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Commission Man: Paul Kirby, Commtech

Paul Kirby on the unique challenges of testing and commissioning

Paul Kirby, Commtech's country manager for the Middle East and India
Paul Kirby, Commtech's country manager for the Middle East and India

Paul Kirby, Commtech’s country manager for the Middle East and India, on the unique challenges of testing and commissioning in the GCC and why he feels his company is well on the way to becoming number one in the region

If one were to gauge the reality of the much-mooted recovery in the industry by the recent news from Commtech, it would be hard to argue against the suggestion that things are on the up.

The first quarter of 2013 has witnessed a flurry of activity by the testing and commissioning outfit that has yielded numerous contract awards and encouraged a bullish attitude from the man leading the company's charge in the Middle East and India.

Paul Kirby, Commtech's country manager for the two regions, is a picture of positivity as he relays the progress his company has been making in the last few months. The affable Northern Irish man reels off the various deals he and his company have struck which have set it on a solid path to success in 2013.

“We recently got the nod from Trans Gulf to do the testing and commissoning on H.H. Sheikh Nahyan's family villa in Abu Dhabi,” he says. “Since then the phone hasn't stopped ringing.”
Among the calls has been confirmation of an approximately $110,000 award for the full commissioning management contract for the new Premier Inn Hotel in Abu Dhabi's Terminal 2.

Other wins have included an approximately $220,000 deal for work on Deerfield's shopping mall in Abu Dhabi awarded by Fibrex; commissioning on the extension to the Aviation Club in Dubai; work on the new Jumeirah Creekside Hotel; an appointment by Sensaire to work on the Al Jalali Hospital; as well as work with Hyatt Hotels in India which is planning to build around 57 hotels across the country in the next three years.

Further cause for celebration has come with recognition from the Dubai Department of Economic Development of Commtech's status as a licensed commissioning management company, the first in the emirate, according to Kirby.

Hotels look like being a key source of business for Commtech in the coming years. The company has been approved worldwide by Hilton, Hyatt and Jumeirah Group to commission each company's hotels, subject to the agreement of the developers.

Kirby has even written a commissioning plan for hotels which has been patented. “No one can copy it and it’s foolproof. If you follow the document page-by-page the hotel will not go wrong,” he says.

Kirby moved to the region in September 2007 to join Arabtec as senior MEP project and commissioning manager, but he has engineering in his blood. His father was a “talented engineer”, according to Kirby, and he spent much of his young life on building sites learning the trade.

From Arabtec he moved to ADNEC in 2009, where he spent two years before taking his current position at Commtech. While he has only been in the region for a relatively short time compared to some of the GCC industry's veterans, his sociable nature has ensured that the industry knows him well, and this has benefitted Commtech in securing business.

This personal dynamic has seen Commtech strike up with a relationship with Ted Jacob Engineering in the region. “We're doing a JV with them on all their projects,” says Kirby.

“To keep it simple, when they go onto a project and they've got the PI for the design, we get involved with them at an early stage to do a commissionability report. We try to get in at the design stage so that the building can be commissioned above all else.”

For Kirby, testing and commissioing has too often been an afterthought in the region's construction industry, and he says Commtech will endeavour to change this attitude through its discussions with contractors and clients.

“Commissioning management in the old days in the UAE was like money for old rope," he says. "It has been ignored in the past. It is down to elite commissioning companies like ourselves to lead the way and educate the owners and developers of properties about the importance of commissioning.

We're slowly but surely educating the market and trying to put a bit of faith back into commissioning management. For years, the companies who have been operating here have tarnished the name of commissioning management.”

Kirby also believes that the poor standard of commissioning management in the region over the last 15 years may well have disastrous consequences in the near future.

“Eventually all the bad workmanship in the region, the projects which haven't been properly commission managed, will falter. Just because a company has been operating here for a long time, it doesn't mean they are better qualified to do the job.”

Commissioning is all about having the right people, explains Kirby, who know the industry and how technology can improve it. “I'm passionate about commissioning being done correctly,” he says.

“Commissioning hasn't changed here in the last 15 years, but we're changing it now. This is because we have the technology and we're bringing in the more experienced guys in the industry to do the work. All our guys have ten years minimum experience in the job.”

Commtech's operations here also benefit from the company's global status, according to Kirby, which means it can call on backup if necessary from a team operating in perhaps the most sophisticated commissioning environment in the world.

“If we have to bring in our serious guys in from Hong Kong and Singapore, we can do it,” says Kirby.

“That's the beauty of having talent all over the world and not just here, in the Middle East. Asia is so far ahead technologically and Commtech's team there are head and shoulders above the rest.

We're using the technology the company has as a group to improve our guys and their skills. If commissioning companies don't change their outlook on technology, they are going to be left behind, and that is what's happening.”

Commtech's approach inspires such confidence in Kirby that he is willing to venture that the company will take top spot in the region by the year's end – if a move into the Qatari market meets his expectations.

“Qatar is a market that we're really looking to get stuck into at the moment,” he says. “We're working very closely with Trans Gulf to establish a joint venture to operate there. I'm predicting that by the end of 2013 we will be the major player in the entire Middle East.”
With the way things have gone so far in 2013, who would argue.

Put to the test
A key aspect of Kirby's leadership approach is knowing the technical detail of each job Commtech is executing.

"I take a hands-on role in everything because, if I don't know my business, I'm in trouble," Kirby says.

"Everything from invoicing to operations, the guys cc me into the emails. A lot of directors over here don't get involved in that, but I think that's madness. I need to know what's happening on every project, and my clients can ring me up at any time and I will be able to tell them straight away what is going on. You have to be in control."

This approach has kept Kirby abreast of engineering developments on the ground and he is more than confident in his ability to answer any question relating to to the testing and commissioning field.

"I've been on a building site since I was seven years old," he says. "While most kids were running around with their GI Joes and skateboards, I was working with my dad. I defy any consultant to question me on my ability as an engineer.

"Commissioning management is about fixing what other people can't fix. If I don't know instantly what is wrong, give me an hour or so and I'll go through the drawings myself, as the director of the company, and find a way to do it," he adds.


  • $220,000 Approximate value of Deerfield's deal
  • $110,000 Approximate value of Premier Inn deal

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