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Face to Face: Raouf Ghali, Hill International

by Gerhard Hope on Nov 24, 2012

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CW speaks to Raouf Ghali, president, project management group (international) of Hill International, about the company’s projected growth path in the region.

From Saudi Arabia to Qatar, Iraq and Egypt, Hill International maintains a global presence, and has scooped up major projects in every area it has established itself in.

“The Middle East was always one of our fundamental, core regions, and continues to grow,” says Raouf Ghali, president, project management group (international).

“Even during the economic crisis, we grew in the Middle East. We may have downsized in some parts and at some locations, but at other locations we absorbed most of the shortfall,” says Ghali. “Part of our risk management was to diversify into locations where we thought the market would have an upward trend.”

The success of this strategy is evident in Hill International’s sterling growth. “From the downturn we were about 350 people; we are over 900 today, so have hired 100+ a year,” says Mohammed Al Rais, senior VP and MD.

The main driver of this growth was “senior management’s decision, Ghali at the time, to come out of the Middle East and open up all across North Africa.” Of course, this strategy has been impacted by the Arab Spring.

“The Arab Spring did hurt us a bit, but we were widespread enough to make up for the shortfalls,” says Ghali. “And now some of the countries affected by the Arab Spring have started to come back.”

Ghali says that stalwart areas during the regional upheaval have been Saudi Arabia locally and Eastern Europe internationally: the former on the back of a huge infrastructure boom, and the latter on the back of mega EU-funded projects.

The name of the game at the moment is social infrastructure. “We have seen more and more of it,” confirms Ghali, “and not just in Saudi Arabia, but in Iraq as well. Housing is a market we are looking at, and we are a strong player in it.” Al Rais points out that Iraq “has just announced a programme for two-million houses that is before parliament for ratification.”

Ghali adds that the infrastructure sector in Iraq “will mature even more once they get a mortgage system going to give individuals access to property. I think the personal income level in many of these countries, particularly on the lower tier, has increased.”

Another area of social infrastructure that Hill International is heavily involved with is healthcare.

Recent wins in this sector include two five-year contracts worth a combined $34m from the Saudi Arabian government to manage the design and construction of two medical cities and ten hospitals. Hill is also providing project management services for SEHA’s two new community hospitals in Abu Dhabi.

While the project pipeline in Dubai has slowed to a trickle, the slack has been picked up by the rest of the region. “It is quieter in Dubai, but there is a lot of activity in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq,” says Ghali. “It depends on how far out in the Middle East you go. In Egypt, we have the landmark development of the Grand Egyptian Museum.

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