A talent for business

Getting to grips with the Qatari market is not something that can be achieved on a fly-in visit. It takes time, patience and a bit of effort. The rewards for those who are patient can be immense. Pamula MacRan reports

QDVC is having a busy old time of late. The company came into being in 2007 as a joint venture between Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company and VINCI Construction Grands Projets from France. The scope of the company is general contracting and construction work, along with associated services related to large selected design and build public or private projects, where it can add value. QDVC also develops in-house engineering and construction services for mega development projects and attracts the input of local and regional expert resources.

Its list of projects is extensive and includes both domestic and international projects. Within Qatar it is currently working on the New Orbital Highway south west of Doha, awarded by Ashghal (Public Works Authority); the Doha Metro Red Line South comprising the design and construction of underground works below central Doha, including five underground stations,; the Sheraton Park Project in Doha’s Corniche area; and two projects in the new city of Lusail: the Light Railway transit System and four underground car parks. Internationally QDVC is currently building the Dahlak Island Resort in Eritrea and the Golf & Racquet Club in Al Houara, in the outskirts of Tangier, Morocco.

In a nation that is witnessing such incredible growth it is hardly surprising that the construction sector acts like a magnet to overseas partners wanting a slice of the action. But many of them have failed to do their homework first. QDVC chairman Nasser Al Ansari says, “There is a huge opportunity for investing in infrastructure in Qatar and these should be explored by companies from different parts of the world. But unfortunately, a lot of international companies, when they send people to our country, they send the wrong people who don’t have the necessary knowhow. They don’t know how to explore the country and how to connect with the right people so as to form the right perception about what is happening in our country. They come here and they stay in a hotel for three or four days, look around, meet a few people and then leave.” This is not the sort of strategy that is going to pay dividends for the serious minded player.

Nasser Al Ansari, Chairman of QDVC

Nasser Al Ansari, Chairman of QDVC

Succeeding means doing the right research, taking advantage of the right infrastructure, spending sufficient time and not trying to rush into getting a quick deal. Al Ansari says, “Often they fail to make the right forecasts. There is no proper feasibility study.”

QDVC, as a joint venture company, is a prime example of how doing the right homework can pay real dividends. “When we put the company together with two huge groups, Qatari Diar on the one hand and VINCI Construction Grands Projets on the other, a lot of people thought that it was a quasi-government initiative and that we would take over by being granted projects because of who we are and what we are. On the contrary, we built the company on sound commercial merit. We went out to compete and tender and some of these tenders we lost and some of these tenders we won. Today we have under management QR20.5bn ($5.65bn US) of projects in the last two years,” says Al Ansari. An impressive achievement.

Al Ansari hopes that this kind of example can act as a beacon for other firms wishing to come to Qatar and achieve similar goals. “This set a very simple example to all the large international companies that we are succeeding in Qatar because of how we conduct business, our commitment to transparency and that we were willing to spend the past five years to build this company. Because of such hard work we were able to capture significant market share in Qatar.”

Again Al Ansari comes back to the huge importance of preparation in entering the Qatari marketplace. “Taking advantage of opportunities in Qatar is all down to sending the right people with the right work ethic. A lot of companies send people as if they are on a vacation. They see how much they can be entertained. They write back reports to head office and say ‘oh that was fun, we should stay’. In my experience the companies that have been successful are the ones who took this country more seriously. The ones that do not see it as an opportunity to just work in a beautiful and fun resort destination. But as an opportunity to participate in building a state-of-the-art nation and then they will get a chance.”

Because of the vast array of development projects being undertaken in Qatar, the opportunities are thick on the ground in almost every sector. QDVC’s core focus is on construction and therefore it is not surprising that Al Ansari’s initial thoughts spring to this sector when outlining where the big opportunities lie. “Support and services to the construction industry is an obvious area. There is a real need for professional management of labour communities and staff accommodation. Facilities management, operation and maintenance of equipment, supply of equipment, supply of industries and technologies that will make the construction period shorter, engineering of projects, technical knowhow and support.”

QDVC itself has already shown how it has been able to import technology and expertise to help improve processes, which permeate to other firms operating in the Qatari engineering sector to save costs and time. Al Ansari says, “One of the things that we brought into Qatar was engineering knowhow. We are building complex projects because of our engineering knowhow that are coming in under budget. In QDVC we are building the train stations and giving solutions to Qatar Rail, the company behind the new state-of-the-art railway project that will link Qatar internally and with its neighbours, and their acceptance of these solutions led to a cost saving in money and time.” More specifically, QDVC aims at recruiting Qatari talents, through a dedicated Qatarisation Department created early 2013. The Qatarisation team is in charge of the recruitment, training, motivation, retention and career development of Qataris within the company. They are committed to encouraging the development of Qataris to become the future generation of leaders, engineers and skilled professionals. We believe that the success of a Qatarisation strategy depends on a structured, comprehensive and holistic approach. For this reason, we have developed several initiatives that help us recruit and train Qatari nationals.

International companies have to link with the right Qatari partners for the real benefits to be realised and they have to hire Qataris within their organisations rather than try to build standalone foreign companies within Qatar. The danger is that standalone companies can become dissociated from Qatari society so they cannot fully understand the supply chain of opportunities that they can generate from being here in Qatar. “There are a lot of young European couples in Qatar who have come over and set up very successful businesses by integrating into Qatari society and understanding where they can help supply the construction industry,” says Al Ansari.

There is a natural cycle in the movement of human resources internationally where the clever and the entrepreneurial tend to gravitate toward those areas that are booming. Hardly surprising, then, that Qatar is presently seeing a lot of interest. The tricky bit is finding the right people at the right level to talk to. “This is where overseas embassies sometimes go wrong. You cannot refer every entrepreneurial person from Europe to a senior Qatari businessman. He doesn’t have the time. They need to be in contact with young entrepreneurial Qatari men and women,” says Al Ansari. “Today the government has this initiative called Enterprise Qatar which has just merged with Qatar Development Bank. Today anyone wanting to come and set up a business here needs to hear about the success stories and how they tapped in to the Qatari market and also the failure stories so that they can learn what not to do or how to avoid mistakes.”

Al Ansari, however, has a keen interest in importing not just top talent but modern techniques, technology and insight. “Today if you look at our construction industry and how we build projects here, it is not exactly how it has been built somewhere else. Still there are a lot of conventional ways of
doing things and somebody could bring knowhow to the industry to make it better in quality, to build it faster, and in engineering terms to use innovative solutions. Come and tell us that you can design buildings that are structurally lighter and cost less and that we can heat and cool better by using better design.”

Like every other senior Qatari business figure, however, the notion of nation building is never far from Al Ansari’s mind. “It is not about promoting individuals. It is about promoting Qatar. People need to come and see what the business flow is and what the deals on the table are.”