The construction sector in Abu Dhabi is witnessing unprecedented growth, says Fatima Al Jaber, CEO of one of UAE’s largest contracting companies, Al Jaber Group.
Can you give an idea of the scale of Al Jaber’s operations and its future prospects?
The group has 35 companies working in construction and infrastructure as well as logistics, trade, investment, real estate, aviation and shipping. And over the 38 years of its existence it has executed huge projects, including building 3,000 kilometres of roads and 5,000 villas. It also built the second runway at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The group has 10,000 pieces of heavy construction and digging machinery as well as bulldozers. Al Jaber has also bought the world’s largest crane, which is capable of lifting 3,000 tonnes. It owns 28 tankers and a kilometre-long pier.
The latest Middle East Economic Digest survey says Al Jaber is the first contracting firm engaged in work worth Dh3.4bn – and I expect that figure to grow by 100 per cent to some Dh6bn.
What big projects did the Al Jaber Group secure in 2007?
This year we will build a resort on Saadiyat Island at a cost of Dh700 million and we will build a Dh1.5bn residential and office tower near the Dubai International Financial Centre. Other projects are being discussed.
Reports have said the volume of construction and contracting in Abu Dhabi is worth more than Dh1.3 trillion. How do you assess the market and do you expect an economic slowdown?
No, Abu Dhabi will not suffer a retreat as it is a strong and promising market. The emirate is seeing unprecedented growth in the real estate sector and large tourism, industry, education and health projects are under way. It is a fertile and virgin land where big contractors can build huge projects and I believe the market will never experience a setback or retreat.
But the completion of projects in Abu Dhabi is often delayed – is this because of a shortage of contractors?
The reason is not a lack of contractors but rather the absence of proper time schedules for execution and delivery. I believe the schedules set by developers have been very ambitious. The real potential of contractors has also not been explored, especially in the field of infrastructure.
I think we have learned many lessons. Undoubtedly ambitious programmes need to be reconsidered to establish time schedules that can be met. What is important is that contractors and developers should be made aware of the need to comply with deadlines.
I would like to stress that it would be impossible for a developer to complete the project on his own without getting the contractor involved in all phases of the project, especially the early phases of design and planning.
I believe the main challenge facing all companies at the moment is how to keep pace with the growth in construction work. A contractor has to be cautious, especially with regard to the proper selection of contracts and the type of customers he is dealing with. We focus on the emirate’s main developers such as Aldar Properties.
Successive price rises have led to work on some new projects being halted. Has your group been affected by this?
All contractors have been affected by the price rises, which will be reflected in the cost of projects. But the increases have not been a problem for us because we have a mixture of old and new contracts.
You do not attach a great deal of importance to cost as a factor in securing contracts for new projects – why is that?
Cost will not be a strong factor in the award of projects over the coming years. Rather it is the type and quality of work as well as compliance with set completion schedules that matter. And this is what developers stress today.
Price rises are not in our hands and they are not confined to cement and steel but also apply to wages and fees, the rate of inflation and several other factors, which are reflected in the final costs of new projects.
The majority of new realty projects in Abu Dhabi fall into the luxury housing category even though the market has a thirst for medium-cost housing. Do you expect a recession in the luxury housing sector?
The implementation of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 will secure housing for all nationals and expatriates in Abu Dhabi – and the market needs both types of housing. Projects are planned by developers who know best whether land is suitable for luxury or medium-cost housing.
What is your view of the role of the private sector in the current revival being seen in Abu Dhabi?
The revival sees stronger participation by the private sector while the government is assuming the role of organiser and monitor. I think this is the right time for the private sector to step up since the government has the policy and strong desire to ask the private sector to execute new projects.
I believe the policy of privatisation pursued by the government is very successful. The private sector has many promising opportunities thanks to the government’s support.
Most of your contracting work is centred on the UAE. Why is that and what are your plans to expand abroad?
Undoubtedly the UAE is the main market for Al Jaber Group as we maintain strong ties with government and semi-government establishments as well as big private sector customers. It is not true that we have no presence abroad. The diversity of our activities has helped the group export to the GCC and other regions such as the Far East.
The group has a strong presence in Qatar and it always targets new markets and products. The group is always ready to face the changing requirements of the market and is confident of its potential to continue to grow and maintain its owners’ wealth. I believe the group’s success has been achieved through well-studied growth and diverse commercial specialisations.The group’s strong performance is based on its potential to exploit the resources of all its branches – they support and complement each other.
You manage the group’s projects, how would you describe your experience as a woman in the contracting industry?
Contracting and construction work is no different from that in other fields, whether in the public or the private sectors. For a woman it is only a matter of getting used to the industry and I am quite certain the coming years will see more women joining the world of contracting.
How do you see the future of Al Jaber Group and what are the reasons for the company’s success?
I have a strategic plan to make our group the most successful private sector enterprise in the region.
PROFILE: Fatima Al Jaber CEO, Al Jaber Group
Fatima is an engineer with expertise in the management of international businesses.
She graduated from Emirates University at Al Ain in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering. She worked for the Abu Dhabi Government before joining Abu Dhabi Municipality’s building projects department as undersecretary.
She has been involved in empowering the emirate’s women through her position as deputy chair of Abu Dhabi Businesswomen Council. In 2006 Forbes Arabia magazine named Fatima Al Jaber as the eighth most influential woman in the Arab world.
Al Jaber set for 100% growth