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Face to Face: David L Richter, Hill International

by Paromita Dey on Jul 19, 2015


David L. Richter, Hill International.
David L. Richter, Hill International.

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David L Richter’s recent visit to Dubai was his first international trip as Hill’s CEO and president. He told Construction Week that he wanted the UAE to be his first stop-over since it is the company’s most important market in the world. “We see huge opportunities, and expect to be a major player here, hope to grow and achieve major success.”

It perhaps comes as a surprise to some that Hill International, despite being based in the US, derives about half of its global revenues from its Middle East operations. The American project management and construction claims services company, which was formed in 1976, earns just about 20% of total sales from its home market.

Hill International’s Middle East arm, which employs more than 2,000 people today, is also its first and largest overseas venture. The company started out in the region by setting up an office for construction related claims in 1985 in Abu Dhabi. “I believe we are the most competitive [industry player] in the region. We started here quite early by opening our very first office outside the US, which, in hindsight, was a really good choice,” Richter says.

While initially the company dealt in settling claims related to the Abu Dhabi Department of Public Works, it entered the project management sector after 10 years. Richter says the 1990s was an “ideal time” to break into Dubai, as the oil and gas industry was booming, offering businesses ample opportunities to grow.

Hill International has since worked on many projects in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including iconic works such as the Palm Jumeirah and the World Islands in Dubai, and the Grand Mosque and Shams Abu Dhabi in the UAE capital. It has also managed grand projects outside the UAE, such as the billion-dollar Grand Egyptian Museum near Cairo and the National Museum of Qatar.

Prior to 2008, Hill International primarily managed residential, commercial, hotel and high-rise projects for private-sector companies. However, after the economic recession struck the UAE, the company revised its business model to focus on infrastructure developments by the government and public sector bodies.

“We have been involved in managing airports, rail lines, hospitals and schools. The public sector always has the money to pay you and offers long-term projects. In 2012 we won quite a number of infrastructure projects. Things then really started to grow quickly in this region,” says Richter. He claims that even during the years of the recession, the company grew steadily, by about 6% annually, and has achieved double-digit growth during the last two years.

Much of the company’s recent growth can be attributed to the visionary leadership of Richter, who assumed control of Hill International’s operations from his father, Irvin E Richter, in December 2014. “It was easy because I really didn’t have to step into his shoes. I was the Chief Operating Officer for almost a decade since 2004,” he says.



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