Face to Face: Sani Sener, TAV Group

CEO Sani Sener talks about his bullish outlook on regional growth

The New Doha International Airport in Qatar.
The New Doha International Airport in Qatar.

Pick a major airport project in the GCC – from Doha to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Madinah – and Turkey’s TAV Group is behind it. President and CEO Sani Sener talks about his bullish outlook on regional growth.

The TAV Group was founded in 1997 by a consortium led by two leading Turkish construction enterprises, namely Tepe Construction and Akfen Construction, both of whom remain majority shareholders in the group.

Tepe and Akfen have over 30 years’ domestic and international experience in the construction of infrastructure, housing, transportation, educational and industrial projects.

Sener says the catalyst for the establishment of the TAV Group was the awarding of the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) contract for the new Istanbul Atatürk Airport International Terminal Complex in 1997, which was completed in only 22 months, eight months ahead of schedule.

In January 2000, the TAV Group began to operate the new Istanbul Atatürk Airport facilities, and in just eight years has become one of the largest industrial holding groups in Turkey.

Although the TAV Group has evolved into a holding company comprising various subsidiaries, the original construction company has remained intact as TAV Construction, and has been executing all the construction projects contracted to the TAV Group since 1997.

Established in 2003, TAV Construction has undertaken projects totalling 300ha since then. TAV Construction is headquartered in Istanbul, with regional centres in Cairo, Doha, Dubai, Tunisia, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Macedonia, Muscat and Tripoli.

The company’s expert staff and experience offer airport construction services as well as know-how in technical maintenance and repairs, a field that is in short supply in the world. “It also offers consulting services in airport infrastructure, another growing need worldwide,” says Sener.

“Commanding wide respect due to its technical competence and experience in the field, TAV Construction is undertaking projects as sole contractor in general, but has also formed strategic partnerships with world giants such as the Japanese TAISEI, Brazilian Odebrachet and Lebanese CCC on certain projects.”

In the Middle East, TAV Construction has six branches and three subsidiary companies outside of Turkey. In the UAE, it has established branch offices in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai to capitalise on the burgeoning opportunities in the booming construction sector in the Gulf region.

Building on its initial project of constructing steel roof hangars in Dubai for Emirates’ A380 airliners, TAV Construction has constructed a large shopping mall, a private school and three high-rise buildings.

“TAV Construction is currently in the midst of a project to construct a high-rise tower that will mark the rapidly developing landscape of the region for years to come,” says Sener. In addition to its airport and terminal construction projects, TAV has various prestigious ongoing and completed building projects in the UAE.

Following TAV Construction’s successful bid to build the new terminal of the Cairo International Airport in Egypt, its Egyptian branch was incorporated in December 2004.
In addition to its ongoing work at the airport, the branch is also looking at new airport and related construction tenders in the region.

TAV Construction’s Qatar branch was established in April 2006 after it was awarded the tender to construct the passenger terminal complex at the New Doha International Airport (NDIA). In order to closely follow projects in Qatar, TAV Construction Doha LLC was established in March 2010.

On being awarded the New Tripoli International Terminal Buildings Project, TAV Construction’s Libya branch was established in September 2007. The Bahrain branch was established in September 2007.

The award of the MC1 infrastructure works package at Muscat International Airport represented another opportunity for TAV Construction to establish an overseas subsidiary, TAV Muscat LLC, in July 2009. TRCC-TAV Al Rajhi Contracting Company was established in 2010 to track developments in Saudi Arabia.

Commenting on the MENA market, Sener says: “We have experienced a downturn in North African projects this year because of the uprisings in those countries, especially Libya. We believe that stability will return to those countries, and we are optimistic that we will resume work on our projects there.

However, for the near future we are concentrated on the broader Middle East more than ever. Now we are also in the Saudi Arabian market. We are following all infrastructure projects, especially airports, throughout the region, including Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. The projects we follow and execute are all international projects, which bring TAV an enhanced global reputation.”

Sener points out that TAV Construction is the world’s fourth-largest airport contractor, as reported in the ENR (Engineering News Record) listing in 2010.

“After the downturn in 2008-2009, this year there has been recovery in the construction sector. Especially with government incentives on infrastructure projects, there is a fair degree of optimism looking forward. Saudi Arabia announcing its investment programme, the Qatar 2022 World Cup investments and the Kuwait refining programme are good examples.”

TAV Construction is also involved in all major airport projects in GCC, including the Abu Dhabi Midfield Terminal Building, the Kuwait Airport Expansion and the Madinah Airport project.

