In a region where relationships are all important to winning work and direct negotiations dominate project procurement, it is not surprising that former managing directors for Halcrow have been long term posts.
"Previous managing director John Heck retired at the age of 60 after 32 years with the company, so there is a lot of history for me to follow," says current regional managing director David Yaw.
The first step was for Yaw to evaluate the business he was taking on. 2006 had been a challenging year for Halcrow's Middle East business. Regional profits had taken a hit, with the firm making a loss of £1.4M.
"Our loss in 2006 was partly due to exchange translation costs," he says. "Obviously we have a working capital requirement and debts outstanding, if exchange rates vary between 1 January and 31 December it can result in a profit or a loss."
Local currencies such as the United Arab Emirates Dirham and the Qatari Riyal are directly linked to the dollar, so as the value of the US currency fell, Middle East currencies were devalued against the pound.
"To manage the exchange rate risk we ensure our staff are paid in the same currency as the market in which we are paid. We engage in work sharing using all of our global offices, and we take out financial instruments to hedge against currency risk," says Yaw.
Against this backdrop, Yaw began what he explains is a refocusing of the company's local strategy. "The economies here are so robust that the real issue is not winning work, it is directing resources to be able to deliver. That meant we needed to be more focused on the clients we want to serve."
Four of Halcrow's top 10 global clients are based in the Middle East: the Government of Sharjah, Abu Dhabi based property developer Aldar, Qatar based property developer Qatari Diar and Qatar's state energy company Qatar Petroleum. It is these kinds of long term relationships that Halcrow wants to build on. "We want to get closer to fewer," says Yaw.
Of course this means that contract terms are all important and must account for the problem of rapidly rising inflation. "It is fair to say that in the early part of 2007, it saw us working our way out of some fixed price contracts that were signed three or four years ago when no-one had foreseen the impact of inflation. We now avoid fixed price contracts and where we can't, we seek transparency, and show the client exactly how we have priced the risk," says Yaw.
In addition the size of the schemes means that partnering with other consultants is becoming more common. "We partner with Hyder, Cowi, Parsons, firms that complement our own resources. The key is corporate culture. Once the going gets tough, differences become a problem," he explains. "If I am in a meeting with my local counterparts who say 'I have to take that back to the states or Europe' this can be frustrating."
Yaw is justifiably pleased with Halcrow's performance moving into 2008. Profits recovered in 2007 to £1.3M and turnover was at a regional high for the firm of £82.7M. "We are looking at over £100M for 2008," says Yaw.
Like its competitors, one of Halcrow's biggest challenge is recruiting staff.
The firm is currently taking on around 50 people per month. "Our brand and reputation in the Middle East means that clients come to us because they know we deliver."
"What we ask of clients is a fair and reasonable payment regime. We seek mutual transparency and understanding that cash is our oxygen supply. In return we understand that time is critical"
David Yaw, Halcrow
Halcrow's Middle East turnover in 2007, a regional high
Middle East turnover Halcrow expects to generate in 2008
MIDDLE EAST MY PROJECT
TIM PAGE-PROJECT DIRECTOR
Project Louvre Abu Dhabi
Client Abu Dhabi Tourism Development and Investment Company
Consultant Buro Happold
Design work is just starting on the Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. It is in the preliminary concept design stage. It will house art ranging from Islamic and Asian collections to the European Masters and works of antiquity. Buro Happold is the multi-disciplinary engineer on the project and will be working closely with Paris-based architect Ateliers Jean Nouvel (AJN). AJN's design involves housing a "museum city" under a domed canopy.
"It's a fantastic project, and we are proud to be involved," says project director Tim Page. "We aim to design a sustainable building, which also needs to withstand high ambient temperatures, airborne sand, humidity and salinity."
Project Madinat al Arab infrastructure project, Dubai Waterfront
Dubai Waterfront is the largest waterfront project in the world, set to become home to 1.5M people adding 70km of coastline to the Emirate. Around 3.2M.m3 of land is being reclaimed each month and 3,000 earthmovers are on site. Developer Nakheel; is the client and this scheme accounts for 65% of its land bank. Part of the development includes the 12km long Palm Cove Canal (of which the first phase was recently progressively flooded).
Since the 2006 award of the first 1100ha, Mouchel has been awarded further waterfront phases: the infrastructure of its central business district and Waterfront City. This brings the total area for development that Shambler's team will be designing and supervising to over 4,000ha.
It is Mouchel's largest construction project in the Middle East.
SENIOR SUSTAINABILITY CONSULTANT
Project Taaleem Flagship Campus Dubailand, Dubai
Atkins has designed the first environmentally-friendly school in the Middle East. The development comprises complete facilities from crŹche to junior college and a teachers' training centre, including staff and student accommodation and sports facilities. It will be the first LEED certified school in the Middle East. The green initiatives include: shading devices for the glazed faŤade; roof lights to increase daylight into the buildings; shaded walkways throughout the site and plenty of soft landscaping (grass, trees, shrubs, etc) within the courtyard areas.
"The 'green' element is a significant component in a school, as it's educational for the students, raising awareness at an early age of the practical applications along with the environmental significance. Children are a fabulous tool for marketing the green concept to the wider community."
DIRECTOR, STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING
Project Crown Plaza Hotel and Staybridge apartments at Yas Island
Structural and MEP designers Waterman International and Waterman AHW
Waterman International and Waterman AHW are structural and MEP consultants for the Crown Plaza Hotel and Staybridge apartments on Yas Island. Yas Island is a 25M.m2 leisure and entertainment development and home to Abu Dhabi's new Formula 1 race track. The four star 400 room Crowne Plaza has 7,500m2 of landscaped gardens. The three star six storey Staybridge Hotel has 196 rooms.
"Yas Island is moving ahead at an unprecedented rate to ensure works are complete for the June 2009 Grand Prix. Fast track usually means construction is pushed beyond the normal timescales, on Yas Island, fast track has been taken to a new level Đ buildings are literally appearing before your eyes!"