Face to Face: Wael Allan, Hyder Consulting

Wael Allan tells CW about his new role as regional chairman


Wael Allan has a new job. The man who has been regional managing director for Hyder Consulting for coming up to five years has earned himself an expanded role. It’s one which sees him being both group COO and chairman in the Middle East.

This represents the next stage in what has been a journey of improved fortunes for the company, one which shareholders can’t fail to have noticed. When Allan joined, the company’s share price was 70 pence – Hyder is listed on the London Stock Exchange. Now it currently sits around 580 pence and the 2013 financial results saw a dividend of 12 pence, a 33% increase on 2012’s effort.

Allan is confident that the changes his new role represents will continue to deliver value to shareholders.

“What [the change] will mean to our shareholders is more prosperity and, I think, a better share price,” he said.

It’s a job of two parts. One is group-based, with his focus being on supporting the company and making sure it operates effectively as a multinational.

“It’s a global role, involved in operations across all the group, including the UK, Europe as well as the Middle East, Australia and the Far East,” he said.

“Very few of our competitors really work as a multi-national. What I mean by that is we bring all the resources from the company, irrelevant of location, to address our projects.

“This really helps us to smooth the fluctuation in the workload across the globe.”

Part two of the role, being chairman in the Middle East, is one based on relationships. Having worked hard to build them over his years as regional managing director, Allan will continue to develop them in what he describes as a non-executive role, where he supports the organisation with some ‘high-level relationships’.

For clients, Allan is predicting they will see an enhanced service. This comes down to his conviction that being COO and chairman in the Middle East will enable him to play an ideal matchmaker between clients and the group resources they need the most.

“The group is almost 4,500 people, so understanding the capabilities and the resources we have, and in my new role I’ll be able to do that, will support our clients even more,” he said. “I’ll make sure our best resources are suited to, and matched with, the projects we have currently.”

“We are a opportunity-rich company at the moment. Execution and delivery of the projects will be at the heart of what I do. It’s all about giving our clients the best possible service that I can.”

Allan says this will mean better results for Hyder’s clients, who will have the best resources for them on their projects.

“I think inevitably that will reflect in our bottom line numbers,” he said. “Which is great news for our shareholders.”

The changes have been driven by necessity, as well as a desire to make the company a stronger entity.

A $305m order book in the Middle East, a fair share of the $665m it has globally, means the company is busy and its busy in this region. The Middle East order book value grew 40.2% in the March 2013 financial year, well beyond the growth seen in either the company’s UK/Europe or Asia Pacific reporting regions.

Allan regards the ability to make these changes as essential to being able to survive and thrive in the market, one that is showing signs of sustained revival.

“It’s our ability to respond to change,” he said. “It’s not the strongest or the biggest that thrive, it’s the most adaptable and most agile.

“We are a very culturally adaptable and agile company that responds to change positively and quickly. That ability enables us to have a sustainable business.”

It’s an adaptability that may pay further dividends, as the regional battle for talent shapes up. As companies in the Middle East start the hunt for qualified boots on the ground, Hyder’s global approach may protect it from the toughest recruitment challenges. The company’s head count grew 6% globally in the year to March 2013, with 11% of its staff now based in its Design Excellence Centres. That design talent will make up part of the resource put to work on any of the company’s global projects.

“Talent acquisition is an absolute challenge,” said Allan. “We are always looking for talent and trying to develop people in the organisation. But the challenge is finding good people; we’re all competing for good people.

“We encourage our people to endorse change, to develop a career and gain experience. To enable our multi-national model, our people have to be willing to be flexible and mobile, so they can really support projects worldwide.”

Globally, and in the Middle East, those projects are dominated by work from the transport sector (52% and 45% respectively). In this region, the balance of work is made up of an almost even split of utilities and property work.

“I think a lot of our jobs are now about serving the community,” said Allan. “We have so many different type of projects. We are working on healthcare projects, infrastructure, roads: improving travel times and accessibility. Really, our work is about finding solutions for communities and creating prosperity. We continue to do that very well.”

While the flow of private sector projects slowed in recent years, Hyder is working on a strong selection of public projects, including the Frame for Dubai Municipality, a structure shaped, as the name suggests, like a picture frame.

Allan says infrastructure has become a bigger element for the business, but he also believes he’s seeing a revival of the private sector and property.

“Ideally for our business we’d love to have a balance of private and public work. I think we’ll get there, as more confidence returns to the market,” said Allan.

“Our principals are that we do what is right for our clients and our employees. If we do this, the outcome inevitably will be good growth,” he said. “We make sure we have high selectivity in terms of the target projects we do, as well as the type of clients we get close to.

“What we are talking about is finding clients and understanding their objectives. Then aligning ourselves with those objectives and being truthful with ourselves, that, in those instances, we will be able to make a difference to the client needs.”

“If I look at the last 3-4 years, it’s been tough in terms of the economy, but we have done extremely well. We have met our numbers and I think we will continue to do so.

“That’s because we are doing what we believe to be the right things. As long as you do what you believe to be the right things, as a business, you’ll always be a success.”

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