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CEO of UAE’s National Piling outlines 15% revenue growth plan

by Oscar Rousseau on Apr 14, 2018

Dubai is getting taller. Skyscrapers and high-rise buildings spring up from the ground as rapid urbanisation drills home the need to accommodate more people in increasingly populated residential hubs. Developers are building higher to meet this challenge, which is driving groundwork contractor National Piling to dig deeper than it has ever done before.

The company was formed in 2006 and is a UAE business owned by Saud Al Humaidan. The company operates exclusively in the UAE, although it has made brief forays into Saudi Arabia and Oman. While the firm is a little more than decade old, chief executive officer (CEO), Cheriyan Alex, tells Construction Week that the market has become “very competitive”. Growing competition in the foundation industry will see National Piling invest significantly in new machinery that helps to give it an edge as demand for deeper multi-storey basements increases.

“What we will concentrate on in the coming years is [the growing demand] for deeper basements in buildings,” Alex says. In the early days of National Piling, the company did not see much appetite for multi-storey basements in residential or commercial buildings. Now, however, clients regularly ask for foundations works comprising “up to four or five basements”, he says.

Increasing demand for deeper basements is driving an organisational change at National Piling, because the heavy machinery it currently owns cannot meet the “verticality and water tightness” needs of deeper basements. To ensure the mid-sized contractor can deliver the foundation works being demanded by Dubai’s developers, National Piling intends to buy more machinery. Approximately $4m (AED15m) has been set aside to purchase two diaphragm wall cutters and four vibro hammers. While $4m may not seem like a major expense to some, the figure represents around 15% of the company’s annual turnover, so relatively speaking, it is a sizeable investment. The six items of heavy machinery will complement National Pilling’s existing equipment portfolio, which already includes 16 drilling rigs and 12 cranes.

Buying more machines is important, because the longevity of a foundation contractor is “directly [linked] to the amount of equipment” it owns, Alex says. This is for a simple reason: if a company owns more machines with a broader range of capabilities, it can deliver a broader mix of foundation works, and thus bid for – and win – more projects than its competitors. Expanding the heavy construction equipment portfolio is also important for piling contractors because the demands of developers are rapidly evolving.

“As a general rule, construction requirements in the UAE have been changing from medium-sized buildings, with 10 to 15 floors, to towers spanning 25 to 80 floors. These towers require deeper foundations, with larger-diameter piles,” Alex says.

The Burj Khalifa stands as an example of how quickly developer requirements have changed in Dubai. Foundation work for the building started in the year 2000, according to Alex, who says piles with a dimeter of 1.5m were built roughly 50m deep. It is nearly two decades since foundations work on the $1.5bn (AED5.5bn) Burj Khalifa started, and piling work 50m below the tallest building in the world makes sense. But what was the exception back then is fast becoming the norm today, as National Piling’s contracts regularly cover piling works with an average depth of 50-55m, despite the fact that none of these buildings are planned to be supertalls.

This shift comes against a backdrop of what Alex calls “overwhelming change” in the piling industry. During the past decade, regulations have been introduced in the Middle East to streamline performance, and companies now face greater monitoring and testing of foundation works as a result. Compounding this, fiercer competition poses “a threat” to established ground contractors, such as National Piling. Alex says the contractor is “facing competition” from new players in the market that “do not have enough infrastructure to operate, but still pose a threat to medium-sized companies in the tendering stage”.