Significant contract wins with Ashghal in Qatar and the Royal Commission in Saudi Arabia have seen WSP Middle East consolidate its regional presence. CW speaks to MD Tom Bower.
Although WSP, which is headquartered in London, has had a regional presence for the last 25 years, it really only began to establish itself in the Middle East with the acquisition of PHB and LC Consulting in the mid-2000s. “We probably only had about 20 people here before those acquisitions. They added maybe 250 people. PHB has actually been here since the mid-1970s, so the companies we have acquired have had a long history in the region,” explains WSP Middle East MD Tom Bower.
“I think there has always been a degree of interest in the Middle East from the UK, and probably more than any other Western country. We and many of our competitors were over here, and through that people swapped companies and then also wanted to go to the same locations. It has always been of interest, particularly Dubai.”
While WSP Middle East started out as a building services or MEP firm, which was the main focus area of its acquisitions, it has since branched out into other sectors such as transport, infrastructure and environmental and energy. Unlike some of its competitors, the consultancy only offers minimal architectural services.
“We retain architectural services for two reasons: the first is that by having a number of registered architects working for us, we can submit drawings to the authorities, and the second is so we can do a small amount of architecture on some of the projects we do. However, architecture is not our main focus. WSP is what we would call a technical consultancy. Our primary role is technical, engineering and environmental consultancy,” says Bower.
Engineering and architecture require different skills and mindsets, and therefore Bower says “it is a challenge for those companies that have both in-house.” However, WSP does indeed secure a lot of its work via architectural firms. “It is one of the main reasons we do not focus on architecture ourselves, so that we can maintain those relationships and procure a lot of our work through architects, both locally and internationally.” This is what differentiates WSP from its competitors, notes Bower. Another differentiating factor is Bower’s contention that sustainability, which is a top regional construction priority at the moment, and cost-cutting, which is equally important due to the downturn, are incompatible.
“I know a lot of consultants will say that. People probably think that sustainability and being cost-conscious are not two things that you can do simultaneously, but I do not think they are mutually exclusive. In fact, WSP has been focused on sustainability, certainly within the UK and Northern Europe, Scandinavia and the US, for many years, and we are trying to utilise those skills and bring them over here.”
This is particularly important in a regional context, with Abu Dhabi, for example, promoting Estidama and its Pearl rating system. “Our environmental and energy business has been undertaking a lot of work in relation to Estidama. We have a team of 15 to 20 that focus exclusively on sustainability consultancy. We have also included that within our core engineering disciplines, so sustainability is built into everything we do. For the WSP Group, it is one of our values. It is also one of our main strategic aims, both internally and externally.”
In terms of its specific service offering, Bower says this can be as broad as advising organisations and companies on how to minimise their environmental impact, from a corporate social responsibility point of view, as well as from an employee perspective in terms of individual carbon footprint, to a narrower focus on sustainability in terms of planning for specific projects.
“If we are planning projects, how can those buildings be done in a more sustainable manner? How can we use technology to reduce the impact?” As an example, Bower says WSP Middle East is still actively involved with Masdar City, one of the region’s leading sustainability initiatives on a city-wide scale. “They are focused on their core strategic goals of being sustainable as a location to live and work in, and that is key to the way we are operating at Masdar City.”
Technology goes hand in hand with sustainability, and this of course means using Building Information Modelling (BIM) as a design tool. “We see it, as do many people, as the future of the design industry,” says Bower. As a sign of its commitment, WSP has a global agreement with Autodesk to use Revit to develop its BIM capabilities across the board.
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