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The partnering approach is an effective tool for procurement

In a business where competition is intense it can be unsual to find construction firms working together. But Rod Stewart, regional managing director, Hyder Consulting, tells Christopher Sell that sharing skills is essential in the local market.

Stewart says that by ‘partnering’ on projects
Stewart says that by ‘partnering’ on projects

Congratulations on the International Consultant of the Year award. What is Hyder doing differently to its competitors?

What differentiates Hyder is its ability to mobilise inter-regional teams; we always have about 100 people from outside the region working within the region at any one time. It's quite a strong model of getting global expertise into the local marketplace.

A good example is that we have settled our high-rise specialists in the Middle East because we can see that is where the real business is. That isn't just structures, but also the MEP and planning aspects that go with it.

Another strength of Hyder is we are quite de-centralised, so we are not beholden to a big, strong central team. We run five very strong regions, each of which is pretty autonomous.

Has there been a growth in regional competition?

There is more competition and it is growing all the time. In the property sector, there are a lot of relatively new entrants into the market, in terms of contractors and consultants. We have the benefit of having been here since the beginning of the boom, and are well positioned to take advantage of it. I suspect those coming in a bit later may find it more difficult to establish themselves and find resources.

Is there a sense that these firms are jumping on the bandwagon, or are they acting independently?

There are some very good international consultants coming, which I think is a good thing, because there is too much work in the marketplace. That may be a crazy thing to say, but the pace of development here is difficult to keep up with.

What the market needs is more good resources, so I welcome strong competition. But I guess the other thing to say is there is the danger of dilution as well, if the competition isn't as strong as it could be, there is that danger.

Do consultants work together?

We work jointly with consultants whenever it's appropriate. One good example is we are working with Atkins on the infrastructure for Education City, and with Halcrow on the infrastructure for Lusail, a new township just north of Doha in Qatar. We are also working with Halcrow on Reem Island, where Halcrow is a subcontractor.

How does such a relationship work?

Well it's a good way of sharing resources, as we operate in a resource-constrained market and consultants have different strengths and weaknesses. We are quite broad-minded about that. I think the market needs collaboration and partnering as well, not just between consultants, but between clients, contractors and consultants and we favour a partnering approach very strongly.

It's worked in the UK and we think it needs to be pursued here in the Middle East.

Why is this approach especially important for the Middle East?

I think because of resource constraints you need to be as efficient as you possibly can, so you need to cut out all the waste. The difficulty is that there is a history of a more confrontational approach between clients, consultants and contractors, which leads to inefficiency.

What other trends are you focusing on?

Public transport systems, such as rail and light rail; with such congested roads you can clearly see the need for public transport. And it's not just rail, it is about integration of all transport types. We are involved with Atkins on station work for the Dubai Metro and the two main stations at Burjuman and by Deira City Centre have been designed by Hyder. Those are the two big intersection stations and they are the most complicated.

When you started looking at transport integration was there a dearth of local expertise?

There wasn't a rail sector, so we have managed to bring across a lot of expertise from Hong Kong and Singapore, where Hyder had a strong involvement on rail projects. But we are looking to use that as a springboard for more rail work, not just in Dubai but in the region.

Geographically, what is your next move?

We have five offices in the region: Dubai, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, and also Doha and Bahrain. But we do see the need to continue to diversify outside the current territory, so we are picking up work in Saudi Arabia and Oman and we will open an office in one of those locations.

Do you monitor what is happening on the international scene?

Yes we do. We have a strong corporate structure - we have something called a professional board.

And where other companies have associates, we have professional college. When you reach a certain level of technical excellence in your area you become a member of professional college. There are probably about 80 of those in the business, and we rotate 12 of those 80 to sit on the professional board and effectively communicate strong areas of technical growth for the direction of the business.

The professional board then meets with the executive board, exchanges ideas and takes them forward for strategic growth of the business. It is a very quick way for someone technical to have a view on how to influence the business.

I have worked for other consultants and this is the strongest model I have come across.

Which projects are you currently working on?

We are working with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), we have completed Festival City, we are constantly involved in high-rise developments, and the Dubailand infrastructure is being designed by us. We are also involved in environmental work as well, including environmental impact assessments and sustainability.

Lee Morris at Atkins recently spoke to Construction Week on the ‘groundswell' of sustainable construction. Do you agree with this?

Lee Morris was right to say there is a groundswell; there are more developers asking us how to be sustainable. Dubai does need to maintain a strong brand and that brand should include sustainability; it needs to be seen to be doing things that are sustainable.

What we see around us has happened over last five to 10 years and people say it is too late. But I don't personally believe it is. It isn't impossible to catch up, it is about proper planning and proper involvement in sustainable aspects of any development.

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