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Face-to-face: Gary Adams, Parsons

Parsons' Middle East & Africa president Gary Adams tells Yamurai Zendera about his plans to grow the business across the region

Adams was appointed Parsons' MEA head in September 2014.
Adams was appointed Parsons' MEA head in September 2014.

When Gary Adams was appointed as Parsons’ president for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region eight months ago, his immediate priority was to grow the business. In a market where clients have their pick of consultants, and margins are squeezed, having a clear strategy is crucial.

So how does Adams intend to meet his targets? The American native, who leads a team of around 6,000 people across the region, says that his primary strategy involves the introduction of new market lines.

“Everybody’s chief remit is growth and that’s what I need to do. For example, one of our biggest businesses here is land development. We’re working for a lot of major developers, and have for the last 15 years. But in that arena, we have stayed horizontal,” Adams begins.

“One of the things we’re now doing is making a move to the vertical part of the business – buildings. We do that already, but we haven’t done it in a big way here yet,” he adds.

Adams is also looking to take Parsons into the oil and gas sector, the incentive being greater penetration into Saudi Arabia. The company has existing ties in the Kingdom through projects such as the Riyadh Metro, but there are opportunities to make further inroads.

“Several years ago we divested our energy business and sold it to WorleyParsons. And now we’re getting back into the oil and gas market,” reveals Adams, noting that Parsons is currently undertaking seawater injection work for South Oil Company in Iraq.

“We’re not getting into refining and downstream type of things; rather, we’re doing water and sewerage infrastructure – that kind of midstream work – in support of the oil and gas industry,” the Parsons chief explains.

Adams concedes that the fall in oil prices over the past year is a cause for concern on growth forecasts moving into 2016, admitting that their full impact will only be known in that year. Come October 2015, Adams will sit down with Parsons’ global management team to work out their targets for the next year.

“I didn’t ever think when we were doing our business plan we would ever dream the oil price would be down in the low 40s [USD per barrel]. A lot of our customers’ budgets have been cut back, and they’re getting a little bit more selective about what projects and programmes they’re dealing with immediately,” Adams points out.

“Nonetheless, we still have a pretty good portfolio of opportunities. The pipeline still looks pretty decent and we feel like we’re still in a position after the first quarter to make our targets.”

Adams also takes into account the short-term nature of project cycles in the region compared to Western markets, noting that local conditions on the ground can change quickly. In turn, he argues that it would be unwise to become overly consumed by the travel of oil prices.

“A billion-dollar job can materialise in the Middle East almost overnight,” Adams says. “But those things aside, we track all the opportunities. So come September/October, we usually have a pretty decent view of what next year’s going to look like.”

Adams is looking to grow Parsons’ territorial footprint as another way of mitigating against oil price fluctuations. Egypt has been mooted as a possibility.

“There’s potentially a lot of opportunities in Egypt. A lot of that work is right up our alley,” he asserts. “I think there are opportunities out there that we don’t know enough about, and we want to explore them.”

Within the GCC, Saudi Arabia and Qatar make up roughly half of Parsons’ business, with around 3,200 staff split almost equally between the two.

“We have a pretty broad portfolio of projects in Qatar,” Adams says. “We have fewer projects – but larger – projects in Saudi Arabia.”

In Qatar, Parsons has several contracts with Qatar Rail. Its design consultancy work with Systra for the Qatar Long Distance Railway Network has recently completed.

To be developed in distinct phases, the network will cover a distance of 350km for passenger trains and freight trains, with plans to initiate the enabling works in 2015 and complete the fourth and final phase in 2030. Once completed, this network will include lines to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the new port, and Hamad International Airport outside of Doha.

The second project is the Lusail Light Rail Transit (LRT) system, where joint venture partners Parsons and Aecom are in the process of extending their five-year project management/construction management (PMCM) contract.

Adams says the final stage of the project is underway. Qatar Rail awarded the construction contract to a consortium of QDVC and Alstom in June 2014, and completion of phase one (Yellow Line) is set for January 2019. The whole network is slated to be finished by June 2020.

Since 2006, Parsons has also been providing construction and programme management for Lusail Real Estate Company’s 38km² Lusail City project.

“The city is moving along. There are streets and buildings going up; it’s being phased,” Adams says, adding that the completion date is still to be finalised. “It’s exciting. You don’t get a chance to build a city very often.”

In Saudi Arabia, the company is embedded on the Riyadh Metro project as lead PMCM of a consortium (RMTC) with Egis Rail and Systra for client ArRiyadh Development Authority (ADA). RMTC manages two design build packages: package one performed by the BACS consortium (Bechtel led), and package two performed by the ANM consortium (Salini-Impregilo led).

Adams says: “The project is underway. The design is in the final stages, about 90% ready for issue for construction, and 70% of early works for utilities relocations are underway. Progress on stations excavation is up to 80%; on precast work for viaducts and tunnel liner is 20%; for viaduct pier construction 5%; and progress on tunnelling works is 75%.”

Adams says the tunnel boring machines have been manufactured, and shipping to Saudi is nearing completion. Tunnelling is ready to start and the rolling stock designs and mock-ups are nearing completion.

“Both design and builds are behind schedule due to delays in design, procurement, and subcontracting work, as well as utilities and traffic diversion impacts and prolonged stakeholder approvals,” he reveals.

Elsewhere in the Kingdom, Parsons is lead consultant on a Ministry of Housing scheme that will see more than 500,000 houses built across 11 sites.

“We’ve finished the design for all 11 sites and we are now in various stages of construction supervision,” Adams says.

In the UAE, its third biggest market, Parsons is among firms vying for the long-awaited tender awards for stage two of the Eithad Rail project, for which it oversaw stage one PMCM with Aecom.

It is also lead consultant with Halcrow on the Dubai Water Canal project, which will see Dubai Creek extended to the Jumeirah coast and an eight-lane bridge constructed across the canal on Sheikh Zayed Road.

Parsons is currently finalising concept alignment and design for the Red Line extension of the Dubai Metro to the Expo 2020 site in Jebel Ali.

“There are some ups and downs between our operations, but for the most part, everyone is holding their own right now,” Adams asserts.

“Of course, things can change, but right now I’m optimistic we can make it through to the end of 2015 with the inherent numbers,” he concludes.

The Boss
As president of Parsons Middle East & Africa (MEA), Gary Adams is responsible for the company’s operations throughout the region.

Prior to his position as president of MEA, Adams held positions with increasing roles of responsibility, most recently as executive vice president and global operations director of Parsons Transportation Group. He has extensive experience in complex transportation projects. His multidisciplinary background combines civil engineering, traffic engineering, highway design, and transportation planning work.

In addition to his management and engineering background, Adams spent four years lecturing on transportation topics at California State University, Long Beach, and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

He also has city and regional government experience as a planning commissioner, city councilman, mayor, and several regional boards, including a toll road authority and regional airport authority. Moreover, Adams is active in several professional organisations and has presented on various topics, including alternative delivery and project/programme management best practices.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a master’s degree in transportation engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

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