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Face to face: Jeremy Lester, Grocon

by Gerhard Hope on Sep 10, 2012

Jeremy Lester
Jeremy Lester

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From founding advisor on the Burj Khalifa for Emaar to the Princess Tower, the chief executive of Grocon's international division Jeremy Lester tells CW how it has played a vital role in developing the region’s construction industry. By Gerhard Hope

Construction company Grocon originally entered the region as founding advisor to Emaar on the Burj Khalifa.

“It evolved from a plan to build a 600m tall tower in the Melbourne Docklands … The Melbourne authorities did not want a 600m-tall tower sticking out of the docklands, so our current CEO and his father came here and met [Emaar chairman] Mohamed Alabbar, and that became the germination of the idea around the Burj Khalifa. It is an amazing story,” says Lester.

Grocon’s involvement with that landmark project has since characterised its approach to the region’s construction industry, specialising in devising methodologies and approaches “to how you build something that complex; that came out of that original thinking.”

Grocon then initiated a long-term working relationship with main contractor Arabian Construction Company (ACC) on the 333m, 72-storey Rose Rayhaan by Rotana on Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai, “which I still think is one of the most remarkable buildings in Dubai.”

This had the distinction of being the tallest hotel in the world, but will be eclipsed by the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai when it opens at the end of the year.

“In terms of its height-to-base ratio and the complexity of that sort of building in that sort of location, Grocon played a key role in enabling ACC and others to achieve that,” says Lester.

He explains that Grocon is “really a structures company; we focus on structure, because that is where we can make the most difference and the biggest contribution. I take huge pride when we look at our finished buildings, and I think it is great to see the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana doing so well. It is popular and people like it.”

Grocon continued to work with ACC “on those projects where we could make a real difference, employing our best ideas and methodologies, particularly around safety, speed of construction, efficiency and value engineering.

First of all, Grocon’s strength and its insights come because we are a design-and-construct business down in Australia and so we understand intimately all of the component parts that go into construction.

What we had here was to a certain extent architects and structural engineers coming out with fantastically ambitious projects, which to a large extent were almost beyond the capability of the construction companies to build.”

There was a lag between capability and expertise, but this proved to be a niche where Grocon thrived, adding such projects as the 360m, 70-storey Almas Tower in JLT, and the the 414m, 101-storey Princess Tower and the 381m, 91-storey Elite Residence in Dubai Marina. Other projects included the five-tower Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.

“We have worked on these sort of landmark, flagship projects that really stand out; buildings that are complex and difficult and challenging for a whole variety of different reasons.”

Lester says that Grocon’s aim in the region is “to leave a legacy of an industry that is more capable, that is safer, that is higher quality and ultimately is more efficient, so we are really focused on teaching and sharing. What I want to be able to do is move on into other countries and regions, leaving that legacy behind of a significant industry.”

This requires a mindset change in the traditionally conservative construction industry in the region. “I think the resistance to change is less so, especially as the architectural and structural engineering sectors are dragging the industry into new, more challenging areas.

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