Apr. 19, 2016

 Ibrahim Jaidah


Ibrahim Jaidah

CEO & Chief Architect, Arab Engineering Bureau

TBY talks to Ibrahim Jaidah, CEO & Chief Architect of Arab Engineering Bureau, on Qatar's diverse economy, the domestic market, and competing with multinationals.


Ibrahim Jaidah is a pioneer of an architectural movement that combines Islamic art with modern style. His book, History of Qatari Architecture, was published in January 2010. He has won numerous awards, including the Islamic Cities and Arab Town Organization Awards, and has thrice been nominated for the Agha Khan Award. He was honored in 2005 with the State of Qatar Encouragement Award. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1988 and in 1991 acquired Arab Engineering Bureau (AEB) with only six staff. Since then AEB’s diversified human resources have grown to a current figure of over 600 highly qualified professionals of 35 different nationalities.

How would you describe Arab Engineering Bureau's performance over the previous year?

We have been continuously growing. In the last couple of years we faced some serious challenges, because the results of the economic crisis six years ago usually come at the end, but we see a continuous work flow. Even now with the oil prices down, the private sector has been extremely aggressive. We are busy, and we are still growing both locally and regionally. With regards to today's recent challenges, namely the oil prices, Qatar has diversified in a smart way with gas and other industries, and of course with the mega investments it has made abroad.

Arab Engineering Bureau is present across many different sectors. Where do you see the primary areas of opportunity for business moving forward?

That all depends on the trends in the direction of the government's decisions. Because of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, we can already see our future projects mainly revolve around the hospitality and retail sectors. This is reflected in our current workload, as we are consistently engaged in hotel and shopping center projects. In conjunction with the World Cup, we are involved in one of the stadiums, which is a substantial project for us. When we look at our current client base, we have guided our business to an even 50-50 split in terms of numbers, but the scale of government projects is greater than that of private-sector clients. That said, we are seeing a transition in the country whereby our expectations for the future are shifting toward the private sector and we foresee this as a major opportunity for us moving forward.

How would you assess Qatar's real estate investment climate right now?

Investments in the real estate market are actually so good at the moment that I am worried about inflation in construction costs. Even though this may not be so obvious with the contractors in the medium-sized segment, what we have on the drawing board indicates that the difference is significant. Fortunately the government is prepared and is focused on the prices of raw materials and the means of their acquisition. One of the most important parts of this plan was the inauguration of Hamad Port, a critical addition to the import of construction materials.

How would you describe the importance of your domestic business here in Qatar compared to international expansion?

Our local operation is definitely our primary activity. We have our head office here and are servicing most of the offices out of here, with the exception of Manila. Manila is a backup for Doha, so we can control the growth within Doha because both markets have similar construction risks so we need to collaborate with engineering support firms. We have invested in opening our own firms, and Manila has around 60 people servicing just the Doha office. Kuala Lumpur (KL) is independent, but we are doing good work and our involvement with the KL local market is picking up well.

How important is it to continue integrating traditional architecture in Qatar?

Identity is important, even in modern buildings; a city should have an identity, and Doha has developed in this manner where its identity is present in even its most modern buildings, while for government buildings and embassies incorporating elements of local vernacular is a must. We should not even try anything else because the demand is that the design reflect the local architecture. However, when we work abroad in places like Dubai, it is slightly different, as the architectural identity of Dubai is in fact its modern buildings.

What does it mean for Arab Engineering Bureau, as a preeminent Arab contracting company, to have such significant involvement here?

We see the influx of foreign firms as a positive sign, because it means that we compete against the best even when we win most of our bids. We just won the contract for a stadium and we were the only local firm to make a bid amongst the other foreign competitors. The amount of work requires so much expertise and so many firms to work together that there is no way local firms alone can meet the demand. What this does is create a need for local firms to raise their standards to match those of the highest international competitors, which only improves what we are doing in the long run. It is extremely healthy, and it would in fact be a bad sign if no firms from all over the world were interested in our market. If they are all coming, it means that there is underlying potential for market development.