Mohammed Sadiyyah admits that Khatib & Alami may have a marketing problem. The consultancy, more frequently known as K&A, has become so embedded in the fabric of the Middle East through its breadth of projects and decades in the business that pointing out all the iconic developments it has been involved with still provokes surprise in the industry. This track record includes a number of towers along the Gulf's most eye-catching stretch of urban highway.
"If you look at Sheikh Zayed Road and start from the righthand side, you find the Fairmont Hotel, then API Tower - we built those about ten years ago," explains Sadiyyah. "Then down the road you find Rostamani, the first two towers - we called them towers because they were then, at 18-storeys."
The Rostamani towers were completed around 1980, when only a few buildings adorned the emirate's central road. It is an example of K&A's long-standing presence in the UAE and surrounding markets, even as attention on the company has been captured by newer, noisier construction companies and developers entering the market in the boom years and crowding the city.
But the trade-off for low levels of self-promotion is a portfolio and pedigree that all consultants would envy: a project history from Oman to Morocco; repeat business from governments and private developers alike; design, consultancy and supervision successes across houses, towers, infrastructure, hospitals, rail and airports; and - perhaps most enviable - it has, for many years, been one of the most trusted service providers of Saudi Aramco, the ambitious state-owned oil giant.
K&A has a history of growing fast, moving into new areas around the Middle East and executing the new types of projects in the half century plus since the company's formation in 1959 in Lebanon. Founded as Consolidated Engineering Company by Mounir El Khatib and partners - who were later to be replaced by Dr. Zuheir Alami as sole partner to El Khatib - by 1968 the company had expanded to working in Saudi Arabia, the emirates (prior to unification), and Bahrain and Oman.
By 2000 it had added all the Arab states, as well as Turkmenistan, Belgium and the US to its list of countries. But interestingly, and perhaps fortunately, Libya had been largely off the company's radar. Sadiyyah explains that K&A had been weighing up opening an office in the oil-rich state before the civil turmoil in the country shelved such considerations. Despite infrastructure and hospitality projects in Algeria and Morocco, he explains, the company had only tendered for one project in Libya, and had provided a handful of prequalification documents for others as the historically insular country gradually opened itself.
"The Libyan market did not open up until recently, so it is more in a way a virgin market where a lot of infrastructure and public sector projects need to be executed," he says in the company's typically low-key office in Sharjah. "Maybe two or so years ago it started to open up and you noticed many consultants going into Libya and, of course, contractors."
Sadiyyah adds that the country is nevertheless at a disadvantage to Gulf states such as the UAE and Qatar that are "much more aware of business", have an international mix of construction companies and are the canvas for the latest generation of towers and infrastructure.
"People in the GCC, they visit each other, so they see the projects, the mega projects, the infrastructure being built. So one way or another they are taught about the business here. The Emiratis, the Omanis - they mingle together, they spend vacations, they go to seminars and Cityscape; they have the opportunity to see all types of projects being designed, being constructed.
"Even after they are completed, if they are hotels, they stay in these hotels, they can experience the infrastructure ... all of these become some sort of a vision, then reality, and then they experience it. The Libyan market was, in a way, closed up."
K&A is able to cover so many markets through having three design centres, in Beirut, the UAE and Khobar in Saudi Arabia. The first two cover all non-oil design, and were the origins of some of its most creative and efficient work that went into skyscrapers, government buildings, roads and rail. The Khobar office has a focus on oil projects, all focused on serving its prestigious client.
"We have been with Aramco for many years," says Sadiyyah, who is a mechanical engineer by training, but was recently promoted to the board and current job title from design director. "Aramco has general engineering contracts where they sign and renew it with consultants every year. So we are one of very few consultants whose contract is being renewed, and they work with us on the basis of hours 100,000 hours, 200,000 hours depending on the year. So that type of work is different to the other design work we do in other offices: it is catered to Aramco standards and way of working."
He emphasises that the specific design team in Khobar meant that the company was not distracted from serving the company, even as markets such as Dubai were heating up in the last decade.