Business Monday

Bureau Veritas checks safety in buildings, elevators, fuels — just about everything

Natalia Shuman, Sunrise-based CEO for the North America region for Bureau Veritas.
Natalia Shuman, Sunrise-based CEO for the North America region for Bureau Veritas.

Bureau Veritas, a global provider of inspection, certification and laboratory testing services based in France, aims to make sure that many of the goods and services we use and consume in South Florida are safe. It ensures that construction projects, fuels, shipping imports and exports — among other things — meet regulatory standards.

But it’s not exactly a household name here, even though it has a pedigree that’s nearly 190 years old.

Bureau Veritas was originally formed as Bureau de Renseignements pour les Assurances Maritimes (Information Office for Maritime Insurance). Jules Verne even mentioned it in his novel, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” in 1870: He noted that the company kept track of the number of steam and sailing ships sunk each year.

Natalia Shuman, Sunrise-based CEO for the North America region, speaks with Richard Groblewski, director of real estate and facilities for Bureau Veritas. C.M. GUERRERO

Nowadays, it’s a much bigger company — 400,000 clients in 140 countries; 6,000 clients are in North America. And it offers a much broader range of services that broadly aim to verify standards and reduce risk for business while providing safety to the public.

Bureau Veritas provides the certificates that attest to quality, quantity, safety, technical specifications and compliance with private or government norms that are often required for products to be used (like airplane fuel), for construction projects to move ahead (permits) or for banks to disburse funds for international trade (letters of credit). ​Before issuing those documents and giving its approval, the company tests ​the products.

“Bureau Veritas works everywhere, offering our clients a third-party, unbiased opinion,” said Natalia Shuman, the Sunrise-based CEO for the North America region, which includes Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean as well as the United States.

The company’s services also include inspection, classification of marine assets, auditing, training and outsourcing. It works with sectors such as aerospace, agriculture and food, automotive, chemicals, oil and gas, mining and power generation.

“We work for private companies and governments to ensure buyers with quantity and quality of products, equipment, foods and raw materials,” Shuman said.

If the Bureau Veritas name is familiar to some, it may be because it’s the largest elevator-inspection company in the United States, Shuman says. And in Europe, “people know that toys with the Bureau Veritas label are safe.”

In South Florida, its services tend to be concentrated in the transportation and building industries. For instance, Bureau Veritas technicians, engineers and scientists test the quality and purity of jet fuel at regional airports, certify that mechanical systems in public and private buildings are up to code and analyze the steel to be used for bridges and tunnels for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Shuman joined Bureau Veritas in April after serving as COO for North Asia at the staffing firm Kelly Services, where she had worked for 23 years. Born in Uzbekistan, she graduated from the St. Petersburg University of Economics and Finance in Russia and completed a dual global executive MBA program at Columbia University and the London Business School.

As CEO for North America, Shuman oversees 6,000 employees, 129 field offices and laboratories, including 158 employees in Florida, and offices/labs in Davie, Doral and Fort Myers. She was the first woman to join the global executive committee at the company.

“Florida is an important market for Bureau Veritas in several sectors, and with its aging infrastructure, construction will be a key growth market,” Shuman said. “As Florida grows, we will add jobs and help to ensure sustainable growth.”

The company put its North America operating center in South Florida nearly 15 years ago in large part because of its transportation infrastructure and proximity to important customers at PortMiami, Port Everglades, the cruise industry and the strong construction sector.

In conducting a typical product test, a Bureau Veritas technician will take a sample of jet fuel from storage tanks at a local airport, transport it to a nearby lab, and announce results within five to seven hours. “This is a 24-hour business and we have to be close to all our clients,” Shuman said.

Company name: Bureau Veritas.

Global headquarters: In Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, a suburb of Paris.

Founded: 1828 in Antwerp, then part of the Netherlands, to provide information on the reliability, seaworthiness and records of steam and sailing vessels for insurance companies.

Ownership: Publicly traded. Listed on Euronext Paris exchange with the symbol BVI.PA. The Wendel Group, a French investment company that got its start as a steelmaker in 1704, owns almost 41 percent of Bureau Veritas.

Regional leadership: Natalia Shuman, Fort Lauderdale-based CEO for the North America region.

North America region operations center: 1601 Sawgrass Corporate Pkwy., Fort Lauderdale (Sunrise).

Employees: 59 at the Sunrise offices, 158 throughout the state, 6,000 in the North America region and 73,000 worldwide.

Clients: City, regional and national governments, public utilities, the cruise industry, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the oil industry, importers and exporters, government environmental agencies, among others.

Also: The company has offices/labs in 28 states, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, according to its website. Employees are concentrated in states where most of Bureau Veritas’ business is located. For example, there are multiple locations in California, Texas and Louisiana. It plans to add new technical and business employees to its regional office and to labs and other offices in Florida.

Financials: The corporation had global revenues of ​about $2.8 billion for the first half of 2017, up more than 6 percent over the same period in 2016. For the full-year 2016, revenues were ​$5 billion​, with the U.S. and Canada account​ing ​for about $650 million ​of the total.

Competitors: Other firms providing inspection, certification and laboratory testing services like SGS (Société Générale de Surveillance), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland; and Intertek International Inc., which is based in London and has a laboratory in Doral.

The difference: “We have a long history of providing the highest quality testing, inspection and certification services for our clients worldwide, acting as an unbiased third party to ensure safety and sustainability in all the areas we work,” Shuman said. “Bureau Veritas is a global company but our experts work locally, and we have deep expertise and a thorough understanding of local and regional standards and practices. We are constantly innovating, searching for new solutions.”

Client view: “Bureau Veritas has been providing ISO 9001 [quality management systems] auditing and surveillance services to Odebrecht since 2010,” said Jorge Zurita, quality and compliance manager at Odebrecht’s office in Coral Gables. “We chose Bureau Veritas because they are the leading provider of these auditing services, and have a stellar reputation as the best provider in the industry.” Odebrecht USA is part of the giant Brazilian-based construction company that has worked on large projects in Florida.

Also: According to the company, the U.S. Postal Service has thousands of government-owned and leased post office facilities throughout the country, and needed to have accurate information on possible asbestos and lead contamination at these sites. Bureau Veritas was hired by a government contractor (Louis Berger Group) to perform asbestos and lead-based paint surveys at 250 post offices. Company technicians visited each side, performed tests, took photographs and determined which buildings were contaminated. After remediation plans were developed, Bureau Veritas visited each contaminated site to label the affected areas and provide training. This work resolved part of an important national problem for the postal service.

Business lesson: In past years, Bureau Veritas relied heavily on clients in the oil and gas industry, which can be a volatile sector, Shuman said. The company has learned to expand and diversify its client base much more widely to spread out risk and take advantage of new opportunities.

Challenges: Aside from its executive, administrative and sales personnel, Bureau Veritas relies on a staff of engineers, scientists and technicians. “As our business grows in Florida and the rest of the region, we are expanding our relationships with colleges and universities to ensure they are preparing the specialized employees we need, and are aware of the opportunities at Bureau Veritas,” Shuman said.

Strategy and outlook: Expand and diversify the company’s client base in North America by improving its range of services in traditional markets, and expanding its presence in sectors driven by consumer spending and new corporate service needs. Florida — with abundant private construction and government infrastructure projects, as well as large aviation, agricultural and shipping sectors — is a key growth market for Bureau Veritas. The company is aiming for 8 to 10 percent annual revenue growth worldwide.

Joseph A. Mann Jr. can be reached at