Zaid Awad, head of the Middle East and Africa Region for SNC-Lavalin, discusses the infrastructure contractor’s regional plans.
The drop in international oil and gas prices over the last few years has had a dramatic impact on the economic outlook of the GCC countries, with all six members forced to deal with a shortfall in revenues, while also running a fiscal deficit.
While this has forced governments to look at alternative sources for funding, the knock-on effect for the construction and infrastructure development industry has been the cancellation or postponement of less urgent projects, while new project awards have also seen a significant drop in 2016, compared to the previous year.
Although some GCC countries have strong reserves and healthy sovereign wealth funds to tap into, there has been a definite shift towards implementing a thorough restructuring of existing economic and market structures, while also looking for additional sources of revenues through cost savings and efficiencies.
As such, the general support for the regional construction industry is likely to come from countries with initiatives that allow them to diversify from the oil & gas industry, while clearly laid out and implemented transformation plans (such as the Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar Vision 2030 plans) will also be a major help.
Furthermore, the presence of high-profile mega-events such as Dubai Expo 2020 and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will also allow contractors in those countries the opportunity to win work that will support the successful hosting of those events.
However, certain sectors will see strong investment from regional governments as a consequence of the aforementioned diversification away from oil and gas and the increased need for social infrastructure that supports a growing urban and young population. These support sectors – health, education, power and water, energy and transport – are likely to be major sources of opportunity for established infrastructure and development contractors, such as SNC-Lavalin.
“It goes without saying that times are tough and that the oil & gas industry is in somewhat challenging times because of the oil prices,” says Ziad Awad, head of the Middle East and Africa Region for SNC-Lavalin Group. “The decrease or significant fall in oil prices will definitely impact the different parts of the investments or industries. However, I would say that the GCC really provides an opportunity because it is able to weather the challenges better than any other region.”
Looking at the oil & gas industry, Awad says there is an opportunity for contractors associated with the field to succeed, if they position themselves correctly in the market.
“As you know, the Middle East continues to produce oil at a maximum capacity. With that comes a lot of work, in terms of maintaining that capacity. There’s quite a bit of maintenance potential and sustaining of capital work that is needed, and I think that SNC-Lavalin is in a great spot – especially after the acquisition of Kentz and Valaris, and the successful integration of both those companies, which was completed in 2016. We believe that we have significant experience and are well positioned to support our clients and help them meet their aggressive targets going forward.”
Having joined the company three years ago, Awad has been given a mandate by SNC-Lavalin’s senior management to help the different business units deliver on all their strategies. He studied engineering at Nottingham University and also has a PhD in International Economic Relations.
Furthermore, he has also worked across the whole value chain, in regions as diverse as the Middle East, Africa, the Far East and Europe. Therefore, he is ideally positioned to help build on SNC-Lavalin’s ambitions for the Middle East.
“I’ve worked in a multi-business unit environment, where you actually need to leverage a sense of ‘each one for the benefit of all’, and that’s similar to what we’re doing here at SNC-Lavalin,” he says. “We’re a multi-business unit and environment where it’s important to focus on the individual business units, but we must also be able to offer an integrated approach and basically become a one-stop shop. That takes a lot of work, in terms of integration and putting the right structure in place.”
“My first job with SNC-Lavalin was actually this one. I was put in charge of heading up the regional operations. Basically, my mandate was to put the right platform in place for the different business units to deliver all their strategies.
“When you look at what SNC-Lavalin can build across different industries, it’s really quite impressive. We’ve built a number of projects – back in Canada – across the infrastructure, power, oil & gas and mining and metals spheres. So this was a very interesting job for me, because the challenge was how can we leverage this strength and potential to make sure that we actually work closely with our clients here in the Middle East, and really add value in a manner that differentiates us from our competition.”
With a workforce of 10,000 workers in the GCC, and a strong presence in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iraq, Kuwait and Bahrain, this is clearly an objective that SNC-Lavalin is taking very seriously. All of the company’s business units are active in the region, with Oil and Gas, Infrastructure, Mining and Metals, and Power all supported by the contractor’s investment and financing arm, SNC-Lavalin Capital, which supports PPP and other client-sought financing models.
Overall in the GCC, the company won more than $1.1 billion in new work (mostly in the energy sector) in the first half of 2016, while over the last 10 years it has worked on more than 300 projects worth a total of $12 billion.
