The builder behind the Shard skyscraper and one of the key
partners on the London Olympics, Britain's Mace, is gearing up for a fight to
win Qatar's $8.2bn soccer World Cup construction contract, as building markets
Global market jitters as well as a dearth of financing and
government spending on infrastructure are forcing contractors and consultancy
firms to scour further afield to win lucrative contracts and top-up order
"It has been worrying in the last 3 months as there has
been a reining back of a commitment to fund projects," said Mace chief
executive and chairman Stephen Pycroft.
"Every client we speak to is constrained by a lack of
bank finance," he said.
Privately-owned Mace is tipped as one of the favourites to win the 2022 soccer World Cup stadium deal after helping to deliver the London Olympic site, for which it joined forces with British builder Laing O'Rourke and engineering and construction group CH2M Hill, on time and within budget.
It is bidding alone in Qatar.
"It's tough, there is no doubt it's tough. Qatar are
looking for the best people in the world ... We're one of five, everyone's been
interviewed, and the view is that they will decide on somebody before
December," said Pycroft.
A construction industry source in Doha said on Monday that
Qatar would likely award a contract next month.
The £850m turnover company has also worked with the Qataris
on the 1,016-ft tall Shard at London Bridge, which is being funded by the state
of Qatar and will be western Europe's tallest building when completed next
This is the project which Pycroft sees as a game-changer for
Mace, which had previously kept its profile below the radar.
"In terms of reputation it's put Mace on the map,"
said Pycroft, who will be succeeded in his role of chief executive by Mark
Reynold in 2013, but will stay on as chairman.
"The whole industry thought that the Shard would never
be built, so there was a complete attitude of why are you wasting your
time," he added, as Mace worked with the project creator before it secured
funding and planning approval.
However, big-ticket deals such as these are going to be few
and far between in the UK over the next 3-5 years.
"Our view is that 2012, 2013 and 2014 are going to be
tough years in the UK," said Pycroft.
"The only real pocket of light is in central London, where
prime real estate is being bought up by external funders, who are dealing with
the weak pound," he said.
International consultancy work will be the biggest growth
engine. Mace estimates the unit's income will double to over £200m by 2017,
while overall group turnover will rise to £950m in 2011 and grow further in
2012, offset by a squeeze on margins.
Already operating across 65 countries, Mace is diversifying
and looking to emerging markets such as the Middle East and the East Coast of
Africa including Angola, Nigeria and South Africa.
"You've got the Arab spring happening, there must be a
major investment in social housing in many other countries. That must be
another opportunity we will try and focus on," said Pycroft.
Many contractors are also slowly returning to Libya, with
dozen of executives from France, Britain, Italy and other countries having
spent months building ties with potential Libyan partners.
The debt-free company must also maintain its position in a
pond with ever larger fish. Dutch group Arcadis said it would buy out British
firm EC Harris, as global construction groups look to offer a wider range of
Mace's Pycroft admitted the consolidation trend did make the
mid-sized company feel slightly vulnerable, but he was bullish on growth. The
group is eyeing a headcount of 5,000 by 2017 from its current 3,500 and has
recruited 300 people so far this year.