Prefab niche success for Bergum

Angela Giuffrida talks to Steve McConnachie from Al Masaood Bergum about building prefab labour accommodation.

McConnachie says that many of Al Masaood Bergum's projects are won from repeat clients
McConnachie says that many of Al Masaood Bergum's projects are won from repeat clients

Steve McConnachie, general manager, Al Masaood Bergum, talks to Angela Giuffrida about the world of building labour accommodation for GCC mega projects.

How did Al Masaood Bergum (AMB) start out in the Middle East?

AMB was established in 1978 through a joint venture with an Italian company, Bergum, and Abu Dhabi's Al Masaood. The Massouds bought Bergum out in 1983, and kept the name because of the trade licence.

We have production facilities in Al Quoz, Dubai; Qatar; Musaffah, Abu Dhabi, and are in the process of building another facility at Dubai Investment Park. We will also start construction of a production facility in Damman, Saudi Arabia, next year.

Which areas of the industry do you focus on?

Our core business is large-scale, turnkey labour accommodation for the construction and oil and gas sectors in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. We're now looking to diversify our core business, in order to counteract any downturns of work in certain sectors.

We formed a joint venture with CKT Projects of the Netherlands to undertake offshore accommodation work. We're also concentrating on integrating services for the oil and gas industry - such as installation and fireproofing. In addition to this, we're developing the rental side of the business.

Which projects are you working on at the moment?

We've been awarded the first phase of Nakheel's labour accommodation project at Dubai Waterfront. It's for the initial 10,000-man requirement for a total 62,000-man accommodation. These have a 12-year lifespan - again, Nakheel has gone down the route of providing better living conditions for a workforce that's going to be on the site for 12 years. We're also working on an accommodation project for Al Jaber Energy Services in Qatar.

What advantages do you have over your competitors?

We went for ISO certification in 2000 so that clients would have traceability on what we're providing in terms of quality assurance and control. We lay down a minimum specification, and if somebody wants cheaper then they can go to a company that doesn't have a quality system in place. We also have an integrated management system, which incorporates things like environmental and health and safety.

A lot of the clients we deal with have been repeat business, where they'd gone to others and then came back to us.

We've done work for clients like Siemens, for example, where we've gone to a higher specification because we have the flexibility in our design so that we don't have to stick to one layout or material: we can make the units slightly larger, slightly wider, so that inside they don't feel like a portacabin.

How do you manage your resources in this market?

With any new project we've been awarded, we'll always keep a certain capacity available for our existing clients - because once you lose those clients it's very difficult to get them back. We've walked away from a few projects too. We won't commit to something if we can't meet the schedules.

We've lost out on projects compared to companies with more resources; if our resources are spread out you can't let down an established client. Anything we quote as a turnkey project is on the basis that we have the necessary staff available to do the job.

And how do you go about sourcing labour for your projects?

The difficulty is not so much attracting staff, it's the availability. We're still bringing people in from India, but what we're finding is that they are less and less qualified - because there's so much work there now. We look towards Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines. But we are like a training institute - we bring them in, train them up, and they move on.

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