Amana seeks to lead with Leed

Ten employees of Amana Contracting and Steel Buildings are to be trained to attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed) certification.

At present there are only 11 Leed-certified professionals in the UAE. The move is part of the company's strategy to push its focus on green industrial construction, says Chief Operating Officer Riad Bsaibes.

The Amana Group was founded by Bsaibes' brother Chebel in 1993. The Amana Contracting and Steel Buildings Division had revenues of Dh1.4 billion last year and is a regional leader in the design-build of industrial and commercial facilities, with over 1,500 buildings constructed.

It is based in Dubai and has offices in various parts of the UAE and in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Lebanon.

In this exclusive interview, Bsaibes explains why being a specialised provider is a good strategy in the construction industry.

While Amana has handled projects for different sectors, why does its portfolio mainly comprise oil and gas, manufacturing and logistics?

We started as a steel building installer for Zamil Steel. From there, we moved to general contracting and then design-building. But we have always had an industrial focus. In 2003, with the growth of construction in general, there was a lot of temptation to grow into non-industrial sector – residential, hospitality, high-rise buildings and so on. But we decided to maintain our course. In business you are either a low-cost provider or a specialised provider. We decided to specialise in the industrial sector. The strengths in this region are oil and gas, manufacturing and logistics. Again, within the industrial sector, we are focusing on the heavy industrial area – we are pushing aggressively in petrochemicals, aluminium smelters and steel. This year, we will be additionally pushing our focus in constructing green industrial buildings.

Could you explain what do you mean by green industrial buildings.

When it comes to procurement and the construction of industrial buildings we will aim to comply with the US green building codes to the extent that it is needed here in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We will also strengthen our in-house abilities so that we understand what it is to be Leed-certified as contractors. Additionally, we will place an emphasisis on district cooling through our Amana Pipelines subsidiary, which carries out network design and construction for district cooling plants. We have formed a division called Amana Special Projects whose objective in the medium-term is to exclusively focus on chiller plants. This way we can provide an integrated solution to communities up to the point of the energy transfer station.

Which projects are you currently working on in the region?

In Abu Dhabi we have been working with Adnoc, Schlumberger and the Emal smelter. In Dubai we are involved in Dubai Maritime City and are very close to being awarded a new major contract there. We also work with clients like Jafza, the new Al Maktoum International Airport and Dubai Studio City. In Fujairah we are working on a steel mill and a textile mill. In Saudi Arabia we are working in the eastern province with Kayan. In the western province at Jeddah we are constructing a factory for Del Monte, with whom we worked in Dubai.

How do you deal with the vagaries of the market – for example, material price fluctuations?

We are exposed to these fluctuations but not to the extent that other contractors are. We focus on fast-track projects of short duration.

A common problem is the lack of good qualified personnel. How does Amana deal with this issue?

This is one of the biggest challenges in our industry. Our approach is to recruit fresh graduates. Normally companies want someone to join and immediately add value to their organisation and projects. We prefer the other approach and have selected 40 students from nine universities across the region. We are also focusing on training our employees in internationally-accredited courses in sectors such as project management, cost engineering, HR and planning. This month a US company will train 10 of our employees to attain Leed certification – the entire UAE has only 11 Leed-certified professionals.

What are your future expansion plans both regionally and internationally?

We give it a lot of thought and after the initial country risk analysis, we set up a full-fledged office as a proper economic commitment towards that economy. Unlike other companies we do not wait for a project to happen or work on a project-to-project basis in different countries. In terms of new markets we are looking at Libya, Angola, Sudan, and at some point, Iraq.

Are you active in any of your alumni bodies?

I am treasurer of the Harvard Club (UAE) and on the board of the MIT Club (UAE), which is in the final stages of acquiring legal status. I am vice-chairman (Lower Gulf) of the MIT Educational Council. It consists of MIT alumni who interview students applying to MIT from the UAE, Qatar and Oman. Around 50 students applied from this region last year. This is how I pass my time – I have been interviewing students from this region who wish to join the University for the last 15 years.

What do you do when you don't are not busy with Amana?

Swim, read and travel.

PROFILE: Riad Bsaibes, Amana COO

Riad Bsaibes obtained a BSc in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1991

He then worked as Marketing Manager at Corning Inc and spent seven years with Schlumberger Oilfield Services in various managerial positions throughout the Gulf.

Following a one-year stint at Amana's Abu Dhabi office he returned to the US and obtained an MBA at Harvard Business School in 2001.

The 9/11 terror attacks prompted him to rethink his career options.

"Though I had many alternatives, what brought me back to Amana and Dubai was the family connection," he said. "In the end it is a family business and it seemed the natural choice."


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