Engineering Success: Moutaz Al Khayyat, CEO, UrbaCon Trading & Contracting
For a company that was established only in 2011, UrbaCon Trading & Contracting (UCC) has been extremely quick in making a name for itself in the construction industry landscape of Qatar, and indeed, the world as well. After all, the Doha-based company was recently ranked number 184 in the 2014 list of the Top 250 Global Contractors of the world as compiled by Engineering News-Record, with the construction industry-focused American publication noting that UCC had raked in a total revenue of US$1,192 million in 2013.
A cursory look at the several projects that UCC has been involved with in the past few years is enough to understand how the company has become one of the most influential contractors in Qatar. Heading UCC's impressive portfolio is the development of the Mall of Qatar, which, when completed in 2015, will be the largest shopping mall in the country. Other noteworthy projects UCC has been associated with include the Banana Island Resort by Anantara, the Lekhwiya Stadium at Al Duhail, and the Sheraton Doha Hotel and Convention Center.
"We have undertaken a diverse array of projects over the last three years, ranging from palaces, hotels, football stadiums, marine works, underground car parks and island reports," said Moutaz Al Khayyat, CEO, UCC. "Currently, UCC has many projects on the drawing board and under tender, ranging from resort complexes such as at Salwa, waterfront developments, football stadia, and of course, the completion within this coming year of one of our flagship properties, the Mall of Qatar."
When asked about the reasons behind UCC's current high standing in the market, Al Khayyat pointed toward the commitment the company makes with its clients to ensure that their projects are completed in a safe, professional manner on time, in budget and in compliance with the highest quality standards. "UCC has set itself apart from its peers with its ability to successfully perform and deliver a wide range of diverse projects on a design build turnkey lump sum basis," Al Khayyat explained.
"UCC has achieved this by employing experienced professional staff at all levels, by building up a substantial in-house workforce of skilled workers, and by developing an extensive procurement chain in the local and international markets." Commenting on UCC's rise to the top, Al Khayyat paid tribute to the company's well-established heritage, as it is an offshoot of the very successful Al Khayyat Group. "Our motto, 'We Build Trust,' in fact, originates from the vision of the [Al Khayyat] family many years ago when the business was first founded in Syria," he said. "Throughout the last 30 years, we have maintained this vision, and [we] aim to fulfill it with our continued sincere commitment to the requirements of our esteemed clients. UCC continues to carry forward this legacy."
And to his credit, Al Khayyat made sure that UCC lived up to the grandeur associated with his family's name in a rather short span of time. The company may have launched in 2011 with a workforce of just 1,000 people, but today, UCC boasts of more than 12,000 employees, with its rapid growth also fueling the spawning of several subsidiary companies dealing with a variety of specialist activities, which include everything from design to marine works. And this kind of diversification is something that's bound to work out well for UCC in the long run- after all, there is the matter of Qatar's National Vision for 2030. "Qatar's National Vision 2030 is built around the four pillars of economic, social, human and environmental development," Al Khayyat explained. "Development aligned with this vision will entail growth in all sectors. UCC has already developed from being just a design build turnkey contractor to [becoming] a diverse portfolio of companies all aligned with the vision for the development of the country for the benefit of its residents.
Further areas of interest aligned with the vision is the anticipated growth in hospitality, healthcare, education, manufacturing and farming. While UCC is already engaged in some of these sectors, further growth and diversity is a strong possibility at this time." The upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022 is also playing a key factor in the growth plan Al Khayyat has for UCC. "There are many projects to be completed in line with the FIFA World Cup and the National Vision requirements," he said. "We are confident that UCC will undertake its share of these projects, and considering that we have [now] established the company's reputation, we can build on it to ensure further compliance with our motto and vision. As we have seen in other Gulf countries, the current investment into the country will not only provide opportunities for construction, but also multiple growth in all sectors, which will be a very positive environment for Qatar and its people."
But that is not to say that the future is going to be all smooth sailing either. "One of the most obvious challenges facing the industry in Qatar is the availability of materials," Al Khayyat noted. "Many materials are required to be imported [right now], and currently, this in itself potentially poses problems at border crossings and ports." However, Al Khayyat is hoping for some relief on this front very soon as well. "The opening of the new Doha port will, of course, be a great asset for the country," he explained. "Also, the recent initiative to develop the infrastructure for new economic zones adjacent to the airport and the seaport will encourage tremendous business development, provide substantial growth opportunities, employment for many residents, and, of course, a more readily available source and selection of products for all industries."
Given the sheer range of sectors and the variety of projects UCC works with, one can't help but wonder about how Al Khayyat successfully runs what by all accounts seems to be a well-oiled business enterprise. "My leadership strategy is very simple," he declared. "Honest, hard work, attention to detail and quality assurance of the end product. These principles ensure that we continue to build trust with our esteemed clients. We, as a group of companies, know that we can undertake any challenge and succeed by adhering to these basic principles." And it is this belief in the company and its founding principles that allows Al Khayyat to dream big when it comes to the further development of the UCC brand. "While our brand is now quite diverse, we are looking into the future to expand more into healthcare, and to expand and merge our hospitality and real estate opportunities," he said.
"We are [also] looking closely at the education sector and certain manufacturing opportunities, including dairy products. All business endeavors follow the process of due diligence and careful market research, and are [also] aligned with the anticipated growth of the country." And it's not just Qatar that Al Khayyat has in his sights. "While the majority of UCC's projects are within the state of Qatar, we do already have projects in London, Morocco and Oman, and related businesses within the UAE," Al Khayyat revealed. "UCC is also looking to expand to other markets, as appropriate opportunities arise." Given its track record over the past few years, UCC seems to have struck gold with all of the opportunities it has found in the market so far, and so, it certainly looks like Al Khayyat will be overseeing the continuation of this trend over the next couple of years as well.
One issue that has received a lot of media attention in the recent past has been the poor treatment of migrant construction workers in Qatar. With respect to UCC, what is your take on your issue, and how have you gone about ensuring the welfare of your employees?
"Any successful business depends on its employees- these are the assets of the company, and this extends from the managers to the laborers. At UCC, we have developed workers' accommodation that provides a safe, clean environment where employees can refresh themselves after a day's work, with shops, mosques, kitchens, laundries and recreation areas. UCC also has its own clinic with certified doctors and nursing staff available on a 24-hour basis within the complex. In addition to this, all UCC employees undergo a thorough safety induction process and are equipped with all necessary personal protection equipment prior to entering any of the work sites. UCC also respectfully follows the summer mid-day working restrictions and provide re-hydrants to the workforce during the difficult summer months."
With sustainability becoming an increasingly important face of real estate projects in the middle east, how has UCC with sustainability becoming an increasingly important facet of real estate projects in the middle east, how has ucc gone about implementing such green principles in its projects in Qatar?
"Sustainability and environmental considerations are [becoming] increasingly more important in all projects. UCC is already an affiliate member of the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS), and [it] looks together with its design partners to provide value engineering at every opportunity, reducing construction material requirements, together with low energy options, solar power options and recycling of waste. Currently, within UCC worker camps detailed design studies are in progress to process waste and in return, generate heat and energy, this in turn reducing the requirement for generators and in the process, fertilizer is generated as a byproduct. Within UCC's expansive construction fleet, trials are also under way with hybrid additives developed in Australia that provide for a more efficient use of diesel, and, in turn, reduce harmful chemical release into the atmosphere. UCC and its affiliated companies are committed to enhance sustainability of all projects and areas of the business at every opportunity."
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.