Q&A: Tawfiq Abu Soud from Drake and Scull
Tawfiq Abu Soud of DSI talks about the firm's utilities division
Tawfiq Abu Soud, executive director of infrastructure, water and power at Drake & Scull International talks to UME about district cooling, business in the Gulf and overseas operations
How is your company involved in the utilities sector?
Drake & Scull is known for district cooling. We have a lot of district cooling work, which has just recently been considered as a utility. However, now utility providers are facing major funding problems, not because funds are not available, but because of uncertainty about the developments that are being served by district cooling.
However, we are seeing that developers who already have funds for their development are doing the project themselves, so we’re going more into design and build and construction contracts; so we have seen a shift in the type of contract.
On the water and sewage treatment side of the sector, there is an endless requirement, demand is still high and will continue to rise. If you have water treatment, you must have sewage treatment. They go hand in hand, and if you have both, you also need the power to run it.
Across all of your utility sectors, how is business doing right now?
It’s not down. On the contrary it is rising.
Usually the developer thinks of the utilities and infrastructure at a late stage. Whether it’s government or private, you would always see infrastructure coming in after the property has been built, so we have not reached a point where the required utilities are fulfilled.
We are bidding for a lot of jobs and clients are taking a lot longer to approve them. We have in excess of 22 bids outstanding. A year ago we had four or five outstanding at any given time.
What if they all say ‘yes’?
We are ready. We did not let any of our professionals go. At any given moment we are ready to go and attack any project, of any size.
Where are you working in the region?
We are diversifying to our first [district cooling] project in Sudan and that includes power generation, because Sudan has power shortages. So in order to ensure our chilled water [production] it has to be attached to a power generation source to run the system.
We have an energy performance contract in Saudi Arabia, with Hadeed Sabic. The Hadeed plant has been built over many years, in many phases, with localised air conditioning units. We have measured the total chilled air requirements and we have to meet the current performance criteria, which will create savings for Hadeed. The more we save, the more we benefit.
To my knowledge it’s the first contract of its type in the region. It’s worth about US $55 million to us and we have to deliver the plant by next March.
Now we are trying to earmark projects in Libya. I’ve been in Libya four times in the last two months. We are trying to target the infrastructure projects, in addition to civil and MEP. There is a lot of work for us there; we hope to get a few projects shortly.
What are your goals for the next year or so?
The sky is the limit. We have no boundaries, but we have a lot of hurdles to get over. With geographic expansion you always have challenges. You have to find partners to add local flavour to your operation. It takes time to address all the local issues, align with the local requirements and adapt to the culture of the area we are moving to. We do not expect that if we go somewhere today that we will have a contract in one month. We have to understand the people and the authorities, the work and the culture.
Do you think there are any lessons you’ve learned in the UAE that are applicable?
Anyone who does business in the emirates will find it a lot easier to go and do business elsewhere, because the emirates is a cosmopolitan area where you have people all over the world and you are exposed to many cultures and different ways of thinking.