Middle East Consultant talks to the firm’s Middle East director to discuss his company’s recent successes and plans for measured expansion
What do the MotionGate Dubai theme park and Gabbro Terminal in Mesaieed, Qatar have in common? They’re obviously very different projects, but the common factor is that both were worked on by specialist Aurecon. This immediately gives you a sense of the consultancy’s broad range of expertise.
Aurecon has been extremely busy in recent times. It has made a name for itself within the construction industry by simplifying complexity and bringing ideas full circle. Its area of expertise is wide, and it has leveraged its substantial in-house talent to work on – and deliver –projects in different categories. Thanks to this, the consultancy has been able to sink its teeth into some truly prestigious and important projects.
“We were fortunate to get involved in the Gabbro Terminal in Qatar, it’s a project that we worked very closely on with the client. One of the things we always look at is designing solutions for the client – we look at the feasibility and come up with the right solutions for that facility, and optimise the throughput,” explains Ermis Marques, regional director – Middle East at Aurecon.
“It’s a fantastic project, we had a nice team that we mobilised from our offices in Brisbane, and then we set about working closely with the clients and contractors. To date the project has won several awards in the region, and it has also been recognised globally (within the ports sector) for a lot of awards. It’s a key project for Qatar, and another significant project for Aurecon,” continues Marques.
In the UAE, Aurecon has enjoyed significant success in terms of the scale and diversity of projects it has worked on. The organisation is responsible for the Al Merief Masterplan and the Dubai Creek Harbour Transport Masterplan, provided building services for the internationally recognised Madinat Jumeirah Resort, and has most recently been appointed to design and supervise the construction of a new road interchange in Mirdif, a popular residential area in Dubai. The company also worked with Gensler Architects on the recently opened MotionGate Dubai theme park, and is currently engaged on multiple developments within the country.
“We’re working on a variety of projects in Dubai, we’re involved in the transport master plan for Dubai Creek Harbour, and we’re working on The Tower in Dubai Creek Harbour. Calatrava is the architect and engineer on record for The Tower and they’re based in Dubai, so we’re working very closely with the Calatrava team. That’s a project with very nice challenges,” says Marques, who has led Aurecon’s Middle East arm for over 10 years.
Although Aurecon is already entrenched in a handful of in-process projects, Marques has one eye fixed firmly on the future. He has identified several segments of potential interest, noting, “We are very keen to focus on the entertainment space and add value to the retail, hospitality and education spaces. There are a lot of opportunities in the health space as well, and our expertise covers all those sectors. We’ve also got very good expertise in the region around transport planning, transport infrastructure and smart transportation and driverless vehicles. So, those are the areas that I’d be keen for us to get even more involved in, and see where we can continue to add value.”
Aurecon intends to expand in countries or cities where it already has an established presence, and Marques is keen on following his firm’s clients into the wider Middle East region.
“We would like to expand in certain areas in Dubai, into select service areas, and in certain markets in the city. The priority is where we already have a presence, which is Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha. We would also like to follow clients that expand into the region, and continue those relationships into neighbouring countries. The region is pretty wide – there are enough countries that are stable, and as commodity prices change and economies diversify away from largely oil-based, it will help our clients add value in their investment decisions.”
While Marques is keen on growing Aurecon’s business footprint, he’s not interested in turning his organisation into the biggest consultancy on the market. He remains focused on following through with the Aurecon Blueprint, basically the company’s plan and strategy for the future. A key part of that plan is to continue working with the best clients, identifying their problem areas and providing solutions that add value.
A focus on quality and the delivery of innovative solutions are distinctions that Marques wants Aurecon to be recognised for. He explains, “For us, it’s about being recognised as leaders in the way we innovate with solutions, and the way we design solutions. We want to be known for the quality of the people that we bring onboard, and the values. That’s more important to us than the numbers game. At the end of the day we are a business, so it’s also about keeping a sustainable business model, but part of that is having strong relationships with our clients.”
As far as obstacles to his firm’s success, Marques is well aware of the current challenges, particularly with regards to securing finance. He explains that there has already been consolidation within the markets, due to tighter access to finance and therefore smaller client budgets, and he is keen on finding workarounds.
“It’s a question of identifying the challenges and what we can do, so in terms of finance, there are discussions around PPP options, and how the private sector can get more involved with coming up with the finance solution. We’re also trying to assist finance houses with regards to assessing the risks.”
Marques is also cognisant of the intense focus on innovation and the use of technology and digital spaces in the region. He’s focused on integrating those offerings into his firm’s solutions, saying that although there has been consolidation within the market, competition within the industry is still fierce.
“There’s a lot of thought going into innovation and design-led thinking. This is where we sit with clients and try to unpack problems that they may know of, as well as problems that they may not yet know of. There will always be competition, and that’s healthy, a lack of competition would lead to complacency. For us drawing talent is key, because we are a professional services company, so it’s all about the talent.”
Marques is bullish about Aurecon’s future, saying, “the Middle East continues to be an exciting region. It’s a challenging region because that’s how it puts itself at the forefront of development. Dubai probably leads that space, and that’s about being innovative and using new technology, it’s about partnering with complementary companies and delivering good products. To us, it’s also about the values and ethics of doing business, and the way we look after our people and add value to clients – those are fundamentals to us.”