Taking Charge – Dr. Najib Khatib, CEO of Khatib & Alami
Interview with Dr. Najib Khatib, Chairman and CEO of Khatib & Alami
1. What were your overall goals and objectives for 2019?
A key aspect of our long term strategy is to keep developing the business by diversifying into new sectors and geographies, while continuing to invest in new technologies and innovations. We’ve made good progress in meeting these goals in 2019.
For example, we have established ourselves as one of the leading providers of PMC services, including our role to set up and run a Project Management Office (PMO) for the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia. This is a hugely exciting project which involves working closely with hundreds of stakeholders to help shape the future of some of the most socially, culturally and economically important projects in the Kingdom. The highest profile aspect of the PMO involves the expansion and renovation of the Two Holy Mosques, which is set to benefit around 30 million pilgrims a year by 2030. This is a once-in-a-lifetime project, and it is a tremendous honour for our people to be playing their part in it.
Another area in which we are developing our capabilities is project finance. We are seeing a growing need for this expertise across the region, and in response we established K&A Infrastructure Development & Advisory division, which is focused on the advisory and co-development of infrastructure projects that are privately-funded, including PPPs. Because we understand infrastructure assets in such detail, as well as the risks associated with project finance, we can play a key role in helping governments with the allocation of risk between the public and private sectors. We can also develop risk allocation strategies for private sector clients to protect the interests of construction contractors and banks.
In terms of our geographic expansion, we have been growing our reach for more than a decade, and would describe ourselves today as multinational. We have a significant and growing presence in the CIS countries and in Southeast Asia, and are currently working on our first project in the European Union, the Valetta Grand Harbour in Malta.
2. How has Khatib & Alami grown in 2019 compared to 2018?
We have never chased growth, but we firmly believe that good work and good returns go hand-in-hand, and lead to strong long-term partnerships and a deep understanding of stakeholder objectives. This philosophy helped us to achieve year-on-year revenue growth of 13% in 2018, and we are maintaining a similar momentum in 2019.
3. How has Khatib & Alami performed overall in the UAE, GCC, and Middle East this year?
This has been a good year for K&A, and we are pleased to be playing an important role in the long-term growth and development of the Middle East region. The determination of our 6,500 talented people to deliver both outstanding quality and value has been the foundation of our success, and we are privileged to be working on critical projects for major clients such as Saudi Aramco, the Ministry of Finance in Saudi Arabia, Majid Al Futtaim and Emaar, to name just a few.
Some of our projects which have been completed or achieved major milestones this year include Haramain High Speed Rail in Saudi Arabia, Saadiyat Rotana Hotel and Resort Complex in Abu Dhabi, the new Port and Dry Dock Complex at Duqm, Oman, the Bahr El Baqr Water Reclamation and Treatment Plant in Egypt, and the upgrade of Fahaheel Expressway in Kuwait. This diversity of work across the region is what really excites our people, because it means that they are able to have a big impact on the future of the region and its communities.
4. What are the future projects in the pipeline for Khatib & Alami?
We are in a very healthy position, with a strong backlog which is very diverse in terms of geographies and sectors, and also in terms of the scale of projects – we believe it is important to have a mix of mega-projects and what we might term traditional, business-as-usual projects. The mega-projects provide the dynamism to drive market growth, while business-as-usual projects generate a strong and consistent cash flow.
We are also working on more and more Design-Build projects for both private and government organisations; as well as public private partnerships (PPPs), which includes forming Design-Build JV partnerships.
5. What makes Khatib & Alami stand out from the rest of the competition?
I joined the business 23 years ago as employee number 714. We now have more than 6,500 staff, including around 3,000 people in Saudi Arabia. The success and growth that we have experienced has been possible because of who we are as a company, and we strongly believe in maintaining this essence of the business.
First of all, we are not a fly in, fly out organization. Our clients trust us because we put people close to them on the ground, and we always recruit locally and invest to raise levels of expertise and knowledge.
It is also significant that we are a private company, so we don’t have to answer to corporate investors. This means we can be flexible and agile in the way we respond to opportunities and challenges because we’re interested in the long-term view, not quarterly figures.
We can also have a different attitude to risk. This doesn’t mean that we take major gambles, but it does occasionally give us the advantage of being able to be a first mover into new geographies or markets.
Importantly, being a private company also means we have a different sense of our responsibility to clients and communities. This goes to the heart of what K&A is, grounded by the experience that many of our colleagues had when helping to rebuild Beirut in the 1990s.
6. You recently won the CEO of the Year Award at the Construction Innovation Awards 2019 – can you give us an overall reaction to winning that award?
To be recognised in this way by the construction industry was a great honour. The award also belongs to all those at Khatib & Alami who continuously provide their best and are truly committed to excellence.
7. What are the latest innovative technologies that the company is investing in?
Our commitment to technology leadership has been a part of K&A’s DNA throughout our history. We were among the first engineering consultants in the region to digitise our systems, and we were the first to bring Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to the region for a project in Oman more than 30 years ago.
Our deep GIS and systems integration expertise gives us a great platform today because smart urbanization demands high-level integration of geo-enabled technologies for everything, from the energy network to mobility solutions and low-carbon buildings. We are already providing expertise to support a number of ambitious smart city developments, and are also investing heavily to ensure that we are able to support clients with all aspects of the digital transformation. This includes developing our capabilities in BIM, IoT, VR and other Smart City enabling technologies, and driving adoption across the entire organization.
These are exciting times for the sector, and the best way of catalysing the potential of new technologies is to work together with others. We’re therefore collaborating closely with clients, partners and academia to develop solutions which address their challenges and needs.
8. How is Khatib & Alami contributing to the future of the region’s construction sector?
It is vital for companies such as K&A to show industry leadership, especially in areas such as health & safety and talent development. For example, we put a great deal of effort into driving consistently outstanding QHSE standards across the K&A Group, and this has been recognised over the past year with many best practice awards from clients. There is now an increased understanding that investment in health and safety best practice pays back many times over through the wellbeing and motivation of staff, which improves, reduces lost time to injury and ultimately improves the bottom line.