Thursday, May 8, 2014

When it grows up, Arabtec wants to be a dinosaur like Grupo ASC

Two out of three of my favourite construction ‘giants’ made it to the global business-news yesterday.
And no, neither because I waged a successful attack against them, though I’ve been known to attempt such questionable acts in the past.

Balfour Beatty has been attracting worldwide attention, due its less than acceptable (I guess to the shareholders) financial performance, that had its CEO unglamorously dumped as well.
(note to myself, stop writing to Andrew McNaughton regarding my own grievances, wait for a new chap to replace him).

Arabtec, on the other hand, the builder of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, yesterday reported a net profit of Dh138 million for the first quarter of 2014, a 121 per cent jump from a year ago.

Nice, I thought, listening to the reporter of Abu Dhabi’s Classic FM discuss Arabtec’s success and ponder its plans for the future.
Aside from pronouncing Hochtief in a really weird way, the business commentator-woman explained, how Arabtec planned to become one of 10 largest construction companies in the World.
By when? Well, I can’t recall this, but soon enough.

She did mention numerous Chinese companies that were at the top of the pinnacle Arabtec was now targeting, I missed their names too, Gammon was definitely not amongst them, I’d notice that.
The one company she mentioned as the possibly biggest non-Chinese construction company of the world was the Spanish construction company Grupo ACS, one by chance I know quite well.

I’ve had personal and less personal dealings with this company (and its subsidiaries) over the last 4 years and I’d be quite sad if theirs was the type of success that Arabtec was wanting to emulate.
Sure, they gobbled up smaller/weaker companies over time. Sure, they play the game confidently and cool and they look like winners even when they make nothing but losses.
They may have more charm than others in the industry, but are they any more innovative, truly smart or ‘new age’ than the others?
No, not really.

I do applaud Arabtec for their financial success but would also suggest they look sideways too as they plan to grow even bigger.
Admittedly not in the near future (the ASC type dinosaurs do rule the industry for now and may hang on for quite a bit longer) but at some point in the next decade or two, the industry will change.
Being smart and innovative will count for more then.

Picture from here:

Friday, April 25, 2014

I’d expect more kinetic action from any company associated with the shrewd Mr Habtoor…. Labouring over the idle cranes across the road

We rented a second car for this week. Not a big issue, we have a good relationship with a local supplier, goes back over 3 years now.
Diamondlease (a Habtoor Group company) has been a trusted partner of ours for most of our life in the UAE.
Yes, the Lancer we often get for the second vehicle is a ‘dog of a car’ but the Mitsubishi Mirage I’ve had for months is a snazzy little set-of-wheels.
The staff are helpful, courteous and know us by our names. Happy.

Much less happy I’m about the centre-piece of the view from my balcony, a farce of motionless cranes strangely stationary within the bustle of the rejuvenated Dubai city. (see pictures);

Yes, I’ve written previously about the Habtoor Leighton Group’s stagecraft known as the Dubai Pearl, an ambitious iconic project that is enjoying a Sleeping Beauty type of a slumber party at the moment, half-or less completed, possibly waiting for a new ‘prince of an investor’.
A sad little gathering of construction machinery guards the naked structure, frozen in time, also waiting for a more fulfilling working future.

There were many readers that found my musings over this trivial issue below their threshold of tolerance for my liking to dither over the insignificant facets of this mega-industry, I work in.
Some voiced their concerns, others just switched off.

Fully respecting their right to do any of those two actions described above, as well as hanging around for another lot of mulling over the inconsequential, I am sad to need to report that the cranes are still as they were a week ago, or 2 or 5 or maybe even 50;
Can’t go back in time to a fix point of a year or more ago, as the view from our home was significantly different than then is now.
Granted, that even at that time I had a slightly obsessive interest in the activities of the company that is in charge of this site too (Habtoor Leighton Group).
I was a bit more interested in the idle workforce then, inactive cranes were less of my worry.

Maybe it is a good sign that I can now afford to be mulling over this matter, day in and day out, slowly watching as time passes over the make-believe story of a successful HLG.
There could be much less enjoyable pastimes than enjoying the sun set over the horizon in this pretty city, so I should stop complaining.
And I would, if it was not for the head-splitting conundrum that the theory poses for me, that of the highly successful, palace building Mr Habtoor is giving his blessing to this continuous charade.

There could be, of course, at least two other explanations for the Habtoors en masse to give their blessing for this negligent (mis)use of construction plant, either the client is paying market rates for them doing nothing or they are not real cranes at all, just very hardy, cardboard-made props that have lasted the last year-or-so of this playhouse of false advertising.

