DGA Group eyes expansion in Middle East's busy legal market
David Gibson and Dominic Sharman talk about DGA Group’s growth from a UK-centric business to an international consultancy, and reveal details of the company’s expansion plans in the Middle East
Speed, Regis McKenna once noted, has “become an important element of strategy”. A former Steve Jobs collaborator, McKenna is widely regarded as a legend in the global marketing community, hardly surprising since he owned the firm that designed the now ubiquitous Apple logo, and has been credited with helping to raise Intel out of start-up obscurity.
The relevance of his statement, however, is not limited to product or corporate branding. Indeed, speed as a component of strategy is a concept that companies worldwide are applying to a varied range of business activities, not least of which is expansion.
Speed, of course, is relative. What would be slow for industry behemoths could strike smaller outfits as reasonable, for instance; or what would appear sluggish to public limited companies (PLCs) might seem sustainable to privately held companies, as in the case of UK-headquartered construction consultancy, DGA Group.
“Being a privately owned company sets DGA apart from its big PLC competitors,” David Gibson, chief executive officer of DGA, tells Construction Week. “The day-to-day decision-making of PLCs is driven by [the goal to provide] short-term returns to their shareholders. DGA, on the other hand, takes a longer view on profits, which allows us to control the pace of our growth and maintain the quality of our services.
“We only go with the speed that lets us maintain quality,” he emphasises.
Offering commercial and programming services that cover pre-contract to live project work, as well as dispute work at the end of the project, DGA was founded by Gibson in the UK in 1993. The company has since expanded into other markets.
“I was on my own when I started the business,” recalls Gibson. “Now, I have a board in London, and in the last five years, we have expanded the business overseas, so we’re not just reliant on the UK market. We’re now in South Africa, Hong Kong, Canada, Singapore, and the UAE.”
In light of its expansion, the company made the decision to rebrand in 2016, to send the message to its network of existing and potential clients that DGA had moved from being a UK-centric business to an international consultancy. And, supporting the new, more global image, the company opened its UAE office in Dubai in January 2017. Although only a year old, DGA’s base for the UAE and the wider Middle East has grown from being a one-person team to having a consultant headcount of 18.
Dominic Sharman, the group’s regional manager for the Middle East, explains that the decision to open the UAE office was made in response to requests from clients interested in DGA’s services.
“We have global framework agreements with Tier 1 contractors, as well developers, and our services are available internationally, but we wanted to expand into the region,” he elaborates, adding that DGA received calls from companies based in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries.
“The request was for us to come to the region, which was one of the reasons David took the next step and opened the Dubai office. Since then, we’ve enjoyed healthy growth and have even moved to bigger premises,” Sharman tells Construction Week.
According to Gibson, DGA is looking into the possibility of establishing a presence in other parts of the UAE, such as Abu Dhabi, and other GCC countries like Saudi Arabia, in the next 12 months: “We’re considering opening secondary offices to support our client base in the region, and since there’s great growth potential in the UAE, we may set one up in Abu Dhabi.
“We’re looking at the construction market at the moment and how it’s [going to perform] in the next couple of years. With Expo 2020 Dubai, there’s a big pipeline of projects.”
Despite his optimism about the Middle East market, Gibson reveals that DGA – which counts quantum and delay experts, and quantity surveyors and engineers with an interest in programming, among its staff members – has been facing challenges when it comes to recruiting skilled employees.
He explains that, to address these issues, DGA has been bringing in employees from its international staff pool to help support the Dubai team, as and when needed.
“Recruitment is a core activity for us because we only grow our team [based] on our ability to maintain quality,” says Gibson. “We want to make sure that we get the right people into our business. We want to find people with the right experience and skillset, who can deliver the services to the standards we demand as an organisation.”
Sharman, backing Gibson’s statement, adds: “Recruitment is definitely the biggest challenge at the moment, because of the issues that are arising from the construction industry and the skills that are required. Even our clients are struggling with their human resources.”
Continuing on the topic of challenges being faced by clients, Gibson says that many construction companies, especially small firms, enter into contracts despite not fully understanding the terms involved.
“The farther down the supply chain you go, the less awareness there is in those smaller local companies,” he explains. “The international companies that typically have in-house legal [counsel] are the most aware and are the ones that carry out due diligence on contract documents. But when you get to the lower-level sub-contractors that don’t have in-house legal [counsel], that’s where awareness is lacking.”
Gibson says that to help those organisations, DGA, which also provides assistance to the supply chain in processing monthly payments, hosts seminars that tackle topics such as legal practices in the city or country of operation.
“These give us the opportunity to educate those companies on the risky terms they need to be aware of when they enter into these contracts,” concludes Gibson.