Given the state of the regional economy, its investment and financing arm has become increasingly important to the success of its operations, as clients look to involve the private sector in the funding and execution of projects.
“We see more and more will on the client’s side to work with the private sector in these critical times. Budgets are squeezed because most GCC countries are operating at a fiscal deficit and basically there is less revenue coming in. As such, they need help to fund some of the very important projects [that are planned].
“So they’re turning to the private sector and we try to work very closely with them. We’re seeing that need to help our customers, in that sense. SNC-Lavalin is in a great position to do that. We already have great experience with Canada, working with PPP solutions and similar financing models. So hopefully, our international expertise with PPP and our local know-how and experience can ensure that these styles of financing models are structured in a way that suits the local environment.
“It’s very important to have that. Every country has different needs, therefore it’s very important to have an overall view. But at the end of the day, you structure something that’s suitable for that particular customer or country.”
However, as much as he welcomes this interest in PPP and alternative financing, Awad is quick to counsel caution, pointing out that these models are still in their infancy in the region.
“There’s quite a bit of work that still needs to be done in terms of regulation and in terms of being able to choose the right project. [Clients] really need to understand the model and the importance of having the right risk allocation across the different stakeholders, so that at the end of the day, this is one collaborative effort rather than just passing the risk from one side to another,” he explains.
Looking towards the future, Awad reveals that the contractor is focusing on improving its offering and support to its customers. Having established themselves firmly in the region through the opening of the regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi, the plan now is to support clients and help them meet their objectives to their full satisfaction.
“We aspire to be the partner of choice for our clients in the engineering and construction sphere, contributing meaningfully to their success. We remain focused on being agile to evolving client needs, delivering excellence and quality in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
“At a time when others are retrenching or scaling down, we’re actually trying to focus much more on this region. The Middle East is a strategic region for us and the company is quite focused on making sure that we build on our strong base here.”
“We’re targeting all sectors, from Oil and Gas, where we’re extremely strong and have a significant presence; to Infrastructure, where we have built close to 45 district cooling plants; to Mining and Metals, where we have built huge, large plants – some of the largest in the world – for DUBAL and EMAL smelting plants. In Power, we’re working quite a bit in the transmission and distribution sphere.”
Despite the reduced spending on non-essential projects, the governments of the GCC remain committed to large-scale projects and the must complete, iconic programmes and initiatives, with Expo 2020, the 2022 World Cup, Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the economic transformation and diversification plans in Saudi Arabia among the most prominent.
“We need to continue to be agile and ready to listen to clients’ evolving needs so that we can deliver to their full expectations and satisfactions,” Awad says. “We can leverage our global infrastructure capabilities and experience to add value, especially in engineering and PMC services. Our expertise ranges from industrial to environment and geoscience, through to defence and logistics and power delivery, amongst others.
“Furthermore, we have in-region rail and transit expertise to draw on, as well as international experience, which will help us meet the growing transportation needs in the region. In Canada, we’ve built six of the nine light rail transit (LRT) systems, covering design, financing, construction and operation and maintenance.”
Looking beyond the immediate economic conditions, there are other factors at play in the GCC, with sustainability, green building and energy efficiency increasing in prominence across the region. Spurred on by an increasingly green-conscious population and leadership, governments, especially in the UAE, have been keen to push the sustainability agenda.
Awad is keen to point out that SNC-Lavalin is already ready to meet these demands. Its Sustainability and Beyond initiative continuously studies and explores the changing face of the engineering industry, as it moves away from offering purely technical solutions towards ones where community concerns shape project design.
“The aim is to track the evolution of engineering and document the most important lessons learned as they relate to improving social conditions and the environment,” he explains. “The initiative stems from our desire to assess how far SNC-Lavalin and the industry as a whole has come thus far in the journey towards building solutions that are better for society.”
“Projects should not only meet a need, but also be maintainable, culturally appropriate and suitably affordable. SNC-Lavalin has significant experience and can add value in end-to-end project solutions (Design, Build, Own, Operate and Maintain projects). If you know that you’re going to operate, maintain and maybe partly own an asset, then sustainability will be something that is considered early on and taken seriously, from design throughout the whole value chain.”
Awad adds that the company is already putting its money where its mouth is, with its involvement through its EPC recycling facility work for QatarGas, while its Power group is exploring opportunities in the renewable sector – including solar – to leverage the experience of the contractor’s global team.
