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Building on reputation

Bishoy Azmy, the CEO of Al Shafar General Contracting (ASGC), a vertically-integrated construction group, discusses ASGC’s 25 year old history, culture and the future

ASGC has worked on numerous of projects across a range of markets throughout its 25-year history in the United Arab Emirates. Could you briefly describe ASGC’s track record in the construction industry?

Since our foundation in 1989, we have provided general contracting solutions for more than 250 construction projects, primarily in the UAE. Although historically we have focused on residential and commercial construction projects, we have recently started to diversify our offerings and have secured key contract wins for projects in other market sectors, including hospitality, healthcare, industrial, oil and gas, and social infrastructure. As we expand our presence in other market, we will continue to leverage our strong execution capabilities and extensive industry experience.

What are some of the key challenges faced by contractors like ASGC in the region?

The industry, in general, is experiencing an upward pressure on the price of raw materials, in addition to competitiveness in acquiring skilled human resources, which is always a challenge for regional contractors. Despite these industry-wide challenges, we are well insulated from a human capital perspective as we have a permanent ASGC workforce of approximately 10,000 workers and have plans to increase this further to support our on-going growth momentum.

How could contractors overcome these challenges? Do they need more initiatives from the government, or is it up to the private sector to take the initiative to make a change?

These challenges stem from open market competition, which is to be expected. However, pressure on human resource availability could be addressed through more proactive private sector initiatives to acquire skilled talent and continually educate and train employees, facilitating retention and loyalty.

I am delighted to add that recently ASGC was awarded the prestigious Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Label by the Dubai Chamber for Responsible Business. The CSR Label award is in recognition of our commitment to the principals of CSR across four key areas: community, marketplace, workforce, and environment.

What makes ASGC unique compared to other contracting companies?

We have a rich 25-year history in the UAE, which has enabled us to develop a better understanding of both the local and regional construction industry. This has earned us a reputation for delivering high-quality and iconic projects both on time and within budget. Through our solid and long-term client relationships, we are uniquely placed to take advantage of significant business opportunities that exist both within the UAE and across the wider region.

In addition, as part of our business, we are also able to leverage off our Construction Products and Services division. The division comprises of 5 subsidiaries that collectively provide MEP services and steel structure, ready-mix concrete and pre-cast products, as well as interior fit-outs. Through this division, we can therefore offer clients a comprehensive construction solution, which encompasses all the significant elements of the construction supply chain.

The vertically-integrated nature of our Group also encompasses a workforce, as highlighted previously, of approximately 10,000 laborers, as well as an extensive base of ASGC owned construction equipment. The majority of contracting companies rely on third party sources to secure labor resources. Supplying our own equipment and laborers enables us to closely control our project costs and expenses and makes ASGC highly efficient.

What is your personal work ethic that has helped you manage such a successful business?

I have consistently focused on attracting and retaining strong and experienced talent across the business. This reflects my own belief that a company’s success is totally dependent on the quality of its people. As a result, our corporate culture is committed to employee development, creating strong loyalty amongst our employees and an embedded feeling throughout the entire company that we are family. Each employee feels that he or she is working towards the benefit of ‘our’ company, which has instilled a strong sense of personal responsibility and belonging.

As construction demand begins to stabilise and even grow in the last few years, what do you think construction professionals should do to sustain this growth?

Our guiding business principle has always been to ensure that good client relationships are entirely central to what we do. I cannot speak for the industry as a whole, but our sustained growth comes from the strength of our client relationships and our well respected reputation.

ASGC is a trusted contractor with a proven track record of delivering projects, some of which have been technically very challenging, both on time and within budget. So in summary, construction professionals should focus on delivering a quality product, as this will ensure a happy end client and future opportunities for repeat project work.

How important is it to implement sustainable elements in construction? Does ASGC have such sustainable measures? Is sustainability key to true success in this day and age?

Pursuing sustainability is extremely important to our industry, especially if you consider the entire life cycle of a project. As a company, we have maintained a strong focus on sustainability and have consistently utilised sustainable measures to not only reduce costs, but to offer our developers and clients long-term benefits. We expect the discussion surrounding sustainability to become increasingly important and to emerge as a key focus area within the industry in the near future.

What do you think about Dubai Municipality’s latest ‘Green Concrete’ initiative? Will ASGC be using green concrete in the near future? If yes, could you name a few projects?

Our projects consistently abide by green-friendly specifications. During the past couple of years especially, we have started to incorporate the use of green materials into our projects. We fully intend to abide by Dubai Municipality’s recent mandate to use eco-friendly and sustainable concrete materials in building construction and will be shifting the content of the concrete that we use accordingly.