Quality over quantity

Yamurai Zendera sits down with Deepak Seru

Deepak Seru, general manager (civil projects) of Al Ansari Trading Enterprise.
Deepak Seru, general manager (civil projects) of Al Ansari Trading Enterprise.

Deepak Seru is a man who at the moment is very content with the work Omani contractor Al Ansari Trading Enterprise is doing in the Sultanate. The last time Construction Week caught up with Al Ansari in March, it was celebrating winning the Infrastructure Project of the Year at the Construction Week Awards Oman.

Seru said that the $59mn (OR23mn) prize-winning project – a sewage system for Haya Water built in coastal Darsait, Aynt, Wadi Kabir, Hamriya and Ruwi – is now partially handed over to the client. “[In] certain areas the client is not ready,” he said. “It is developing an STP and when that is ready, our drainage works will go into it.”

For Al Ansari, the strategy this year has not been on swelling its project portfolio with as much work as possible but instead focusing on quality over quantity.

“Our focus has been more on quality and HSE (health, safety and environment). We’re not project-hungry,” said Seru. “When you speak about Al Ansari in the Oman market you will speak about quality.”

The builder has eight ongoing projects on its books, a volume Seru said was both sustainable and manageable. The biggest of these in terms of value is a special taskforce centre it is building for the Royal Oman Police (ROP) in Salalah under a $59mn (OR23mn) contract.

“The project is around 20% completed. There are around 24 buildings inclusive of barracks on 25km² of land and we have 1,000+ people there,” said Seru. “We have three or four projects in the same range like that but in terms of value, this is the highest.”

Al Ansari is also part of a joint venture with French firm Degremont that has just mobilised on a sewage treatment plant for Haya Water in Amarat. And two months ago Al Ansari started building the Sayyidah Fatma Bint Al Said Mosque in Seeb for Royal Court Affairs.

Meanwhile, for the same client, it recently handed over Sultan Qaboos Mosque in Mahdah after a two-year programme, a VVIP reception building at Seeb Airport and a date factory in Thumrit near Salalah.

It has also just completed a $25.9mn (OR10mn) four-star hotel in Khasab for Omran, the Oman government’s tourism development arm. “The Khasab project was a major project in terms of quality and safety which fits in exactly with our ethos and philosophy” said Seru. “We passed over two million safe man hours.”

To look at Al Ansari’s projects, a pattern begins to emerge. All of them are in the buildings or infrastructure sectors and procured from a small core of clients.

“We have one division for infrastructure and one for buildings. When we speak about infrastructure, we are mostly into sewerage pipelines and water lines,” said Seru.

“We are very selective about our clients. We are working with three of four clients – Royal Court Affairs, Haya Water, ROP – and we get repeat business from them so we are OK with that. We are already growing revenues [by] around 10-12% year-on-year just from our regular clients. As I said, we’re not project hungry.”

Seru said Al Ansari is the lowest bidder on a $51.9mn (OR20mn) Haya Water project for a 50km sewerage pipeline in Al Khuwair. At the same time, it has tendered for the main contract works for Ras Al Hadd Airport and for between 8-10 jobs with the ROP.

He said that the firm's focus for 2015 would be to grow revenues by 15% and also recruit more specialist staff.

“Our major thrust over the last two years has been on recruitment with the various management changes that we have done,” he said. “The idea is to have a specific pipeline team. And you can put engineers into that, quantity surveyors into that, planners into that, design engineers into that. Numbers are important depending on the projects we are doing, but we are trying to have a focus on more quality people.”

However, Seru does feel that local contractors are losing out on major hospitality projects to international firms because of a lack of trust from developers.

“There are not many hotels being built by Omani companies. That’s something that needs to change. New tenders always want international companies. Having said that, there is a thrust from the government to increase local participation, so if international contractors are coming in, they’ll have to join with us,” he said.

Being an Omani firm with over 4,000 employees, Seru said it is proud that almost a third of its workforce is made up of locals.

“We are very proud of that because we have a green card for Omanisation. This green card is given to very few companies in Oman,” he said. “We employ around 30% Omanis, which is very close to the government range.”

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