TBY talks to Larry M. Burke, Managing Director of Unger Steel Middle East, on the fundamentals of running a good company, evolving to export steel to the US, and the importance of maintaining the highest possible quality standards.

 Larry M. Burke
Larry M. Burke has been the Managing Director/CSO of Unger Steel Middle East FZE for the past four years. Having spent over 30 years working throughout the Middle East, he is fluent in Arabic. He has a vast experience in the pre-engineering steel industry, roof and wall cladding, modular housing, and precast industries. Before joining Unger Steel, he held the position of Operations Director for ESL Group.

How did the Unger Steel Group end up operating in Sharjah?

About 10 years ago, the Unger Steel Group, one of the largest steel fabricators and general contracting companies in Europe, saw the growth in the Middle East and decided it was worth looking into opportunities here. Unger decided to set up a factory in the UAE and, after extensive research, decided to settle in the Hamriyah Free Zone (HFZ). As an engineering company, we have a number of both blue- and white-collar workers that benefit from living in Sharjah. Sharjah is a family-oriented city and more affordable than Dubai.

How has demand for your products evolved in the GCC?

There is always demand as well as competition. There are many fabrication factories in the region. We do not just sell steel in the UAE; Saudi Arabia and Oman are also big markets for us. We even recently completed a project in Turkmenistan, where we fabricated the steel in Sharjah, loaded it in containers, and delivered it to Turkmenistan. In 2016, we did two projects for one of our German clients, where we fabricated the steel in Sharjah and shipped it to his projects in the US. Our client prefers to use Unger Steel Middle East in Sharjah over a factory in the US because he knows the quality he will receive from us. We are also one of few companies in the GCC that can put the Conformité Européenne (CE) stamp on all the products we fabricate. This is why most of our clients are repeat clients and why we are in full production; we do not constantly have to go out looking for new clients. Additionally, we do not just fabricate steel; we also have a large engineering department. We do the engineering, the fabrication work, the delivery, and assembling the material onsite. We offer a ready-to-use solution.

What are the differences between doing projects in Europe compared to the GCC?

One factor is the temperature in the region; it is not easy working outdoors in high temperatures. Fortunately, between June 15 and September 15 there is a three-hour break in each work-day that helps.

What have been the key factors in satisfying client needs over the last 10 years?

Number one is reliability. When a company signs up to deliver a project by a certain time it makes that commitment and has to deliver not just on the finish date, but for every milestone in the project. There are other trades involved in any project, and they depend on the company meeting its milestones so they can get their work done. These are number-one priorities for us. This comes down to excellent factory and project management, having great engineering and fabrication, and on-time delivery from the factory and onsite. The second important factor is quality.

What characteristics make Sharjah an excellent destination for investors, especially in manufacturing?

When the Unger Steel Group decided to come here, it was a great decision because it is easy to do business here. Everyone wants companies to succeed, and no one holds us back. Again, coming to HFZ was another excellent decision because we receive great support and help from the HFZ Authority. As there is a harbor directly in the free zone, we can use barges and vessels to transport over-sized materials from HFZ to the project sites. Kuwait is another big market for us; last year we supplied more than 5,000 tons of steel to that market from HFZ.

What are your expectations for Unger in the next year?

We have great clients that trust us and we always have enough work. To be in a great position we just have to run a good company. A company has to look after its clients and provide a quality product on time and at the market price.