A New Beginning: Philip Gillard, KEO, Interview

Middle East Consultant sits down for an exclusive chat with Philip Gillard, KEO International Consultants’ new VP of Design, to discuss his role, views and goals for 2018

In the first week of January 2018, KEO International Consultants announced the appointment of Philip Gillard as vice president of design. As part of his role, Gillard becomes a full member of KEO’s Executive Leadership Board (ELB) and Direct Leadership Management Board (DLM). An accomplished design professional and a certified RIBA Chartered Architect with over 20 years of international design and project delivery experience, Gillard joins KEO from Gensler, where he was managing director of the Middle East office.

On a day-to-day basis, Gillard will have full responsibility for KEO Design and delivery of architectural and engineering services to clients across the globe. In terms of clients, the consultancy has been involved with several high-profile projects including the Palm Jumeirah Villas in Dubai, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Marriott Hotel in Sharjah, the Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Mousaed Economic City in Saudi Arabia and the Kuala Lumpur International Financial District in Malaysia.

KEO is obviously well established in the region, and Gillard is quick to point out that the firm has distinguished itself through its expertise in design, architecture, engineering and project management services. “Over its 50 years in operation, KEO has worked on some of the most iconic projects in the MENA region and has helped clients achieve their vision of delivering their most complex and distinguished developments.”

Gillard was drawn to the position for several reasons: “I was attracted to the firm because of its visionary leadership and for the opportunity to work with a talented pool of professionals to reach new heights in creativity, innovation and design depth. I see great potential in expanding the technical excellence within our architecture and engineering practice to further meet our client expectations.”

Speaking about his focus at KEO, he explains: “A strong emphasis will be given to talent management, strengthening client relations, fostering excellence in design and successful project delivery. My vision of this role seamlessly aligns with KEO’s progressive vision and supports its strategic moves to enhance and consolidate its reputation as a global consulting powerhouse.”

Although less than three weeks into his role when Middle East Consultant spoke to him, Gillard already has a plan in place for his first quarter. “As part of my 100-day plan, I will be focusing on creating a more holistic design approach across all parts of KEO. One key focus will be to support the division’s exceptionally talented pool of professionals and create impactful mentoring opportunities throughout the division and its disciplines, in line with KEO’s core values.”

Market Overview

2017 was a tough year for the UAE’s design and construction industry, which was impacted by low oil prices and political uncertainty. Many firms expected a tough first half of the year and believed a release of funds and approvals on projects would come in Q3. Although this was not the case, some industry stakeholders saw signs of recovery towards the end of Q4.

With regard to 2018, Gillard is positive and notes that sustainability will drive overall development within the UAE. “We are cautiously optimistic that 2018 will improve in terms of opportunities and revenue over 2017. Oil prices seem to be settling at a higher rate, while the impact of VAT is yet to play out, particularly where resources are located outside the UAE. GDP levels of spending suggest a more positive 2018 and into 2019. We continue to see sustainability at the core of the strategic development of the UAE vision.”

Drilling deeper into how the market may shape up in 2018, Gillard points out that social, hospitality and mixed-use complex projects could be responsible for driving the construction sector forward. “Despite market challenges, a number of market drivers will continue to have a positive impact into 2018 and beyond. Some of the potential drivers will be the volume of project awards, the government’s budget refocus and spending plans, with a focus on those segments to equip the country as it transitions towards a knowledge- and tourism-based economy. All these drivers are expected to stimulate the UAE’s economy in 2018 and beyond.”

VAT was introduced in the UAE and across other GCC countries on January 1, and although it has yet to have a significant impact on the construction industry, Gillard notes that it will become important for SMEs to manage the process effectively as its impact becomes more profound.

The UAE continues to be an extremely competitive market, and Gillard notes that KEO will have to address a few critical challenges in 2018. “Keeping our best talent while meeting increasing client expectations in an extremely competitive market is one of the key challenges. However, one of KEO’s key strengths is the ability to adapt and be flexible to respond to the changing needs of the client and the increasingly demanding market conditions. Our progressive vision, which is coupled with an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach, enables us to respond to our client’s maturing expectations.”

“We give great value to the development and retention of our people, which also reflects our commitment to equip KEO with the world-class talent. This strengthens our ability to respond to evolving and challenging market conditions in the Middle East. I am truly excited to be leading KEO’s talented team of building design professionals, and I am passionate about this opportunity to work closely with our clients to deliver incredibly successful projects across the region.”

In order to stand out in a competitive market, some consultancies are stepping up their use of technology to meet client expectations, gain approvals and ultimately deliver better projects. Gillard expects that trend to continue: “Virtual and augmented reality and BIM visualisation techniques will play an increasing role in meeting clients’ expectations, and this will filter down to the construction industry through an accelerated use of off-site modular and 3D printing techniques.”

Going forward, KEO will continue to invest in talent and leadership in order to tackle key issues, with the goal of improving quality and supporting its vast array of clients within the GCC and beyond. Gillard concludes: “From a design perspective, I see an increasing demand for creativity and innovations while focusing on simplifying the design process to achieve higher quality. For us in KEO, it’s about building the design professional experience and taking advantage of the fact that we’re already here. We’re in a great position, with 2,500 people already servicing the GCC market, and it’s a responsibility to serve the communities in which we do business for the long term.”

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