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Engineering firm PBSJ considers offers of investment, buyout

Employee-owned engineering powerhouse PBSJ Corp. of Tampa has stopped workers from buying or selling company stock while it considers overtures from outsiders.

Investors and competitors have expressed preliminary interest in buying a stake in PBSJ or acquiring the company, founded in South Florida 50 years ago, chairman Robert Paulsen wrote in an e-mail to employees last week. The company has signed nondisclosure agreements with potential suitors and can't say if negotiations are taking place or with whom, he wrote.

Securities laws prohibit companies from engaging in stock transactions without disclosing information that could influence an investor's decisions to buy or sell the stock.

"At this time, our options are varied and do not necessarily imply one particular course of action," Paulsen wrote. "We urge you to feel secure in the knowledge that the shareholders will have the ultimate say on the course the company chooses and the company's future."

Employees holding more than 20 percent of PBSJ shares indicated they wanted to sell their shares when the annual "window" for stock transactions was scheduled to open March 17.

"The PBSJ Corp. remains financially strong and is excited about the opportunity to explore possible infusions of capital beyond that which its employees can provide," the company said in a prepared statement Monday. Employee stock transactions will be allowed no later than the quarter that begins in July, the company said.

A major engineering firm that ranks among Florida's biggest government contractors, PBSJ is trying to steady itself after a series of corporate bung­ling.

On Dec. 30, the company disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that directors were internally investigating whether bribery laws may have been violated, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, by subsidiary PBS&J International "in certain foreign countries."

Last year, the Federal Election Commission released a report stating that the company regularly made illegal campaign contributions. Investigators concluded that "political contributions were an important part of PBS&J's business strategy."

In January, CEO John Zumwalt, 58, announced his resignation. He later accelerated his retirement date to after shareholders voted him off the board of directors on Feb. 13.

PBSJ moved its headquarters from Miami to Tampa in 2006. The company has 3,600 employees in 80 offices, including more than 350 in Tampa.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Engineering firm PBSJ considers offers of investment, buyout 03/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 9:11pm]
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