Face to face: David Stader, CH2M
David Stader discusses the trends CH2M has seen in the GCC’s transportation sector
Vice president of CH2M’s Middle East, North Africa and India (MENAI) transportation business, David Stader, is responsible for managing the strategic and daily operations of the company’s transportation segment. He also oversees project delivery within the bridges, aviation, rail and ports, and maritime market segments.
CH2M is a global engineering company that provides consulting, design, construction, and operations services for corporations and governments, and operates in multiple business units. “We’re building up to be the most important geographical hub globally, where in the past it was Europe,” says Stader. “Now, what was the old border for transportation of people and goods is changing – the Middle East is so important and will become even more important moving forward,” he adds.
In Dubai, Stader states, one trend that has been emerging is the idea of an ‘aerotropolis’ – a city built around an airport. “Dubai is certainly that, and the whole region is really building itself to be the centre of the world for transportation of goods and people.”
The UAE – where so much of world’s goods go through the major ports, including Jebel Ali Port in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port – as well as the wider GCC, are “trying to use their geographic location of the Middle East to leverage business and transport, like at no other time, and they’re being successful at it,” Stader explains. “These are some of the silver linings you can look at and say, although the gas price is down and there are conflicts in the region, there are still a lot of positive things going on.”
According to Stader, because of these constraints, there is pressure to get greater yields from the GCC’s existing assets. Although the region’s focus remains on big projects and capital expenditure, the emphasis is now also on things like asset management, operations and maintenance.
“Previously, budgets were spent on capital costs. Now they’re being spent on operations and maintenance,” he points out.
“There will [always] be big capital expenditure and there will [always] be expansions, but how can we help our clients to still realise what they want to achieve, from a capacity-increase perceptive?”
CH2M has adopted a different approach, and is spending a lot more time with its clients. “[There is] a master plan, but it’s more about execution and implementation now. We’re trying to be the best listeners to our clients, asking them what issues they are faced with, how we can help them, even when times are harder from a revenue perspective, and how we can still help them to achieve their mission of being the best that they can be.”
Highways and bridges are the firm’s biggest market segment in terms of overall capital cost, Stader says, adding that some of CH2M’s major clients in the region include Sharjah’s Department of Public Works and the Sharjah Roads and Transport Authority; Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority; Qatar’s Ashghal, working on the Doha Expressway project; and in Kuwait, working on a regional roads programme.
The demands of clients in the highways and bridges markets differ significantly from one another, he continues. “Working on Qatar’s Expressway is really about city building. They’re starting from scratch, and that’s a similar situation with Kuwait. When it comes to massive highway systems that are being built, the commitment is already there – our approach right now is trying to meet difficult timeline delivery. Qatar has been a market where every contractor globally has been trying to get into that [country] in order to have a piece of the upcoming [2022 FIFA World Cup].
“The challenge that’s happening in some of the projects is where things become difficult. A part of it is working with our clients to help them manage to keep at the original budgets and schedules. Change management has been an area where we had to devote a significant amount of time with our clients in order to realise their goals,” he explains.
The first project that CH2M worked on in the GCC was dredging the Dubai Creek back in the 1950s. “Our history along the creek has been fantastic over the years, where we’ve done things like Al Maktoum Bridge and Al Garhoud Bridge,” notes Stader.
“The major project that we’re doing in Dubai right now is the Dubai Water Canal project, in a joint venture with another firm,” he adds.
One thing Stader hopes will bounce back is the region’s rail sector. “There was such a buoyancy to the market just two to three years ago on the rail side, where there were major projects, whether it be the GCC Rail, or major metros coming up in Jeddah, Makkah, and Kuwait. These are significant projects and now they are being delayed because of the reduced revenue due to low oil price,” he laments.
Speaking about the aviation market, Stader says: “What is happening in the region is on that trajectory [especially in Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai]. It is so strong and I just wonder how strong it’s going to remain given some of the potential competition coming up in other places like Turkey, where they are building a new airport that will rival the size of Al Maktoum International Airport.”
Moving forward in the region, CH2M’s current MENAI priority is to try to press further into geographic areas where the company doesn’t yet have a strong presence, such as Kuwait and India. “We hope and intend to pursue more work in Kuwait because we do believe the Kuwaiti market will open up, and they have the fundamentals right to invest in, whether it be on the transportation side or the facilities side,” Stader concludes.