If either of these is the case, Mr Habtoor outplayed me there with his cunning business skills, yet again.


Today’s sunset and Two full pictures of the site in question taken a month apart in March and April 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Some examples of misguided uses of shareholders’ funds for dubious promotional purposes by Balfour Beatty’s Gammon and Leighton’s HLG

I sit on my balcony, wondering:
Do construction cranes have feelings? Do they get lonely, depressed?
Sad for being underappreciated and under-utilised, reduced to the dumb role of a piece of a stagecraft?
Frozen in a set position for months, decorated by signs, lit up at night, guarding over an unfinished building, enviously eyeing their brothers on the other side of Sheik Zayed’s road, busily pulling up yet another tower, in front of their weary eyes.

There are probably at least a dozen cranes on the abandoned – or diplomatically labelled – temporarily suspended, Dubai Pearl construction site.
They’ve been sitting there, idle for months now, if not a full year, some clever chap having decided it to be a good move to keep them there, nicely spaced out; such a prime location cannot be ignored for marketing purposes.
Or maybe they just have no new jobs to go to, even temporarily while the troubled project gets its funding sorted and restarts?

Some 6000km to the East their not-so distant relatives have been having a slightly more exciting life.
In February Gammon, Leighton’s JV partner on a number of high profile projects in Hong Kong held their annual Spring Dinner.
Probably not considered a luxury by the company, just a run of the mill entertainment for the loyal employees and some VIPs.
Sure, the ‘airline-industry’ themed party did not lack on flamboyance, trust the marketing department to go all nine yards to make every detail, just right. From the entry ‘fake screening gates’ via the make-believe boarding card tickets to the buttons on all of the VIPs uniforms, things were shiny, in style and grand.
Still, what would have interested the mishandled cranes from the Dubai story more than any other bling, would have been the role a concrete truck had to play at the party.
Not only was it lovingly cleaned (if not entirely new), polished and decorated with a lovely pink horse for the occasion but also parked in the middle of one of the halls in the Asia World Expo.
Candy saw to it that the well appreciated vehicle had the best view of the event.

I should probably feel honoured if any/many of my loyal readers got all the way through here, without giving up on this post and/or labelling me as someone that has ‘finally lost it’.

That maybe so, I’d caution anyone against jumping into conclusions too hastily.
Not my perceived fragile state of mind, nor even my well documented feelings of distrust against these companies should distract from the fact, that the management of these entities have still not found their way of steering the companies into long term stability, if anything, they are the ones ‘losing it’.

One may rightly wonder how could I be reaching such a harsh conclusion based on two, relatively benign incidents of careless use of petty cash, that I have remotely observed?

I can and I do.
Because, these are only the tips of the icebergs of ‘management by arrogance’ practices employed by these two construction ‘giants’ – and on these icebergs  I’ll keep on reporting.
For my own sanity, the future of the AEC and for those poor cranes across the road.

First picture from here

Second, my own.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Battleships and mind-wars and what could the future hold for the dumped CEO of Leightons?

Just about any media outlet that reported on what happened to the ‘Australian Construction Giant’ Leighton over the last week or so, labelled the events as the actions of the ‘Spanish Armada’s’.
Even without needing to resort to Google to refresh my historical knowledge, I had an inkling that the parallels were not meant to be flattering to the Spanish backed Hochtief blitzkrieging the Aussies.

I guess, going back to the 16th century for the precedent they wanted to reference was a bit safer for the ‘like to play it careful’ journos than looking for a German equivalent of a more recent history.
Still, I wonder how many of the reporters that obligingly re-parroted the original story have paused even for a minute and thought through what they were truly implying by likening the new CEO of the ‘iconic Australian contractor’ to the head of the infamously stricken Spanish fleet?

There also was an almost palpable hint in most of these reports that ‘all was not lost’ for Hamish T, the disposed CEO, neither financially nor professionally, having bagged a handsome golden handshake and a public ‘no issue with his performance’ statement.
Still, while carefully sitting on the fence of ‘make-believe independence’ most media duly reported on the size of his parting package, yet none that I read ventured into any speculation of what his future steps could be.

Will he wait out a customary ‘grieving period’ and launch into a competing business himself or just spend the remaining years playing golf and guest-speaking at business luncheons?
Will there be a diplomatic role earmarked for him in one of the exotic places he’d so well connected with, an obvious career for a professional with a hair/smile feature-duo groomed to perfection.
Also don’t forget all the suits he must have amassed through his career – you’d not want to have those go to waste, heaven forbid eaten by the moths.
And anyway, barring some serious breakers in his severance package, why would he be ‘mothballing’ his career at the age of 50 or so?

