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Wed 9 Jan 2008 04:00 AM

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Gulf leader

Winner of the first MEP Middle East Project Manager of the Year award, Basheer Massad stresses to Alison Luke the impact of productivity, partnering and prefabrication to the region's MEP sector.

Walking around the Index Tower construction site with BK Gulf operations manager Basheer Massad, his popularity becomes clear pretty quickly. Almost without exception, every person that we pass greets him. And many of the words today are of congratulations, for Massad is fresh from winning the MEP Project Manager of the Year Award.

His colleagues seem genuinely pleased at this achievement, some even taking the trouble to mount photos of him receiving his trophy to display in the on site office. In the high-pressure MEP contracting industry, gaining popularity with your staff while still getting the job done on time, on target and to a high quality has got to be tough. So what's Massad's secret?

It is important for contractors to know about LEED...we are the people who can drive this

Teamwork is a vital part of the job he stresses. He is quick to point out that this award is a signal of the entire team's success, not just his own efforts. "One of my earlier managers told me something that stuck in my mind: you are only as good as the people working with you. It's never a one man show...involvement is the best way of solving problems, you cannot just solve them by telling people what to do," he stresses.

And it would seem that Massad is genuinely interested in the careers of his staff. He is one of the facilitators co-ordinating with a newly employed third-party training firm to operate a training programme for BK Gulf's project managers and engineers. He is also involved in the firm's plans to set up labour training schools.

Massad was also one of the lead players in instigating and establishing a labour incentive scheme that has resulted in labourers' earnings rise, an increase in productivity and the company gaining success on high-rise projects. The first implementation of the scheme was on the construction of the 50-storey Chelsea Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai.

The incentive aimed to ensure that the project could succeed and the firm could gain future work in the high-rise market. "Productivity of labour is a major issue [on high-rise buildings] because you're talking about the logistics of going up and down...in vertical construction the biggest challenge is the sequencing of works to allow access to following trades. You can't put supervision and cover all areas, so you need a system where its self-initiated and self-supervised," explains Massad.

The incentive scheme was devised following analysis of the tender information and comparisons to actual activities on site. From here a simple sheet was created on which to detail productivity. In addition to labour, the logistics of moving materials was included in the system. Targets were set and continually reviewed as the job progressed. Initially the labour force was sceptical admits Massad, but once the facts were in black and white on their wage slips, its success was all but guaranteed. "When somebody sees that they made 20% [on incentive pay] this month they started believing in it," he explains.

The benefits gained by the firm were also impressive. "Time saving was tremendous, in that job; we finished a floor a week 100% to second fix in six days," Massad states. "[The scheme] was 100% self-financed as the results in that job were the best on labour expenditure than on any other job that we'd done. It was a win:win situation for the company and the lads. They worked hard, they earned more money and the company did not waste that money," he adds. With the majority of BK Gulf's labour directly employed, the benefits gained on this project have been carried to future jobs, with the scheme also adapted to suit individual projects.

Entering the workforce

This is only one of the many successes that Jordanian Massad has had while with the firm. He is close to completing 13 years of service with BK Gulf, having joined from university as a trainee engineer. On graduating from his mechanical engineering degree he was seeking hands-on work with an international firm, he explains. "I'm a guy who can't sit in an office for more than half an hour to be honest, so consultancy didn't suit me," he laughs.

One of three engineers from a family of seven, Massad attributes the career success of himself and his siblings to his parents, who were both teachers. "We had a good education because of my parents' background, we would come back home crying if we were second in the class - this is what they have implanted in us," he states.

While working with BK Gulf he continued his education, undertaking a MBA with UK-based Leicester University. His latest venture is one that is likely to set both himself and the firm in good stead in the immediate future: he is currently studying to become certified as a US Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) professional.

Although a move that is more often undertaken by consultants, Massad stresses that contractors must get involved. "It's all about being one step ahead and taking the lead...when you're sitting negotiating jobs and you know what you are talking about when it comes to LEED you are ahead of the competition," he states. "It is actually more important for contractors to know about LEED than consultants, we are the only people who can drive this and, again, LEED is something that can be done through team efforts from day one of the job," he stresses.

In Massad's present role he is responsible for the firm's residential and commercial buildings department and is currently overseeing around 12 projects, with index Tower being the largest of these. Index is a design and build job being carried out in a 100% partnering arrangement with guaranteed maximum price.

"[Partnering] is the best way forward, not only for contractors, but for the clients and the whole team. It saves not only money, but time and gives a better quality product. It's proven that it can work and it's an efficient way forward," stresses Massad. The firm is in currently implementing partnering agreements throughout its supply chain, but the entire industry must get onboard if the region's construction sector is to reap the benefits Massad stresses.

Prefabrication is another construction technique that Massad would like to see implemented on a larger scale in the region. "I think other countries have been ahead of us where they have the motive to do it because of the labour costs. Here the motive is not there because everybody thinks that labour costs are not substantial - I personally disagree," states Massad. "There is a direct relationship between what you pay and what you get...I believe strongly that it's cheaper and more efficient to use prefabrication." BK Gulf has made a commitment to implementing prefabrication on projects and is aiming to learn from the experience of its UK partners reports Massad.

With his LEED training already underway, what's next for Massad in his career? "The sky is the limit, I've no specific plans and am flexible to new ideas," he states. "I am a very ambitious person, but I believe that people with rigid plans may not be as successful. I have never said no to anything," he adds. With an attitude like this, Massad's colleagues can surely look forward to creating an entire gallery of prize-winning photos in the future.

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