointing you to their website.

“It’s super exciting to see a train in the United States comparable to any full-service train in Europe,” she said.

Talking about her peers, Torres made the following points:

“There is a higher level of consciousness today that the infrastructure space is very varied and requires lots of different skills. There is a need to become well-rounded.”

Just as skills sets are scrambling – so is the world of commerce and infrastructure.

“We are seeing a very interesting mix of what use to be siloed sectors,” Torres said.

Thus, well established automakers are suddenly interested in offering transportation services.

Raj Lakhiani

That insight resonates with Raj Lakhiani, 35, in Washington, with Athena Power, working in the utility underground asset arena.

He sees a need for developing more real time information about infrastructure so problems can be avoided.

“We need super talented people to help solve these problems,” he said. “Having younger people will be helpful.

Insight, intelligence and passion will be key.

Torres said: “The infrastructure space has been expanding beyond traditional highway and airport needs to how to accommodate the needs coming up,” she said. “Transport infrastructure, especially urban transport, faces challenges as trends like autonomous vehicles and ride sharing penetrate the market,” she said.

“There is a greater need to be creative, to go beyond the traditional highway and parking plays, in order to accommodate these trends and successfully shape the future of planning, funding and financing projects.”

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