After all, he should be ahead of the Spanish/Germans’, at least on the Aussie construction turf with his understanding of the ‘real value’ of the deal they were obtaining by so eagerly wanting to own a large part of Leighton.

True, there are tangible parts of the business that if sold quickly and smartly may turn into some real money, there may even be numerous projects that will be closed without making significant losses, however the ‘real juicy future’ this Armada may be banking on, that is based on a steady supply of government civil, infrastructure and building projects for years and years to come could be a bit less of a ‘sure thing’.

Take away the tangibles and what you’re left with is, the ‘goodwill’ of the company.
And, it’s not called ‘goodwill’ for nothing…

Mr T should go back to his own-and-fellow Leightoners’  experiences in misjudging this component at acquisitions Leighton had made in the past – and in this case use what was learned from the mistakes they made to his own advantage.
In this industry connections mean more than anything else, the ‘who you know’ over the ‘what you know’, rules it, pretty much globally.

He could set up a rival company, pick the good bits out of Leighton and entice them over to the new business and then beat the now foreign-owned Leighton to the meaty Aussie projects the government will put out on offer in the future.
And if he plays it right, he may be able to pull the same scam off in parts of Asia that Leighton has been historically strong too.
For a little while yet, anyway.

picture from here:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Christmas had come early for Hamish Tyrwhitt this year, early and bearing gifts.

Finally, a May to look forward to, for the recently unmade, i.e. ex Leighton CEO, on full pay and in peace.
No nervous twitching of the stomach muscles, no worrying migraines, sleepless nights before another uncomfortable annual meeting.
No rowdy shareholders to pacify and over-ambitious journalists to answer to.
Not even random bloggers like me, to worry about.
Not that he would see this since he blacklisted me some months ago.

He’s been let off the hook.

True, in reality, he got dumped pretty bad, kicked out of his plush position that he hung onto with his bare fingers for quite a while…
… but no real Aussie would ever see it that way, let alone confirm it publicly, not after what he’d done for the company, the AEC industry, the country.

Especially after they see the German/Spanish arrogance swooping into the country and loudly claiming what they rightly think to be their own.
Yes, the new owners may have paid for this, yes they may even have the paperwork to prove it, but they know nothing about the Australian people if they think they can have ’Leighton’ – just, like that!
Does not really matter what colour the flag this ship is sailing under, if it’s not the ozzie version of the Union Jack, it counts for little.

Sure, they can have the shoddy bits, the ‘job-for-life’ attitude, the ‘pubbing on any day in the week’ and ‘sleep it off on construction sites afterwards’ practices. The myths of promises of becoming one of Wally’ boys and getting banished to Hong Kong, Malaysia or the Middle East, with everything these trips will burden one’s poor soul with…

They can bring the Spanish brigade to teach this old toothless granny how to suck eggs…
But…they will never get the other side of the coin….

And I wonder.. if Hamish Tyrwhitt IS finally getting it….
…if the ‘proverbial’ coin has finally dropped.

What will make for the  Spanish-German’s a  very difficult job to succeed in Australia is exactly the same ‘force’ he and his comrades have failed to foresee when in their arrogance went into conquering the Middle East, hastily and without thinking it through.
When they thought the ‘mate’ door will open doors everywhere and forever.
When they took things for granted.

A dangerous thing that is, taking anything for granted.
It is not only Hamish Tyrwhitt, that will need to learn this in the near future.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jump over the candlestick!

I wonder how Jack is doing these days….

Jack was my colleague at Gammon, we started working for the company only weeks apart, in April/May 2013.
So much so, that we attended the mandatory official induction to the company together.
If asked, I guess that being a QS by profession he’d have no problem recalling the facts of the day-long presentation, including what was said about protection awarded to ’speaking out’ within Gammon, otherwise known as the official, ‘whistle blowing protection’ policy also covered by the BB umbrella.

…actually, Jack and I met a bit earlier, even before the induction meeting.
By chance, at the end of one of Thomas Ho’s (CEO) briefings, we walked out of the building together. This flash corporate event that Gammon held every 2 months for its top managers was the first for both of us to have the privilege to be invited to.
It was late at night on a Thursday and we were descending on foot from the Jockey Club down to Causeway Bay, searching for the MTR.

