Melbourne to the Big Apple and back again - Ben Hall's journey at John Laing
Ben Hall joined John Laing in 2013 and is an Investment Director focused on origination and execution of investment opportunities in the infrastructure sector for John Laing. Working initially in Melbourne, he has spent seven years in our New York office and more recently twelve months in California.
Ben recently returned to Melbourne for the next stage of his career. We caught up with him as he settled into his new role and asked about the differences – and similarities – of investing in infrastructure in two countries 10,000 miles apart.
Q. You’ve worked on both sides of the world over the last decade. How did that come about?
Well, originally, I was only supposed to be in New York for three years! But after over eight years in the US, I felt it was finally time to head home.
When I moved to New York in 2014, it was a great time to make the move, giving me the chance to be part of a developing team and the opportunity to work in a large, rapidly growing and important market for the business. The opportunity to work with the North American team and leverage John Laing’s global platform was one I could not pass up. The eight years in the US have been fantastic. It’s been great to have had the opportunity to work, learn and develop my skill set in the US market which is a unique benefit of working for a truly global business.
My role in the US focused on origination and execution of our investment mandate across the infrastructure ecosystem, and I’ll be doing the same in Australia. My time in the US was spent working across greenfield and brownfield opportunities in the transport, energy and digital infrastructure sectors and I’m looking forward to bringing my experience and skillset gained back to the Australian market.
Q. What projects are you most proud of having worked on during your time at John Laing?
Working at John Laing has exposed me to multiple sectors across the infrastructure landscape. Personally, as an avid Australian Rules Football fan, one of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with was winning the rights to develop the Perth Stadium project in 2014, which was one of the first projects I worked on after joining John Laing.
In the US, some of the more memorable opportunities I worked closely on included our first investments in the renewable energy sector - including Sterling Wind, Rocksprings Wind, Buckthorn Wind and Live Oak Wind – as well as our first investments in the managed lanes sector through our acquisition of the I-77 managed lanes project and subsequent investment in the I-66 Express Lanes.
Leading our investment in the I-75 Road Modernization project was also a highlight. Through these opportunities and others, I was able to hone my skills across bid strategy and leadership as well as financial structuring and analysis and commercial negotiation – fundamental skills for an investor in the infrastructure sector.
Q. What are the key differences between the Australian and American markets?
Size is definitely one. The US market is extremely large, but also highly fragmented. The opportunity set is extremely broad so you need to be disciplined in terms of identifying opportunities which fit within your investment mandate. In Australia, the opportunity set is smaller, but historically has had a steady flow of investment opportunities and the business has continued to be very successful here.
The energy sector in both the US and Australia is booming, particularly the energy transition. Australia is currently undergoing an energy transformation as State governments prepare to integrate large scale renewable generation into the electricity grid. The transmission development opportunity in Australia is unique, and doesn't currently exist in the US at the same scale, largely due to a different approach to large-scale transmission planning and market structure.
In Australia we also think we’ll see attractive opportunities emerging in adjacent sectors such as energy from waste, long duration storage and potentially digital infrastructure, which is definitely one to watch.
Q. What is the team in Australia like, and how have you found it, settling back into the Australian team?
The Australian team has an extremely strong track record. It’s clear the team has a lot of talent, as demonstrated by their success in the region over the last 10+ years, where John Laing has been one of one of the largest investors in greenfield PPP and energy projects. I am looking forward to bringing my skill set to the team to help the continued success of the business in the Australian market.
It’s also been great to be reunited with Justin Bailey, who was my first boss back in 2013 and is now Co-Head of John Laing’s PPP & Projects. Even though I’ve stayed closely in touch, the team has naturally evolved since I was here last, so getting to know new faces has been important.
A big part of being back has also been re-establishing key relationships across the infrastructure community. It’s important to develop your network of contacts as they aid with opportunity origination, development and execution.
And on a personal level, as much as I enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity John Laing gave me to work in the US, Australia is my home and a great place to live!