Finally, looking at the future, Awad says he and his company are focused on delivering local solutions to local challenges, while leveraging its international experience. He asserts that doing so will allow SNC-Lavalin to differentiate itself from its competitors in a market that is increasingly challenging to operate in.
“We’re focused on delivering on our strong commitment to the training and development of locals where we work. We have trained around 500 Saudi Arabians in association with our sulfuric acid plant, which is being built in the north of the country. On the HSE front, which is a core value for us, we’ve held our global HSE conference in Dubai, in collaboration with our clients and stakeholders. This provided us with a great platform to share our experiences and continuously improve our performance.
“I think it’s all about clients. It’s about staying close to your clients. We believe in the region and we definitely want to be part of its success going forward. We have enough initiatives in the region for us to continue to innovate, and to be able to stay close to our customers’ needs and offer local solutions and local delivery, while leveraging our international experience,” he concludes.
SNC-Lavalin Projects won in the last 12 months
• Five-year engineering consultancy agreement from Oryx GTL in Qatar
• Asphalt production facility EPC from Saudi Aramco
• Infrastructure and processing facilities EPC for a gas field in the Middle East
• Engineering contract for operations support services from Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), extending a 12-year fruitful partnership with work on DUBAL and EMAL aluminium smelting plants
• District cooling contract for the King Khalid International Airport from Saudi Riyadh Cooling Company (SRCC)
• Oil processing facility at West Qurna 1 Field in Iraq for ExxonMobil
• Wastewater treatment project for LAFFAN Refinery 2 for QatarGas
• Integrated facility management contract from Msheireb Properties in Doha
Abu Dhabi: The National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) and First Gulf Bank (FGB) announced they will each hold a general assembly meeting on December 7 to ask for shareholders’ approval of the proposed merger between the two banks.
In a statement issued to Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX), FGB said it will also ask for shareholder approval for the dissolution of the bank and the termination of its corporate personality as NBAD will become the legal successor.
The banks are expected to merge in the first quarter of 2017, with the new entity set to retain the brand name of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. FGB will also be delisted from the stock exchange.
In July this year, the boards of directors of each bank approved the merger plan that will create the Middle East and North Africa’s largest bank, with assets worth Dh642 billion.
During each of the meetings on December 7, the banks will ask for their respective shareholders’ approval on certain terms of the merger such as the share swap whereby FGB shareholders will get 1.254 NBAD shares for each FGB share they own. They will also ask for approval to increase share capital, amend articles of association, and appoint members for the board of directors.
On Sunday, NBAD’s share prices ended trade 2.28 per cent higher at Dh8.53.
The 2016 Images RetailME Awards, which recognise Middle East’s best retailers, were presented at a gala ceremony held at the Conrad hotel Dubai, UAE.
The awards recognise excellence across a range of retail categories, turning the spotlight on the best performing retailers in the region and benchmarking best practices in this vibrant industry. The awards ceremony is among the most important dates in the Middle East Retail calendar.
Among the winners in 39 different categories were Fawaz Alhokair named Middle East Retailer of the Year; Jumbo Electronics in the Consumer Electronics category; Virgin Megastore in the Leisure category; Carrefour in the Hypermarket category; Chalhoub Group’s Level Shoes for Luxury; Apparel Group’s Club Apparel for its CRM initiatives; BinSina (Alphamed Pharmacy) under Pharmacy & Healthcare category; Homes R Us in the Home & Housewares category; Paul Café under Food Service (Casual Dining); Eataly for Fine Dining and Rising Star Retailer; and Shamiana under QSR, to name a few.
The RetailME Awards gala evening was presented by a leading media personality and anchor from India Mitali Mukherjee. A known voice in the Dubai music scene, Layla Kardan set the mood to the gala evening with her soulful and sultry voice.
Amitabh Taneja, chairman of the Images Group, said: “We thank every member of our jury for sparing the time and effort to evaluate the submissions and compile the results.
In order to make the judging process for the awards more competitive and transparent, the awards categories were segregated into self-nomination and industry nominated jury awards. Under the self-nomination category, retailers were free to nominate themselves in any of the eight categories – marketing campaign, social media campaign, retail launch, store design, online retailer, store manager, CRM initiatives and responsible retailer.