Fellow expats, with some common ME experience, we quickly compared notes; We had children of similar ages, my spouse on his way to join me with the kids, his more sensible, staying in the home country, but similar worries, similar concerns and both of us only just getting to know our employer.
Jack was a bit ahead of me, having come from a Balfour Beatty background, though he was eager to clarify that Gammon employed him directly, this was not a secondment.

As we parted that night, Jack probably thought it unlikely that we’d meet soon again and especially unlikely on his own project even though by then he knew the job had some BIM components to it, and I told him I was the person responsible for BIM in the company.

BIM was just a ‘techy’ add-on he seemed to think and presumably I was considered a geeky-techy (yet oddly old looking for that role) woman.

Jack’s was the project that the MTR decided to go on ‘all BIM-ish’ and something that me, the newly appointed HOI (Innovation) cum BIM ‘know it all’ could not afford to – and had no intention to ignore.
So, when we next met – at my insistence and within days of the PM briefing, I discussed with Jack and his superiors, what the project ought to do, to comply with the client’s requirements.
Action was needed urgently, as the deadlines for acting were well passed.

My goals were multiple, to comply with the BIM requirements set by the client, but also help the project become more effective, less risky and cheaper to deliver, this was after all, what I was brought in to help the company achieve.

We met numerous times following the first meeting and despite numerous presentations and various alternative strategies to ‘catch up’, the message that came back was always the same,’ the BIM strategy that was in place on the project before I joined the company was fine, nothing needed to change’.
The project’s management team’s intention was to do as little as they thought they could get away with, after all, ”MTR had no idea what they were  supposed to do” (were one of the director’s words);

In the meantime, Jack tried to keep his professional cloak on and act accordingly, but also retain his job, the two activities not always compatible.
… and yes, I got kicked out over the little affair…

Six month on, I do wonder how Jack is going?
Is he still on the MTR project?
Is he still toeing the party line while possibly taking the job and the company that employs him into financially and otherwise risky territories?
Is he still lucky enough to be able to push through financial (variation) claims against the client that is yet unequipped enough to act in line with the highly biased contract they have in hand and reject any claims that are not fully compliant with the conditions of it?

Or have the people that run this particular MTR project had since realised what a little gem they had in their hands?
A document that could, if used well make all of the contractors of the 11xx line not just perform but ‘uber-excel’?
Did that make the water of the project-pond of 1111 just a bit too hot to Jack’s liking?

Or even if this epiphany had not quite yet hit the MTR’s management, had he given up on the charade of Gammon’s dealings and wheelings on the project and moved back to Balfour Beatty?

It is hard to tell.
The LinkedIn profile that I suppose is his – but may be not too, shows almost 5 years of continuous service to BB up to the present time.
No mention of Gammon.

Picture from here:

Monday, December 30, 2013

A silly Christmas/New Year’s present for the silly season

And the recipient is: me!

For those, less informed about the subject, according to Wikipedia: “In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the silly season has come to refer to the Christmas/New Year festive period (which occurs during the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere) on account of the higher than usual number of social engagements where the consumption of alcohol is typical.”

Thanks to the silly season (I guess) bang on Christmas Eve, I received a direct email from Mr Hamish Tyrwhitt, Leighton Holdings’ CEO, where he implies, that the delivery of my (previously sent) message has been prevented due to my email address getting ‘blacklisted’.

So, after accepting messages from me written over various intervals for 13 months– he finally, says, ‘that’s it – no more’;
With the same move he also confirms indirectly, that he had received all of the ones I sent before getting ‘blacklisted’.
(part of the first ones I sent  is copied here, just to give a bit of a taste of topics I wanted for him to look at, for those in the know);

Thank you, Mr Tyrwhitt for clearing this issue up for me!
I can (obviously) no longer write to you directly, but I’m sure, someone else will forward you my thanks.
Have a happy New Year!


From: Zolna Murray
Sent: Monday, November 19, 2012 3:54 PM
To: Riad T. Sadik;
Subject: blowing the whistle, again and again…
Importance: High

Good afternoon gentlemen!
 I’ve been with the company for just over 18 months.
I could have saved the company at least that many times 10 millions of dirhams had my advice been listened to by my superiors.
You may think you’ve seen it all and you can quietly tidy up the mess and close up the company with no damage to yourselves and those that own it.
Or at least no more damage than what has been already assessed.
You are wrong.
 Mafraq will blow up and haunt you for years. Qusahwira will too, as well as ADIB.
Al Bustan is nothing even close to being managed and will cost you hundreds of millions of dirhams to defend.
 I would be pleased to explain my reasons behind the above statements and strategies to recover, given the chance.

Zolna Murray