Vinci Energies, part of construction and transport concessions giant Vinci (>> Vinci), has completed 250 takeovers since 2000, more than tripling its turnover to 10.2 billion euros (9.14 billion pounds).
"We can very well continue on this trend," Chief Executive Yves Meignie told Reuters.
In the first eight months of this year the company snapped up 17 smaller businesses with combined turnover of 450 million euros and has its eye on more as it expands in outsourcing and digital services.
"In our business, the scope for consolidation is very, very big; there is no lack of opportunities," said Meignie, adding that the main constraint is the company's ability to integrate all its acquisitions.
Vinci Energies is one of those businesses that is everywhere without most people ever having heard of it. From Paris street lamps to sophisticated building-management systems, it provides the glue that keeps infrastructure running.
It operates heating and cooling systems in office blocks and hospitals, automates factories and oil platforms, runs cloud-computing systems and builds transport infrastructure. It also builds power grids and solar and wind farms for utilities.
Its biggest deal was the 1.2 billion euro takeover of electrical engineering group Cegelec in 2010, which added about 3 billion euros of revenue and made the Qatar Investment Authority a large minority shareholder in parent company Vinci.
Other notable acquisitions include Dutch company Imtech's IT operation, Brazilian energy and transport specialist Orteng and the energy services business of Swiss Alpiq (>> Alpiq Holding AG), which made Vinci Energies the biggest player in energy infrastructure in Germany behind French rival Spie (>> SPIE).
It has also gobbled up a string of start-ups and small-cap companies that often continue to operate under their own brands, putting Vinci Energies at the centre of a network of some 1,600 businesses.
But Vinci Energies, which employs 64,500 people, does not simply swallow companies it buys. "We integrate them in a highly decentralised network," Meignie said.
Though further deals in a home market that generates 5 billion euros of annual turnover may raise antitrust concerns, most of the industries in which Vinci Energies operates are so vast and fragmented that its wider market share is rarely bigger than 1 percent.
Outside of France, the company has European turnover of 4 billion euros, half of which comes from Germany, plus a further 1 billion euros from outside Europe, largely in Southeast Asia.
Main rivals include Germany's Siemens (>> Siemens), Hochtief (>> Hochtief) and Bilfinger (>> Bilfinger SE). EDF's (>> Electricité de France) energy services group Dalkia is another, as is Engie's (>> Engie) Cofely, which bought the facilities management arm of Britain's Balfour Beatty in 2014.
All these provide outsourced engineering, maintenance and facilities-management services to cities and companies, winning clients with their know-how and then adding packages of related services that they often subcontract.
M&A activity in that industry has intensified as large national players buy companies abroad to build European scale.
Three quarters of growth at Vinci Energies comes from acquisitions, Meignie said, adding that the typical 2-3 percent operating margin of those acquired businesses is then boosted to to Vinci Energies' average of 5.7 percent by ditching the least-profitable contracts.
Vinci Energies accounts for nearly a quarter of its parent company's revenue and is in the same league as its competitors and CAC40 index members Cap Gemini (>> Capgemini) and Atos (>> AtoS SE), but Meignie played down the possibility of spinning off the business in an initial public offering.
"Vinci Energies is at the heart of Vinci, our story is part of theirs," he said.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Luke Baker and David Goodman)
By Geert De Clercq and Gilles Guillaume