Tough competitor

CW meets with Andrew Elias, CEO and board member of Kele Contracting, to talk start-up, plans and projects


Elias: "The major issue is competition."

Since 2005 Andrew Elias has led Australian company Kele Contracting through the process of setting up shop in Dubai, spreading further afield and surviving the downturn. He chats to CW, to tell us how it all came about.

And your involvement with Kele? Why was it decided to establish this Australian firm in the UAE in 2005?

The UAE was experiencing a boom in the construction sector at the time of establishment in the UAE – in particular in Dubai – and I felt it was the ideal time to move into a new market with the Kele brand. I had established the company and ensured the execution and delivery of several major projects. I spearheaded Kele’s growth across the region and have now established the Kele brand in Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Sharjah, KSA, and Lebanon.

There must have been a substantial difference between the Australian and UAE construction industries at this particular time?

In 2005 Australia was facing the post-Olympic downturn, so work was scarce and the market was leaving no room for expansion. Even during the height of the market, the value of work did not even come close to what Dubai had to offer during the same period. I still remember my touch down at Dubai airport; I looked out the window and felt pleasantly overwhelmed, as I could not personally count the number of cranes I saw.

Can you highlight some of Kele’s initial major achievements?

I think our major achievement would definitely be surviving the financial crisis that hit in 2007-2008, a credit to all companies who are still operating business as usual, almost five years on. A further achievement for Kele during this initial stage was in fact the successful completion of the six residential towers at Dubai Marina.

What were the main challenges and opportunities it faced at this initial stage?

Establishing ourselves in Dubai was quite a steep learning curve for Kele. We had been awarded our first project and we had to learn how to adjust to the climate, and the business culture, including the local culture - all of which is important and integral in doing business in the region.

We had our difficulties. But when the pressure is on to perform, you tend to learn things much quicker and never forget what you have learned. Several years on we are proud to say that we are a ‘local company’.

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