Their submissions were evaluated and judged by a jury comprising Mohammad Alawi, CEO of Red Sea Markets Co, Saudi Arabia; Roy Higgs, president of US- based Roy Higgs International; Alex Andarakis, founder & managing director of Dubai-based Andarakis Advisory Services, Dubai; Davide Padoa, CEO of UK-based Design International; and Maha Zeibak, principal of Vis a Vis Retail.
For the industry-nominated jury awards, the group conducted a survey covering more than 50 of the top regional shopping malls to short-list the best performing retailers at their malls and elsewhere. The names emerging from the survey were subsequently vetted by a panel of veterans and experts from the shopping centre industry that included Khalid S Al Jasser, CEO, Arabian Centres, Saudi Arabia; Brad Merchant, director, retail asset management at Aldar Properties, Abu Dhabi; Mohamed Galal, chairman, TSM, Egypt; Mazen Qandeel, leasing director, Hamat Properties Company, Saudi Arabia; Christian Wistrom, general manager – leasing, GLA Management Company; and Andrew Williamson, director, head MENA retail.
The process helped nominate more than 250 of the top-performing brands under 29 categories.
Italy's ENI gas platform Angela in the Adriatic sea off Lido di Dante near Ravenna. Oil majors are expected to boost production over the next few years. Alberto Pizzoli / AFP
Majors set to boost output by almost 10 per cent to 2018 with expected rise in prices likely to lead to improved cash flow and more generous dividends.
Despite the drop in crude prices, huge spending cuts and thousands of job losses – the world’s top oil and gas companies are set to produce more than for some time.
While top oil companies struggle with slumping revenues following a more than halving of prices since mid-2014 after years of spectacular growth, their production has persistently grown as projects sanctioned earlier in the decade come on line.
Overall production at the world’s seven biggest oil and gas companies is set to rise by about 9 per cent between 2015 and 2018, according to analysts’ estimates.
With an expected recovery in prices, the increased production should boost cash flow and secure generous dividend payouts, which had forced companies to double borrowing throughout the downturn.
“There are a lot of projects coming on stream over the next three years that will support cash flow and ultimately dividend,” said the Barclays analyst Lydia Rainforth.
And despite a drop in new project approvals, companies have throughout the downturn cleared a number of mammoth undertakings such as Statoil’s Johan Sverdrup oilfield off Norway and Eni’s Zohr gas development off the Egyptian coast.
Others opted to acquire new production, such as Royal Dutch Shell, which bought its smaller rival BG Group for US$54 billion this year, and ExxonMobil through investments in Papua New Guinea and Mozambique.
Shell is expected to see the strongest growth among its peers over the next two years at 8 per cent, according to BMO Capital Markets.
Production is unlikely to drop after 2020, and could post modest growth as companies continue to bring projects onstream, albeit at a slower pace, said the BMO analyst Brendan Warn.
The French oil major Total, for example, plans to clear three major projects by 2018 – the Libra offshore oilfield in Brazil, the Uganda onshore project and the Papua LNG project – that will begin production after 2020.
“We won’t see 5 to 10 per cent growth that we’ve seen from companies in recent years. It will be closer to 1 or 2 per cent,” Mr Warn said.
Capital spending, or capex, for the sector is set to drop from a record $220bn in 2013 to around $140bn in 2017 before modestly recovering, according to Barclays.
But companies have learnt to do more with the money after slashing expenditure and tens of thousands of jobs, while the cost of services such as rig hiring dropped sharply throughout the downturn.
“2017 is the sweet spot for integrated companies. It took two to three years to adjust to the drop in oil prices, and a lot of the efficiencies introduced in recent years will roll into 2017, when projects kick in and free cash flow will improve,” Mr Rainforth said.
The resilience is mostly due to new gas projects coming on stream as companies shift towards the less polluting hydrocarbon that is expected increasingly to displace oil demand in coming decades.
The slower pace of project development after a decade of rapid growth that was accompanied by soaring costs will help companies, Mr Warn said.
“That is much more sustainable for a major that will reduce the number of large capex projects.”
Jack Matar, the chairman of the Canadian Business Council in Abu Dhabi, believes Emirati women are getting to somewhere and getting the country to another level. Delores Johnson / The National
The chairman of the Canadian Business Council says his country is known for its technological prowess. This is valuable to the rapidly changing UAE economy as Emirati entrepreneurs start to push beyond government positions.
