To say that things move quickly in the Gulf is something of an understatement. In 2010, when Mohammed Al Rais was made managing director of global construction consultant Hill International’s regional operations, the outlook for his industry wasn’t entirely positive. While the markets in Saudi Arabia and Qatar looked strong, the same could hardly be said of Hill’s regional home base of Dubai, which was attempting to recover from a crisis founded on a property boom that had left many developers and contractors severely out of pocket.
“It was a challenge,” Al Rais recalls. “Everywhere you looked, people were pessimistic. But we’ve been here for 20 years, and this is a very important sector for us, not just in terms of the work but also the stability.
“But others were firing by the hundreds. I remember when I came in, on April 1, 2010, we looked at the backlog, and while we had a lot of promises, nothing came out, so we had to change focus and change direction, and add new markets, and I think that’s what gave us a huge push forward.”
Three years on, and Al Rais’ careful management of Hill’s resources has seen the firm diversify and pick up a series of project wins throughout the Gulf. It is currently working on some of the region’s most important and prestigious projects, including the Doha Metro, Abu Dhabi International Airport’s Midfield Terminal and the Jabal Omar complex in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
As a result, the region is starting to play a more important role in Hill International’s global operations. In his earnings call to discuss the firm’s 2012 results, president and CEO David Richter said that the Middle East and the US were now Hill’s strongest markets, during what has been a tough time for the world’s construction industry. During the company’s first-quarter call, Richter said that the region accounted for 42 percent of global consulting fees, up from 32 percent for the whole of 2012. That figure was largely due to work beginning on the $109m contract to supervise the expansion of Muscat International Airport, as well as stronger consulting fee gains in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Iraq.
Altogether, the value of Hill’s 45 current projects in the Middle East is $71bn. Last year, the firm signed $295m worth of new deals and there appear to be plenty more coming up. Al Rais says one of the key focus areas for the company is the GCC’s multi-billion-dollar rail contracts.
Last year, Hill won a key $59m deal to manage the design and construction of the green line of Doha’s Metro system, and it’s clearly hoping to use that contract as a springboard to further success.
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