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CEO of Dubai's Desert Group outlines Saudi Arabia expansion plans

Michael Mascarenhas says the firm's "very-UAE centric" focus is about to change

Michael Mascharenhas, CEO of Desert Group.
Michael Mascharenhas, CEO of Desert Group.
Desert Group has worked on some of the region's most renowned golf courses [representational image].
Desert Group has worked on some of the region's most renowned golf courses [representational image].

With its portfolio including many of the regions’ iconic landmark hotels and resorts, renowned golf courses, government projects and public works, UAE-based Desert Group is a popular name when it comes to landscaping – from concept design to construction and maintenance.

Encompassing a number of specialist arms, the firm is now looking to take its comprehensive offerings to Saudi Arabia and start exporting plants from its own nurseries to Europe, as its chief executive officer, Michael Mascarenhas, tells Construction Week.

READ: Saudi Arabia's top 10 projects under construction in 2018

What does Desert Group specialise in?

Desert Group has been around for the last 30 years. Over that time it has developed a range of services from design, landscape construction, golf course construction, and maintenance. We have worked on commercial, hospitality, and special projects, as well as football fields, which we also maintain. We also have the largest nurseries in the region, as well as our own potting soil manufacturing company. We actually formulate soil-specific fertiliser for the region – we have no competition in this space. Dubai Garden Centre is ours too, so we span retail, facilities management, construction, manufacturing and, as I call it, biological plant growth.

What are the benefits of these different businesses?

We have noticed that most of our clients want to work with one possible contractor, or client, or supplier. Our core competencies are around green and water. So, over time, we have understood client needs and tried to cater to them and exceed their requirements – it’s what they want. Rather than having five contractors and three suppliers, for example, Desert Group can offer our clients an end-to-end solution. Our clients are very few and far between, but they have been carefully selected in terms of what their requirements are for a specific project.

READ: In Pictures: Top 10 UAE landscaping projects worth $6bn

What sets Desert Group apart from its competition?

Landscaping comes in towards the end of the project. You have all this time pressure at that juncture, with the landscapers often bearing the brunt of it.  And there are a lot of fly-by-night operators here, who promise clients the world. You need a reliable firm that can deliver the goods and ensure that the quality of the job matches the brand – we are that firm.

What does the future hold for Desert Group?

I would like Desert Group to be positioned as a unique service provider. I think we have been very UAE-centric. We are in Bahrain, but Saudi Arabia is definitely our next frontier. We would like to take our capabilities of nursery, golf course construction, landscaping, and maintenance services to these regions. I’m also looking to export plants into Europe. We are on the threshold of doing that. By the next season, I think we will be in a position to do that. The more I think of the opportunities in Saudi Arabia, the more I love what we are trying to do there. Saudi Arabia is a frontier we would really like to conquer. When people travel to Riyadh and Jeddah, I think some are unpleasantly surprised by the lack of greenery there. It is no fault of theirs, only that the expertise has not been there. We already have good partners there and I think eventually you will see Desert Group Saudi Arabia leading the way in the kingdom. But we will have to find our own way of operating [in the country].

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