FULFILLING THE VISION

Abu Dhabi 2019 | URBAN PLANNING, REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hamish Tyrwhitt, Group CEO of Arabtec Holding, on the significance of Expo 2020 for the entire market, Arabtec's growing international footprint, and prioritizing Vision 2030.

Hamish Tyrwhitt
BIOGRAPHY
Hamish Tyrwhitt was appointed Group CEO of the Arabtec Group in November 2016. Since April 2016, he has been Group CEO of Depa Limited, one of the world’s leading providers of interior solutions. He is also a Non-Executive Director of Design Studio, Singapore’s leading premier furniture manufacturer. He is also Director of Jordan Wood Industries PSC, a listed Jordanian company which manufactures office and household furniture. Tyrwhitt has three decades of senior leadership experience in the global engineering and construction sectors. Prior to this, he was CEO of the Australian-Securities-Exchange-listed Leighton Group, with annual revenues of around USD20 billion and operations in more than 20 international markets.

How do you assess the performance of the UAE's construction sector over the last year?

The significance of winning the right to host Expo 2020 generated an enormous amount of construction opportunities both directly and indirectly, and this had a knock-on impact on companies, which were finally able to get their noses above water. Arabtec picked up a good share of the work last year, with the bulk of that being Dubai-centric, as we are working on projects both within the Expo site and associated with Expo that are to finish by end-2019 or 1Q2020. Hosting the Expo is probably one of the most material events I have seen, and it will drive economic growth.

How has Arabtec fared in these circumstances?

Arabtec had a transformational year in 2017; with the capital raising, we were able to rebuild the balance sheet and bid, win, and deliver projects. Our biggest success last year was the completion of the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It doesn't only hold a strong cultural and historical significance for the Gulf and the Middle East; it is also an important piece of architectural infrastructure. The trend remains extremely positive, as I have witnessed the most positive start to a year on a global level after many years.

How is Arabtec's international footprint developing?

In 2017, 100% of the work that we won was in the UAE, of which 85-90% was in Dubai. Outside of the UAE, we are still looking at other markets. Saudi Arabia, heading toward its Vision 2030, could be an interesting source of opportunities. Egypt is another market that may offer growth opportunities because of its population, resources, history, and culture. Notably, we have some projects in Bahrain. Outside of the Middle East, we have Abu Dhabi Plaza in Kazakhstan, though that is also a client from the UAE.

How does Arabtec champion innovation in the construction industry?

The construction industry is a low margin business and tends not to reinvest in innovation. Looking at the UAE, we have a relatively low-cost, unskilled and semi-skilled workforce, which means that companies do not always drive productivity the way they should. I do, however, see that changing. Our duty here, as a contractor, is to deliver on the nation's vision, and a key driver of the UAE's vision revolves around sustainability and innovation. One of the ways the construction industry is innovating is through BIM and computer-aided engineering with 3D modeling. One of the biggest challenges for the UAE is to ensure that the knowledge and competencies it has invested in remains within the country.

How are your ambitions and priorities in line with Vision 2030?

When we start developing our business plans, we take into account the environment we operate in. The first thing we do is look at the vision for the nation and where the leaders are looking to take it. Our job is to then participate and deliver on that vision, whether that is hosting the Expo, increasing financial services, or promoting tourism. In general, our outlook for the next few years is positive. When Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal opens, it will be the most spectacular airport in the world and will be a major hub for Etihad and the wider region. As a group strategy for 2018, our priority will be to improve cost savings and benefits through integrated supply-chain management and an internal simplification of the Group's operating structure. On one hand, this will go through the integration of BIM, 3D modelling, and embracing technology into new projects, always bearing in mind our target of reducing waste through innovation and modularization. On the other hand, we seek to pursue opportunities in the infrastructure sector while divesting non-core assets. Our workforce productivity has to improve, and our short-term debt requires restructuring. With these priorities in mind, we are committed to rebasing the business to create a lean and agile organization—one with a can-do culture.