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Face to face: Ermis Marques, Aurecon

Since taking over as Aurecon’s Middle East regional director in April, Ermis Marques has been on a mission to assemble a workforce capable of supporting the GCC’s most ambitious projects

INTERVIEWS, Projects, Aurecon, Consultants in Middle East, Emaar, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour

With more than 30 years’ experience working at Aurecon, Ermis Marques knows the engineering consultancy better than most. During the course of his career, he has worked across numerous geographies and market sectors, gaining intimate knowledge of the company and its strengths.

In his previous role, Marques was based in South Africa as head of Aurecon’s global property business. He relocated to the UAE in April 2016 to become the firm’s Middle East regional director, taking charge of a 250-strong regional workforce. But this is not the first time Marques has worked in the Gulf.

He explains: “In the early 2000s, I was tasked with opening up Aurecon’s business in the Middle East. That process involved the sectors of infrastructure, transportation, and property. I’m quite familiar with these markets, and in my new role, I’ll be working across all of these sectors.”

With three decades of experience at the same company, one could have forgiven Marques for taking certain things as read. However, not content to rest on his laurels, he has worked diligently to become better acquainted with Aurecon’s GCC employees, clients, and partners since arriving in Dubai.

“Right now, I’m quite passionate about talent,” he tells Construction Week. “I have worked to gain a good understanding of the talent that is sitting here in the region. I’m also interested in getting to know Aurecon’s clients. What keeps them awake at night? What’s on their minds? How do they align themselves with the vision of the region, be it in Doha, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi? Aurecon also puts significant emphasis on its business partners.

“This approach should give me a better sense of direction, in terms of how to bring the best of Aurecon into the region, and how to connect this region effectively with the rest of the business. Having been with Aurecon for the last 30 years, I understand the business pretty well. Now, it’s about making those connections between the [Middle East] and the rest of the business.”

So, six months into his new role, how would Marques assess Aurecon’s regional workforce and clients?

“We have immense talent in this region,” he explains. “We’ve taken a long-term view in terms of how we bring in talent, but I didn’t expect to find such a depth of local talent. It’s about what we do with that talent; how we unleash it. I’m quite passionate about getting the most out of our employees, and enabling those individuals to grow and become Aurecon’s future leaders.

“I also have immense respect for Aurecon’s Middle East clients, and the way that decisions are made in this region. They do things a lot quicker [than in other areas]. Moreover, they sometimes have to do things unconventionally, because the things they are trying to do haven’t been done before. It’s this type of challenge to which Aurecon would like to respond.”

But this is not purely an ambition for Marques. The consultancy has already secured work on one of the region’s most ambitious projects: The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour. Designed by Santiago Calatrava Architects & Engineers, Emaar Properties’ 928m-tall1 skyscraper looks set to become the world’s tallest manmade structure upon completion in 2020. Aurecon has been enlisted by Calatrava as the project’s engineer of record.

“We have formed a strong working relationship with Calatrava,” says Marques. “It’s a privilege to work with such a talented team. As far as I understand, The Tower is Calatrava’s first project in Dubai, and we’re thrilled to be a part of that. This project is going to stretch a lot of boundaries, so it’s vital that we get the best of Aurecon onto the site to turn our partners’ ideas into reality.”

While Marques concedes that Aurecon’s involvement in high-profile projects such as Emaar’s The Tower could result in commercial advantages, he emphasises that his team’s primary concern is to meet their clients’ requirements.

1 The quoted height of Emaar Properties' The Tower at Dubai Creek Harbour is based on publicly available information. Neither Ermis Marques nor any of his colleagues at Aurecon disclosed information concerning the height of this structure.

“The commercial opportunities are always there, but they do not represent our main driver,” he points out. “Our primary goal is to focus on the objective of the project in question. For The Tower, there is the vision of Emaar and the vision of Calatrava. Aurecon exists to support its clients and to help them to realise their visions.

“Further down the line, benefits may result from our involvement in a particular project. Nevertheless, we prefer to focus on the ball. Aurecon’s priority is always to add value to the projects on which it works. We have assembled an outstanding team of professionals from across the group to work on The Tower,” he notes. “Some are local representatives, some have flown in, and some are in review roles to ensure that we have the best people that Aurecon has to offer.”

One long-term benefit of Aurecon’s involvement in high-profile Middle East projects that Marques fully acknowledges is that of skills development. He explains: “A complex project like The Tower certainly helps to add skills to Aurecon’s talent pool. The project includes [engineering aspects] that have not been attempted before. That in itself is going to create some unique opportunities.”

Of course, The Tower is not the only large-scale development in Aurecon’s GCC portfolio. The consultancy has worked on, and is supporting, a plethora of complex regional projects.

“My first project in the Middle East was Madinat Jumeirah, and it’s my privilege to continue working on this development,” says Marques. “Aurecon is currently supporting Phase 4 of the development, which is under construction. This project has spanned a period of more than 10 years,” he adds, noting that such endeavours highlight Aurecon’s commitment to long-term client relationships.

In the UAE, Marques and his colleagues have also provided engineering consultancy services for Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), and St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi. In Qatar, the firm is working on the expansion of Mesaieed’s gabbro terminal.

Commenting on the latter, Marques elaborates: “This project falls outside the broader real estate sector. We are assisting the client in understanding how to improve efficiency from feasibility of concept through to completion.”

As for Aurecon’s longer-term priorities in the Middle East, Marques tells Construction Week that the consultancy is exploring expansion-related opportunities, both in terms of the sectors that it covers and the talent that it has at its disposal.

“I am hopeful that there will be opportunities to add to Aurecon’s talent pool as we build momentum,” he explains. “I’m also keen to look at how we can bring some of Aurecon’s other offerings to the Gulf market, because I think that the company has particularly good skills in segments that may not be represented in this region at present.

“For example, I would like to expand our transportation planning offering. Aurecon has a good reputation, and there are certain non-real estate areas in which we can expand.”

Marques concludes: “We’ll also be examining some of our leadership positions. I’ve already had a look at how we can reshuffle the chessboard. These [appointments] will be announced pretty soon, and they will include some known industry personalities. Some have already joined us, and others will be arriving in the near future. I’m quite excited about the talent that is going to be added to Aurecon’s Middle East team.”


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