Interviews

Progressing at Pace: Tarek Shuaib on consultancy’s Mideast growth

Middle East Consultant talks to Tarek Shuaib about Pace’s growth plans and the importance of remaining agile in a challenging market

With over 1,200 projects under its belt, Pace has grown to become one of the region’s premier architecture, design, engineering and planning firms.

Founded in Kuwait City in 1968 by Hamid Abdulsalam Shuaib and Partners, the consultancy has spent nearly five decades working on high-profile projects in Kuwait and across the Middle East, and continues to deliver projects to its clients across a wide range of sectors.

In recent months, Pace has been involved in the retail and healthcare sectors and has lent its extensive expertise to clients on massive infrastructure undertakings. Notable projects include the Avenues Phase IV and V in Al-Rai Kuwait, the Riyadh Metro, the Kuwait University Administration Facilities, the Jahra and Abdel Nasser roads, Jahra Hospital and Bahrain Bay.

Next year the firm will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and it is eyeing fresh growth. “We continue to evolve our brand and operations to ensure we build on our local reputation of quality, reliability, vision and integrity, and transfer that onto the regional stage. This includes the expansion of our operations in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain,” explains Tarek Shuaib, managing partner at Pace.

Shuaib has led the company his father founded for the past several years, and has seen business grow in the country and beyond. “Our work in planning, property and infrastructure continues to expand both in Kuwait and internationally, as clients look for organisations that are capable of delivering projects to international standards and provide lasting benefits to the individuals and communities that they serve.”

As part of its growth strategy, the firm has diversified its portfolio across sectors and has focused on developing its project management consultancy and international business. “Having a typology of projects across the region helps us to spread the risk of challenges that are presented with movements within the political climate of the region. We endeavour to work with all our clients to foresee challenges and react to the changes that arise as a result of this.”

Shuaib is also aware that constant vigilance and adapting to new realities quickly is critical to running a successful business. “As a business, we must think globally and be mindful of factors from outside of the region which can have far-reaching impacts for our industry at a national and regional level. Recent geo-political changes remind all of the importance of businesses to remain agile in order to react to such changes.”

Current Market Realities

GCC countries, as well as those across the wider Middle East, have been affected by low oil prices and global liquidity challenges over the last several quarters, and the negative impact on project budgets. Shuaib notes that budgets have been reduced for public sector projects, which has had a direct impact on consultants and contractors across the region’s construction sector. This in turn has pushed firms to adjust their strategies to maintain margins in the face of tighter project budgets.

Shuaib is optimistic about opportunities in the current market, however, and reckons opportunities exist for reputed firms with a solid track record. “Governments and clients are seeking to diversify their economies and projects, attracting wide-spread investment in non-oil related industries. This in turn puts the emphasis on the construction industry, as countries look to suppliers to make good on investments in infrastructure and property. As a result, we’ve seen countries such as Saudi Arabia preparing long-term development plans such as Vision 2030 which encompass all major sectors including building infrastructure.”

In its home country of Kuwait, Pace is on strong footing thanks to its well-established reputation and consistent spending by the local government. “Spend has been consistent in some countries such as Kuwait, where the government has recognised the need to renew existing or develop new infrastructure to meet their economic objectives. While there is still a level of current certainty in regard to mega projects, we expect the variety and amount of projects will reduce in the foreseeable future. That said, as governments diversify their sector portfolios, they will seek to improve conditions for those wishing to participate in the growth of new industries. The private sector has been more bullish, and is investing in projects while following the overall trend of careful spending.”

Shuaib is keen to point out that his firm’s pipeline of work is healthy despite challenging market realities. “Our business continues to grow across all segments. Architecture and infrastructure has seen significant growth in terms of projects, and the teams that are serving these in our business. We do, however, continue to monitor market conditions closely.”

Business Agility

Pace prides itself on being a client-focused firm, and believes its success stems partly from continuous evolution. “At Pace, we know that you can never sit still, and as a client-centred organisation, we are continually striving to improve. As part of this commitment, we are developing a centre of excellence and rolling out BIM throughout our operations. To date over 60% of staff are BIM trained, and all new major projects are BIM projects.”

The firm has also implemented new health, safety and environment (HSE) standards, and is actively promoting standards to project stakeholders. “This is part of the firm’s drive to raise the bar of HSE standards in the region, which vary greatly.”

Shuaib adds, “We recently undertook the restructure and realignment of corporate functions including operations and development departments. This has included business process engineering in tandem with investment in the development of our project management consulting [PMC] capabilities. We know the importance of continued training and development for staff at all times, and make significant investments to ensure that our staff wellbeing and skills are at the optimum level.”

Pace is also committed to sustainability, and insists that it approaches each project with the aim of reducing the impact on the environment. “We are committed to ensuring that all of our projects are designed and constructed against the highest standards of sustainability. Many of our projects have utilised sustainable construction techniques and materials, including solar technology. For example, we have brought the first mega solar energy station to an education campus in Kuwait.”

Shuaib notes that recent regulation has helped push the sustainability cause in the region. “As an example, the Kuwait government has set plans for 15% of its energy to be from renewable sources by 2030. This in turn has put emphasis on solution providers to raise sustainability efforts.”

The company currently employs over 700 professionals including specialised architects, engineers, planners, landscapers, environmental specialists, project managers, and interior and graphic designers. As Pace’s business grows, Shuaib says his firm will look to hire new talent in an effort to keep up with business demand and maintain quality of work.

“One of the critical issues we face as a business is recruiting the right talent both at home and internationally. Nurturing and attracting talent from and into the region offers unparalleled benefits for our societies as a whole. We’ve noticed an upturn in the talent that is available within the region; however, a key element of our work is building the profile of Pace, and the region as a whole, to attract talent in the long term. People need to understand the benefits of working both in the construction consultancy industry and region in order to make informed decisions about their work goals.”

Shuaib says Pace is committed to maintaining a healthy working environment and encourages staff to grow their skill sets. “We challenge and encourage our staff to reflect and speculate to become well-practised problem solvers. The work environment at Pace is a continuous education process for all team members, where they are constantly challenged to further refine their skills and their knowledge. Our designers are inspired by works across the globe, and contribute to the company’s growth and its level with international and global standards.”

Turning 50

Pace is busy preparing for its 50th anniversary, and one of its goals is to inspire those in the construction sector. “We are looking into our archives of completed projects and hope to make some of the information public in 2018. It is our hope that professionals and students in the construction field will be able to benefit from it in some way.”

Beyond that, Shuaib intends to build upon the good work his firm has delivered to clients. “Our values remain the same of bringing the highest levels of quality, reliability, creativity, adaptability, efficiency, professionalism and integrity to all of our projects. This is what drives us.”

“Our projects continue to attract success, with recent award wins for the Jahra and Farwaniya Court Complexes, as well as the Central Bank of Kuwait and Jahra Road projects. We have also recently been shortlisted for an architecture award, and are proud of the global recognition our work is receiving.”

Design will remain a critical focus. “Personally, I am never satisfied, although I am also proud of our achievements to date. We have big ambitions for our future – we will continue to strive for excellence in design above all else, and this is critical to our ethos to ensure that all the solutions provided for clients are optimally efficient, valuable and innovative.”

Summing up, Shuaib is confident his company will continue to deliver quality products that meet and exceed the expectations of clients. “With deep and creative thinking during design, we always aim to generate ideas and strategies that provide far-reaching benefits for users of any given project. We are committed to ensuring that as a business we never stop improving. After all, our work is not just about the success of Pace; we want the quality of our architecture and engineering outputs to assist the region’s physical and human development. That is the main driver for our team’s work.”

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