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Building blocks: ECC CEO Kareem Farah

Building blocks: ECC CEO Kareem Farah

The Engineering Contracting Company CEO reveals how the firm has weathered a slowdown in the regional construction sector and where it will go next

ECC has been in this region since 1975. What are the major changes you have seen in the construction industry since then?

“ECC was established in 1975 in response to the need for a quality service-oriented civil engineering and construction company in the UAE market and the Gulf region. Since this time the market has developed at an impressive pace, accomplishing many remarkable milestones along the way. Major changes that have presented challenges in the past, and will continue to do so in the future include the development and adoption of new technologies and stricter building standards. The reason being, these changes require time, investment and expertise to develop and implement. Furthermore, over the years we have witnessed the market transitioning though ups and downs, each creating a unique set of challenges and opportunities – the key outcome we have observed is that no matter what trials the industry faces, it always bounces back and thrives.”

The GCC region has struggled with low oil prices in recent years, and the slowdown in the economy has hit all sectors. What kind of an impact have you felt?

“When we talk about a slowdown in the economy we typically see a divide between those companies with a long established history and reputation in the market and those that are comparatively new. We are one of the most established and diverse contracting companies in the region; offering unified construction services through its integration with the ECC Group. I believe our track record of innovative and challenging projects and ability to deliver dynamic solutions at all stages of construction have a strong role to play in this equation. Companies with a long established history and reputation typically weather a slowdown much better. I also believe that clients are aware of contractors that prosper during these times and are more willing to do business with them as a result.”

Some of the major construction companies in Dubai have also been forced to restructure operations. Do you expect consolidation in the market?

“As a company that has operated in this country for more than four decades, we are well aware of the pressure this sector is facing to continually deliver outstanding service to clients, while working hard to develop new business by securing new projects. While we cannot comment on our competitors, I can tell you we have a healthy pipeline of projects on the horizon and our client relationships are growing stronger. For other companies operating in the region, consolidation may be a viable option to continue a successful business model. We have dealt with tough market conditions in a different way – rather than consolidation we have looked to lean construction methods to make the company more efficient. The companies that thrive in any market are always those with an acute ability to adapt promptly to changes in market requirements.”

ECC registered a growth rate of 8 per cent in 2016. What kind of revenue /profit growth do you anticipate this year?

“Our positive annual growth figures are largely attributed to its delivery, reputation and strong financial position. Throughout our 42-year history, we have successfully weathered both market challenges and periods of rapid development by carefully pacing our own expansion. Our growth and current position can be credited to our strength as a company and long-standing reputation in the UAE. We have experienced one of our stronger years in 2017, completing some milestone projects in the region, a trend we are anticipating to continue into 2018 and beyond. “

The company currently employs over 7,000 people. Are you planning to hire in the near future?

“We have more than 7,000 highly qualified team members and an extensive supply chain, which allows it to deliver projects on time and fulfils the expectation of the employer, authorities and other stakeholders. The company is currently in a very fortunate position to have nurtured the careers of many talented people who have demonstrated great commitment over the years. As the company continues to attract growing interest and attention, we are always open to welcoming new members to our team and will endeavour to continue supporting the careers of our dedicated people.

ECC is working on the Mirdif Hills project

Looking ahead, where do you see scope for maximum growth in the short / medium term – in the GCC and from a sector perspective?

Having developed experience and expertise undertaking a wide variety of prestigious projects over the years, the planned expansion process of the company continues to unfold with great success. This is evident in the diversification of completed, managed, as well as on-going projects that include, but are not limited to, hospitality, residential, commercial, historical, educational, institutional, industrial, healthcare, leisure and retail. Looking ahead to the long-term future, we see great potential for new business across all these sectors. Dubai is a desirable destination – the population is still growing and appears set to continue growing for the foreseeable future; all new residents will require accommodation and products and services, not to mention the infrastructure needed to support this growth.”

The company has been responsible for some of the most recognisable and important projects in the UAE. What have been the challenges in maintaining the company’s standards and reputation over the years?

“With a track record of successful ventures and long-term partnerships, we have built a strong presence in the market. Our clients, to name a few, include Dubai Municipality, Emirates Tele-communications Corp, Emaar Properties, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, The Ruler’s Office, Union Properties, Dubai Festival City, Deyaar, Damac, Zayed University and the Roads and Transport Authority. Where others see challenges, we see opportunities. Maintaining the company’s standards and reputation over the years ultimately comes down to developing relationships and exceeding client expectations. By over delivering projects and exceeding expectations any company can begin successfully creating a positive reputation for themselves.”

How hard has it been to stay front and centre with the increase in competition in the UAE and wider Gulf region?

“We welcome competition to the market – it’s no secret that strong competition encourages all players to enhance their respective offerings and deliver greater levels of service and quality. The company holds a track record of successful ventures and long-term partnerships and has built a strong presence in the market with key milestone projects. We believe that our current standing in the market place is a result of these key factors. Looking forward, no company can afford to become complacent, the market is changing and we have to continually seek to re-establish ourselves as leaders.”

What new projects do you have in the pipeline and on the horizon? Will you continue to work across a variety of categories, or will you focus on a particular type of project in the coming months and years?

“The ECC Group, through its sister companies such as Abanos Interior Fit Out and Joinery, United Masters and Prime Metal Industries, is also able to provide all construction related services for its clients. We’re pleased to say that we will make some exciting new announcements in Q4 of 2017 and Q1 of 2018 relating to our completed and awarded projects. Regarding the focus of our future projects, it’s clear to see that there is strong demand coming from across numerous sectors, most notably in residential and commercial and tourism and hospitality.”

How important is technology to the industry, and to what extend will implementing new technology impact the UAE construction sector in the coming years?

“We have witnessed the UAE construction industry develop a strong interest in adopting new technology, unfortunately the uptake is still relatively slow and we see resistance from many companies to invest in tech-forward advancements, despite the benefits in doing so being clearly understood. It is fair to say that globally the engineering and construction sector does tend to lag behind other sectors when it comes to adopting and implementing new technology, though we should be cautious about making excuses about this important topic. The extent that new technology will impact the sector in the coming years is hard to quantify, the benefits of these advancements are diverse, including increased productivity, decreased construction costs, reduced wastage, enhanced safety and improved sustainability, to name a few. I strongly believe that by adopting such technology companies in the region are able to eliminate many of the problems that have been troubling the sector for years.”

Lastly, what is your outlook for the future – especially with the rise of new technologies such as 3D construction?

“Everyone is well aware of the significant demands the process of adopting new technology places on a company. We are advancing exactly according to schedule regarding all our technological updates. The outlook for the future is positive, however the pursuit of a thriving industry requires all companies with a long-term vision to make a commitment to technology as soon as possible. Most notably in the future, construction will become faster and projects will be designed more efficiently as a result of the rise in new technologies. Upgrading existing technology in line with industry standards is important; adopting newly developed technology is essential in a competitive market place.”

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