Jan. 12, 2015

Mohammed Al Rais

UAE, Dubai

Mohammed Al Rais

Senior Vice-President & Managing Director, Hill International (Middle East) Ltd.


Mohammed Al Rais is Senior Vice-President and Managing Director of Hill International (Middle East) Ltd. He has over 35 years of experience in the management of construction projects throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the UK and Canada. He was previously Vice-President acting as Hill’s regional manager for its Abu Dhabi operations. He is fluent in both Arabic and English, and has extensive experience working with both the public and private sectors. Al Rais earned a BS in City and Regional Planning from the University of Engineering and Technology in Pakistan and obtained an MS in Project Management from the University of Reading in the UK.

How did Hill International manage to successfully navigate the global economic crisis while growing its client portfolio?

At Hill International, approximately eight years ago, we were fully concentrated on the Middle East. At the time, we foresaw the need to expand and started spreading into other markets as the dangers of a Middle Eastern bubble drew nearer. We expanded into North Africa, Europe, and Asia. Of course, when the bubble burst, we were actually quite well positioned and, in fact, we were not affected. The other issue for our business is that we are a strict project management-construction management (PMCM) company, meaning, unlike our competitors, we have an added advantage. Some of them are contractors and they do project management in this area, while we are strictly a PMCM company and ranked number nine this year in the world according to Engineering News-Record in PMCM, and number one in claims consultancy in the world.

What are the differences, in particular between Dubai and the other markets that you are operating in challenge wise?

The market is not as formal as it is in the US or Western Europe. It is more like Turkey or Greece. The clients are much more approachable here. Hence, they give you the opportunity to show who you are and what you can do. Then, you slowly gain a reputation and get more and more work. We have many peculiarities that make us unique in the region.

How is the growing importance of technology and eco-sustainability influencing your business in Dubai?

In terms of management, we are employing technology in a number of ways. One way is through a project control system, which allows you to centralize all project details and share reports with clients. The reports can also be produced in Arabic, which is important in this market. In terms of sustainability, we have LEED-certified architects. In that respect, it's also important to consider the costs involved when developing a LEED-certified building. This is where we come in, to ensure that there are different options and that you do your value engineering to make sure that whatever sustainable systems you are putting in, and whatever LEED certifications you are going after, are good value. We know that the government of Dubai and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum are really pushing for this, and that will put Dubai on the map.

What expectations do you have for Expo 2020, and what trends do you see in general?

Infrastructure projects are critical to the Emirate, and they will proceed at pace in the run up to the Expo. The government is highly committed, and a lot of projects will be tourism related. There should be a general strategy of what to announce to control the market upwards and downwards and allow it to experience the natural growth of any market. The second aspect is the infrastructure. One of the mistakes of the late 2000s was that infrastructure was always trying to catch up with the buildings, and I think what the government of Dubai has managed to achieve is hugely important and highly commendable. Despite an economic lull, the government actually continued work on infrastructure projects, whether it was roads, power plants, or water. And now, there's even development happening on the metro, light rail, and a tram system. What Dubai has achieved as a service provider, from airports to hotels and transport systems, is unparalleled. However, it all needs to be counter balanced. The rents are going up and it needs to be controlled to a point. Wage increases should match increases in the cost of living.