The concept of construction consultancy is not familiar in Egypt, would you mind explaining it?
Consultancy within Egypt is a long established business, and what’s happening in Egypt now is merely following in the footsteps of what happened in the UK a few years ago, so we are coming from a very traditional way of delivering projects to techniques and services which are a little bit more sophisticated and developed.
We are finding better ways of doing things now, so what we see in Egypt today is pretty much how things were in the UK maybe 30 years ago and what we would probably have found in the United States 10 years ago. The Americans are still new to the idea of having other consultants involved in the process, as traditionally it has always been a process involving the owner, the engineer or architect and the builder; a three-way relationship. And the architect would have to deal with all of these issues. Internally, the architect would deal with programme and cost management, and what happens in America is that the architect is sued all the time, as his area of expertise lies in creating wonderful buildings, and not cost or time management and other aspects. What we are finding in America is that the service is beginning to grow to deal with all these special aspects directly. In Egypt, there’s a very traditional relationship between the owner, the engineer and the builder, but the engineer is not necessarily fully equipped to deal with modern pressures to deliver things within time, and within a particular cost managed budget, so owners are now looking to develop these specialties.
What are the most important services that you offer for businesses?
We offer project and cost management and we believe that independence is very important. We are one of the last few remaining independent consultancies; most others have been purchased by big engineering companies. We stand independent, and in Egypt we are the only independent consultancy.
The three functions of the design of the project, the quality of the project, the time frame for delivering the overall project and its cost management, must be independent, and have to be independently challenged. If you put these services within one place, then there will be no accuracy in checking on these services; if you isolate them and allow individuals to challenge them, the overall product is much better.
Who are you working with currently?
Primarily, we are working with Futtaim and Emaar; they understand and value our service. We have recommendations from both of them for our years of loyal service, and since 2012 we have decided to diversify and seek other clients, not necessarily mega projects, but small scale works. We have a team now which is large enough to accommodate this, and we can absorb a lot more work that allows us to diversify with other clients, like Futtaim, DAMAC, and British Gas, we are supporting work in Yemen and Qatar and we are interested in working in Libya and Lebanon, even in Sudan and Jordan. We also have projects in Iraq.
Those are high-risk countries. How do you manage this risk?
This is a perception: Everyone wants to know about Egypt and the perceptions of these countries are not often the reality on the ground. Unfortunately Egypt has a very bad reputation at the moment, tourism numbers are not as high as they should be, but there is no immediate danger to your security. The same is true in Tripoli or Iraq: we have no problem operating in this region, because we tend to use local people, we are 90% Egyptian in this business.
What about business risk?
We could attach a higher premium to work in certain territories, but we don’t want to lose our competitiveness, or not deliver value for money for the client. If we are going to work in this region it has to be competitive. The risk would be that the project doesn’t go ahead. That part of the risk we share with the client. But those risks are equally valid in the UK as they are in Egypt; the political and economic conditions in Europe as a whole can be as fragile as they are here in Egypt.
The potential growth comes from Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and we have to look at emerging markets to grow this business, and we will look at Africa in the future.
Do you have plans for expansion in Egypt?
Absolutely. We have just opened an office in Alexandria and intend to grow our staff by another 10% to 15% this year, and we intend to grow our business by 15%.
We’ve grown every year by 15% to 20%, even despite the revolution and all the negative economic factors. There is no reason why we can’t grow again by the same level this year.
What is the size of your portfolio in Egypt currently?
In general, we are handling at the moment something like $7bn of construction in Egypt. These projects will be extended over the coming years, ending in 2015 or 2020, and this number is expected to grow 15% to 20% this year.
What is the nature of your participation in Cityscape this year?
We have three objectives for Cityscape: the first is to raise our profile; raising the awareness about the service; and showcasing our projects.
How can you add value to the market?
Our most important services are cost management and project management; those are our key main deliverables. Controlling the budget of the project to make sure that the cost prediction is valid from day one through the end of the project, traditionally project cost tended to increase by 30% or 50%; these days when money is more scarce, that is a disaster for the project so we manage this by carefully selecting the contractors and carefully managing the design to make sure that what happens on day one is predictable and understood all the way till the end.
People become interested in the cost when they receive the price from the contractors, but at that point it’s already too late. So we are controlling things from the very earliest phases to help with the design and achieve the budget. We are having very active control on these factors: We look very closely at the change control; we manage these changes; and we have techniques to do this by finding the right contractors.
Risk management and value management almost go hand in hand.
Is the Egyptian market aware of these kinds of services?
Mainly not. There are some clients and organisations that are more internationally exposed and familiar with these things, but the indigenous market is not aware of these matters; it’s very much our objective to raise awareness of these services.
We are responding to demand; people don’t understand how we can help them.
Can you tell us about the Gleeds Academy?
Presently we have 70 employees in Egypt; we have a very active programme of sending Egyptian nationals back to the UK for training, and we have 12 individuals involved in master’s courses to increase their academic qualifications. This will enable us to deliver our services with a higher quality.
We have a training academy in Nottingham, and we have the Gleeds Academy as an online training facility.