Jack Matar, the chairman of the Canadian Business Council in Abu Dhabi, is in the middle of his two-year term. He has served as chairman twice before and decided to run again last year. The 230 members of the council work in many different industries across the UAE, such as services, food, hospitality and finance.
How do you see the current situation regarding the economy of the UAE?
In the Canadian business community, we have full confidence in the measures taken in different sectors of the economy. I guess the oil price will soon stabilise. Of course there is a question mark [about the number of new projects launched by the government next year], but I have to be optimistic and it has to be better than 2016 because the economy will have to stabilise. And when the business community gets accustomed to [the low oil price environment], then things will go back to normal.
How long do Canadian companies take to decide to open in the UAE?
Usually and strategically, between the decision of moving and opening, it takes between six months and one year, because they come and they study and after one year, a lot of companies decide not to stay. They test the water, they have a partnership, they study … The Canadians are not fortune hunters. They would like to come for a stable market because they have a lot to offer like high technology. They are not trying to start from zero. Canadian companies are coming with an added value to the local economy.
So the oil price falling last year had a strong effect on the number of newcomers settling here?
A little bit, not a lot. From Canada, the companies that decide to come here are in sectors such as technology, instrumentation, things that have nothing to do with oil. Canada is well-known for its new technology.
Do Canadian companies already here have a plan B to pull out from the UAE?
Plan B is there for everybody. There is nobody who works without plan B, or even plan C. Canadian companies are here to stay. I am getting calls from Canadians who left the country, left Abu Dhabi, and they are trying to come back and work for any salary because life in Abu Dhabi is much easier than living in Canada.
In what way?
Salaries, ease of life, no taxes. It is an easy environment. The weather is the most important factor. Canadian weather is hard – we have six months of freezing cold and snow. It goes down to minus 35C, average is minus 10C and 0C is spring. So when they have sun here for 330 days per year, that’s why Canadians love the weather here.
What are the opportunities for Canadian companies with regards to the economic diversification of the UAE?
Canadians are not into [oil and gas] exploration, but they have the technology for all other industries – what we call the control systems, electronics, software … once the economy is diversified, obviously the UAE wants to improve its own industries and take them to the next level and the next. They will require such technology, and Canadians have got it.
How do members of your business council find the UAE’s process of Emiratisation?
We feel that it is the right of the country to train its citizens and employ them. The UAE is not for foreigners, it is for the Emiratis, so we are guests. [Emirati candidates have the right] skills but experience is the problem. But one thing about the Emiratis: they are very fast to learn. They want to work.
You will find people ages 26 to 27 years old with two or three years of experience, and once appointed in senior positions they are doing excellent jobs. Emiratis have a lot of options – in the government they get high salary and fewer hours and less stress, in the oil companies more or less the same, but now they are pushing more. In the private sector it is harder for Emiratis – we work long hours. The pay is good but it is not like oil companies or government, so they need to accept less.
What do you see when Emirati women join the workforce?
I have all my respect for the local women because apparently they are now dominating most of the government offices – they are all women in the traffic department, labour department … they are efficient and they are very helpful. This is as a result of the graduate rate at universities. I believe Emirati women are getting to somewhere and getting the country to another level.
So you think they are the future?
Is there any partnership between Canadian businesswomen and Emirati businesswomen?
On a very limited scale. Also, not so many Canadian women are in businesses here. There are women working at institutions. The management of the Higher Colleges of Technology is Canadian and there are a lot of Emirati students going to Canada. You see a lot of Emiratis in Montreal and Toronto.
Where do you see Emirati women flourishing in the post-oil period?
They will be everywhere, but first government, oil and gas, and eventually they will go in the private sector. I see a good future for them; an excellent future because they are willing to work, some of them have started their own businesses.
Do you organise any event regarding women?
No, except for the International Women’s Day.
Do you see an effect on Emiratis studying in Canada?
Of course. Studies have an effect. Students go young to university for undergraduate studies; the personality of the student is moulded towards this new culture they adopt, so when they come for business they will want to continue with the same mentality and the same people.
More than a dozen Canadian business executives have volunteered for the Membership and Sponsorship Committee since the first call for volunteers went out on Tuesday, 14 June 2016. The members have been discussing various items of relevance to sponsors and members, covering the complete sponsorship and membership cycles through the delivery of benefits to sponsors and members.
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