“Major airlines in the GCC such as Emirates and Etihad are expanding their fleets at a fast pace, and eventually all these planes will need new airports to land.” Sener says that, “apart from being one of the leading contractors of the region, we made the TAV Group a strong company financially, with a reputation for undertaking and completing largescale, big-budget projects.”

After the downturn, he says the group “immediately adopted a crisis-management strategy. Though the crisis has affected all parties involved in the sector, TAV was spared the brunt of it.”

The major challenges in the region at the moment are “increased competition and decreased margins. However, we shoot mainly for airport-related projects, which eliminates the competition to a certain level.

Our main opportunity, apart from our experience in hi-tech, high-quality and largescale design-and-build projects, is our cultural proximity and adaptability in all the countries and regions we work in,” says Sener.

“Qatar has the highest GDP rate in the region, and one of the highest in the world. Even before being awarded the World Cup, it had about $80bn of infrastructure projects in the pipeline. At the beginning of this year, Saudi Arabia revealed a $1tn investment programme for infrastructure and housing projects. Both countries are the new hot spots for construction business in the coming years.”

Interestingly, the TAV Group is active as far afield as Macedonia and Libya, which are diverse markets with specific challenges. “Macedonia and Libya are two different cases and regions. However, in both countries, TAV Construction had the same advantage: our cultural and historical proximity. We are about to finish our Macedonia project, and we have experienced a welcoming environment throughout.

Libya, until the uprising in late February this year, was going at a good pace, and we were involved in two airport projects in Tripoli and Sebha, Tripoli being a largescale airport, and also in JVs with the government. We are optimistic that the current situation will be settled soon, and we will resume our work there,” says Sener.

Comparing the construction industry in Turkey with that in the MENA region, Sener says: “Turkey also has investment programmes in infrastructure and housing. There are major projects which have already been tendered on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis.

Turkey is giving more importance to privatisation in major infrastructure projects. For example, the Northern Marmara Motorway will be tendered as a PPP-type project in early 2012, which we are following. On the other hand, Turkish contractors have been very active in international projects since the 1970s, especially in MENA, Russia and the CIS countries.”

Sener says Turkish companies can offer major benefits to the region. “Cultural commonality, easy adaptability, fast mobility and flexibility are the main competitive advantages of Turkish companies in the region. You can see Turkish contractors in all challenging regions and countries.

And although the rate for Turkish labour is higher than Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese labour, for example, Turkish workers are much more efficient and skilled. Also especially among white-collar staff, the efficiency rate is higher.

Sener sees a bright future for PPP-type projects. “We have completed many airport projects under this scheme. Although there were initiations in the GCC for this model, until now there has been no airport projects realised under PPP.

“We believe the Madinah Airport project will change this. GCC countries are rich and have the budgets to execute projects, unlike other countries that use the PPP model for raising funds.”

“However, the PPP model has other operational benefits. That is why the Madinah Airport project will be a very successful example for a PPP-type airport investment in a rich country, which will showcase the ability of the private sector in marketing and operating an infrastructure asset without the need to have the government spend any public funds.”

Sani Sener
Sani Sener graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1977 from the Black Sea Technical University in Turkey, and received his MPhil degree from the University of Sussex in 1979.

“I supervised several international infrastructure projects throughout my engineering career. Now I am the president and CEO of the TAV Group, which is operating 11 airports and constructing four more in the MENA region, namely Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Arabian Peninsula. I am also currently a board member of the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe,” says Sener.

“We are working together in an active association to ensure effective communication and advocacy with legislative, commercial, technical and environmental issues, in addition to matters concerning passengers and other interests,” says Sener.

He says the TAV Group “places a great deal of importance on innovation and information sharing, and closely following developments in the sector. Our joint studies with ACI make substantial contributions to the industry. These studies serve as tools supporting communication, involving forums such as conferences, trainings and publications etc.

ACI represents a significant resource for those involved in the aviation industry, offering documentation and reports based on a wide variety of research.” ACI and TAV Airports have signed a global training centre cooperation agreement for the training of aviation professionals.

“As a company we thrive on challenge, and this is equally true for me personally. Our accomplishments constitute another important motivation. We have realised phenomenal success due to our innovative approach. And, most important of all, are our employees.

The enthusiasm of our team is the final, and greatest, motivating factor. To witness their creativity on a daily basis is ample reason to continue working toward to our goals. All in all, being a player in the infrastructure in this part of the world always motivates us,” says Sener.

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