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Face to Face: Call the shots

by Ben Roberts on Jul 10, 2011

A rendering of Al Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
A rendering of Al Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

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Expansion around the GCC appears to be something of a game of chess for the chairman of the Al Fara’a Group. Adel Saleh has many different pieces to move in the form of a general contracting company and eight construction-related companies across materials, manufacturing and property within the group.

All the companies are seeking to be the leaders in their fields, and all, it seems, have a competitive offering to Saudi Arabia’s construction market that will replicate the kind of strategy that has made the group a dominant force in the UAE.

As Al Fara’a General Contracting gains final approval as a certified contractor in the kingdom, Unibeton Ready Mix, one of Al Fara’a Group’s crown jewels, has already mobilised to start claiming a stake in the booming market. And it is not doing things by halves.

“Unibeton has started production one week back,” Saleh told CW in April, sitting in the company’s Al Ain office. “It is the largest batch plant in Saudi, and our production is 400m3 per hour. We also have a branch for construction, Al Fara’a General Contracting, and the aluminium and the electromechanical division,” he adds.

The Al Fara’a Group has one of the strongest sets of construction companies under its banner. The general contracting company and Unibeton Ready Mix is also joined by Al Fara’a Properties, Belgium Aluminium & Glass Industries, Al Sabbagh Electromechanical and further lines in precast concrete, steel structure and interiors and joinery.

The contracting arm and a number of the material companies have won industry awards, most recently the Dubai Quality Award for Unibeton Ready Mix, which is the first company to introduce self-compacting concrete to the UAE.

Al Fara’a’s ability to compete across the construction chain is one of the company’s growth drivers. The contracting arm is classified as an ‘unlimited’ company in Dubai, meaning it can work on projects of any size and height, and a ‘special’ contractor in Abu Dhabi.

Today, Al Fara’a General Contracting has to be patient in its entry into the Gulf’s biggest construction market, says Saleh, noting that it takes time not only to register, but to gain special classification that will allow it to bid for government projects. Even the big companies have to start from the beginning.

“We have had to move step by step [in Saudi]. It will not be at ‘one time’. It takes a maximum of two years to establish there. For one year now we have been working on it. We have to keep in mind the bureaucratic elements; it is a bit complicated. The process is easier in the UAE compared to Saudi,” says Saleh.

“We have appointed a country manager, a qualified engineer. He has started pricing the jobs with the private sector. [In terms of the] government sector, we are waiting for the classification department, and then we can go ahead with government jobs. For private sector jobs you can work to any amount, any project. With the government, it is not allowed: you need the classification.”


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