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Viewpoint - Tony Douglas

Lands of opportunity - Join thousands of engineers seizing the moment in the Middle East

Put the words "optimism" and "construction" together in a sentence to define trends in 2008 and you are guaranteed a dual reaction: slack-jawed incredulity instantly followed by disdain.

I have learned one or two lessons over the years – none more important than remembering it is often those who go against the grain who end up leading the pack. This is why I am relaxed about perhaps being a solitary voice saying we are now witnessing an unrivalled moment of opportunity for construction, particularly in the Middle East.

The key is ambition, reach and relationships – Laing O'Rourke is fortunate in being able to trace back its roots in the Middle East over 30 years. Through the relationships built up over decades it has established a track record of delivery, which has sustained the business during volatile economic cycles.

If relationships form the foundation, then ambition is the key to success in the region right now. That means personal ambition – and it means ambition to succeed on behalf of one's own business and, critically, for demanding clients.

Right now the biggest challenge is people: matching this ambition on the part of clients with ambition among those prepared to take their careers into a new, exciting and challenging direction.

The reality is this is often just too challenging for some.

Fixed views, comfort zones and lack of ambition hold some back in a self-selecting way.
This helps me and colleagues here look at the people problem differently.

In other words if we as an organisation are to seize opportunities, we must be prepared to reach out into other markets to identify those who wish to join us on the journey.

With one of our three hubs in Australasia we have already built a pipeline of skilled people moving from Australia to the Middle East, while in the UK some of our most able engineers and project managers have recently responded by moving to the region.

The Al Raha Beach project Laing O'Rourke is delivering in Abu Dhabi, with joint venture partner Aldar, is a classic example of the attraction of scale for those who share our ambition.

To really understand it think of London's Canary Wharf, then multiply this by 25.

As a member of the London 2012 delivery partner CLM board, I was fortunate to be able to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics last month.

Again, I took away one important lesson – above all – from that eye-opening experience: never discount those who say it cannot be done, but never let their negativity over-rule the certainty that personal, and collective, ambition can create stunning results. Just ask Team GB.

- Tony Douglas is Laing O'Rourke chief operating officer

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