GROUND BREAKERS

Lebanon 2013 | REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Georges Hage, CEO of C.A.T. Group, on the company's international operations, the construction sector, and the achievements of the group.

Georges Hage
BIOGRAPHY
Before joining the C.A.T. Group as CEO, Georges Hage occupied important positions with international groups such as SEEE/GTM, GEC, Bouygues, Kharafi, and Saudi Oger and has acquired a wide and solid experience in engineering, design, management, development, projects finance, construction, and operations in Europe, the MENA region, as well as in the GCC.

What has been C.A.T. Group's historic role in the contracting sector in the 20th century?

The C.A.T. Group, founded in 1937 by Emile Bustani and his partners Abdallah El Khoury and Shukri Shammas, played a significant and proud role in the history of 20th century contracting, experiencing the turmoil of the Middle East, while preserving its culture of excellence. Our group has a spirit and tradition, values its employees, and provides them with the best working environment even in very difficult and unsafe areas. When C.A.T. was established, there were no Lebanese contractors and, in the late 1950s, C.A.T. became the biggest contracting company in the MENA region. We were also the first family business in the Middle East run by professional management, and not by the families or shareholders themselves. The mission of the C.A.T. Group is to offer a wide range of integrated engineering, procurement, and construction services based on up-to-date knowledge, quality assurance, safety, quality workmanship, cost awareness, and on-time delivery. Our group operates in diverse sectors, such as oil and gas, pipeline, mechanical, buildings, civil engineering, and roads.

How are C.A.T. Group's international operations developing?

After more than 75 years, C.A.T. Group still has an eminent presence in the GCC, the Middle East, and Africa, thanks to its culture of excellence and its commitment to providing the best services to its clients. In Saudi Arabia, we successfully completed important projects in the oil and gas, mechanical, and pipeline sectors and we have an important portfolio of ongoing projects for Aramco, Maaden, and many other clients. Our strong presence in Nigeria allows us to execute significant volumes of civil works, such as roads, highways, bridges, and water plants in many states. Qatar is also an important market for C.A.T. Group since we have completed prestigious projects there, such as one of the world's largest district cooling plants executed on a design and build basis; the Integrated District Cooling Plant (IDCP), which was installed in The Pearl Qatar in 2010 and which will service more than 80 apartment towers, beachfront villas, townhouses, shopping complexes, offices, schools, and hotels throughout the island, ultimately supplying more than 130,000 tons of refrigeration to the island's estimated 50,000 residents in the Porto Arabia project in The Pearl Qatar. We are currently closing on three of the main central utility plants for the New Doha International Airport as well as the Doha Land Infrastructure Works for Msheireb Properties. In the UAE, we are working in the oil and gas, pipelines, and heavy mechanical sectors. We have successfully built several district cooling plants in the UAE. The C.A.T. Group is also active in Kuwait. In addition, our presence in Basra in Iraq allows us to target important projects in the oil and gas and pipeline sectors. Over the past few years, we have also completed a number of noteworthy projects in Lebanon, including the Marina Towers, the An Nahar Building, and the Lebanese Order of Physicians' headquarters.

How do you assess Lebanon's construction sector?

Lebanon's construction sector experienced an overall decline of around 11.7 % in 2012 relative to 2011. The construction sector in Lebanon is widely relying on private real estate developments. Public projects in Lebanon are very rare and are put on hold mainly because the government does not have the budget to fund them. The government has made no significant investments in infrastructure, though Lebanon badly needs to improve its infrastructure and build power plants to cover the country's needs in electricity, water treatment, and solid waste management to preserve our environment, which is seriously threatened. It also needs to double sustainable energy projects to reduce the country's dependence on oil and natural gas. In my opinion, cooperation between the public and private sectors can help the government to overcome this impasse. However, without a well-defined and clear legal and financial framework, recognition of shared interests and balanced contract risk allocation, the public-private partnership (PPP) cannot be successful.

What has been the focus of your growth strategy in recent years, and where do you see more potential for the company to grow?

Although we are living in a politically unstable region where nobody knows what will happen next, as was the case in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Tunisia, the region still has high potential. Accordingly, we continue to focus on areas of business wherein we already have a presence, and at the same time we are looking to develop our expertise and know-how in others regions, such as Africa and Eastern Europe. The Group's leadership, culture, vision, efficient financial management, risk management, systems and procedures, and high-level skill have always helped our group's businesses achieve their potential.

What are C.A.T. Group's competitive advantages?

The competitive advantages of the C.A.T. Group results from matching core competencies to the opportunities offered to us. C.A.T. Group has a unique history and a culture that allow us to create an edge over our competitors. C.A.T.'s solid reputation is underpinned by its firm commitment to provide the best services to its clients, based on quality, safety, and timely delivery. We consistently seek to meet or even exceed our clients' expectations, which in turn enable us to establish long-term relationships with them. Our intentional emphasis on quality and transparency keeps us on the right track with subcontractors and suppliers, which we consider on the same level as our real partners. We are also distinguished because we invest in our people, our most valuable assets; we respect and appreciate them.

How has C.A.T. Group managed to transfer its success to so many different markets?

The secrets of the success of the C.A.T. Group are its culture of excellence and the commitment of its people to deliver, most of the time, in very difficult areas. The C.A.T. culture provides the key by opening up to new markets, which ultimately results in our flexibility from one region to another, supported by unwavering corporate standards, system, and policies. Being deeply rooted, we have the ability to deal with different types of clients, adapting ourselves to their culture, needs, and expectations. Dealing with GCC clients may differ considerably from dealing with Nigerian or other African clients. For example, for some clients, safety is of prime concern, while for others cost may be a more important element. We are also very transparent in the way we share information, and achieve considerable synergy between our departments, divisions, and areas, all of which are very important. Success is gradually built by learning from one's own mistakes.

Where do you see the construction sector in Lebanon developing over the next decade, and where do you envision C.A.T. Group?

For the construction sector, it is very hard to say and is unpredictable as it does not only depend on the situation in Lebanon, but also in the region as a whole. Without stability, you cannot develop a country, and Lebanon must achieve its stability once and for all and I am optimistic that one day Lebanon will once again fully utilize its ingenuity. As for C.A.T. Group, I am confident that we will continue on the path laid down by its founders Emile Bustani, Abdallah El Khoury, and Shukri Shammas as we are still willing to grow further by opening up new markets, and without a shadow of doubt we are keen on working in Lebanon again. As such, we are targeting some important projects in the construction sector as well as in the oil and gas sector since we are already prequalified to participate in the tenders of the offshore and onshore works. My main objectives as CEO of the C.A.T. Group are to preserve our culture and spirit of excellence, to maintain our leadership position among the major players in the GCC and MENA region, to remain committed to delivering and meeting our clients expectations, to invest in our people and develop their skills, to continue working in a spirit of partnership and maintain transparency, and, last but not least, to enhance the group's financial strength and create wealth for our shareholders.