ECG Engineering Consultants Group S.A. is a group of highly qualified consultants whose expertise in large and complex projects covers all major disciplines of design and construction management/supervision and lies behind some truly outstanding building throughout the Middle East and beyond.
2011 has been quite a year in Egypt. The revolution of January 25 promised a much brighter and freer future. However the uncertainty it caused has put a brake on the economy until elections are held and the promised civilian administration is in place.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in construction, which has seen inward investment put on hold and a moratorium on new government commissions, says Ashraf Khalil, ECG Engineering Consultants Group (ECG)’s vice president and head of Business Development. “I think it will take a couple of years for the market to recover to its former level,” he says, reflecting the widespread fear that although a provisional constitutional assembly is scheduled to come into being by April 2012, the need to write a new constitution and then hold a national referendum means that presidential elections will probably not be held until well into 2013.
Despite the circumstances, ECG has achieved a great deal. For a start, it has managed to avoid making any of its 2,000 employees redundant. This is a firm that employs professionals: its USP is providing an engineering consultancy, design and supervision service as good as any available in the US or Europe—where, after all, many of its staff were trained and got their first experience. It has also managed to keep its level of turnover during this turbulent year at the same level as in 2010, a very solid achievement following six years in each of which it grew by 25 per cent.
All its personnel based at the Cairo headquarters are Egyptian citizens, while 50 per cent of the people employed in its branch offices in Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Sudan are of other nationalities. But nationality is secondary to expertise, says Khalil. “Our firm has all the disciplines under one roof and this is what makes us flexible. In the construction sector you need mainly civil and mechanical engineers, and architects: in the industrial sector you need industrial engineers as well. We have all these disciplines on our payroll and can switch them from one sector to another.”
ECG was founded in 1969 by two Egyptian engineers, Mahmoud Sami Abdelkawi and Ashraf Hassan Allouba. In those days it focused on infrastructure work, especially water supply and waste water projects; however in 1985 it was restructured into an employee-owned company, the founders retaining a controlling interest, and started to take on more general industrial work. It was during the boom years of the 1990s, when the real estate industry in Egypt really took off, that the firm had to diversify to meet the variety of demands the market was making and established the breadth of competence it enjoys today.
ECG is one of very few firms in the Middle East with the depth and breadth of experience to design and manage projects to international standards of best practice. It is ISO certified, and has 10 qualified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) engineers and architects. “LEED was started in America, but now global companies want to reach this standard wherever in the world they are building,” says Khalil. ECG has already designed some outstanding new LEED buildings in Egypt including the Silver-rated Crédit
Agricole Egypt (CAE) head office which delivers outstanding performance in water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials, resources and indoor environmental quality.
These days, ECG can draw on a very wide portfolio of hotels, factories, pharmaceutical plants, airports, power plants and infrastructure projects. It represents the ‘E’ in EPC (engineering, procurement and construction), Khalil explains. “We are consultants. We provide programme management, project management, architectural and engineering design, construction management and supervision.”
Though the amount of work in Egypt cannot be predicted, there are active projects, many of them approved before the revolution. Two years ago ECG completed the masterplan, designed and supervised the construction for the new Terminal 3 at Cairo Airport; recently it did a similar job for Terminal 2. The project to renovate the existing buildings and construct new ones including a new departure hall is financed by the World Bank and involves the construction of all ancillary buildings, services, electromechanical works, baggage handling systems and IT installations. The work is now ready to be put out to tender for completion in 2013.
And some important new projects in the home market have been landed during the course of the current year. Four pharmaceutical plants are under construction, with ECG providing design and construction management and supervision services, a Turkish investor has commissioned a textile plant and a Belgian fertiliser manufacturer has asked ECG to design a new factory. “Private investors are still coming to Egypt—not as many as we would like, but enough to prove that there’s still a good level of confidence internationally.”
For the time being though, Khalil is looking to regional markets where economic activity is more active. Projects don’t come much bigger than the Granada Hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. This was a headache for its Saudi owner Abdul Latif Jameel Real Estate Investment Company (ALJREIC). Construction of the hotel, one of the largest in the world with 1,700 rooms, was stalled for four years because of contractor problems, when ECG was called in to get it completed by 2013. Itsservices include project improvement restructuring and programming, structural assessment and electromechanical technical support services. ECG has 15 people on site handling this sensitive job, which will stand only 50 metres from Mecca’s Holy Haram once the $21 billion expansion—the largest ever expansion of the Grand Mosque—is opened by King Abdullah.
Internationally-funded infrastructure projects in a variety of places are helping keep ECG buoyant. UNICEF allowed it to get a foot into Iraq earlier this year, entrusting it with developing the masterplan for solid waste management for Erbil governorate, in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). This followed a World Bank financed sewerage scheme for the cities of Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan, where broken down systems dating back to the 1960s are being replaced. ECG is providing engineering design services as a member of a consortium led by UK-based Corporate Solutions. In all, nearly 500 kilometres of sewer are to be replaced, 22 wastewater pumping stations rehabilitated and five wastewater treatment plants upgraded.
Qatar is planning to spend $15 billion on infrastructure alone over the next few years, in preparation for the FIFA World Cup in 2022. ECG is already designing two stadia in collaboration with an American design firm, and is involved in some road projects for the Qatari Public Works Authority Ashghal, though infrastructure contracts are coming along rather more slowly than Khalil would have anticipated. Nevertheless, with the large amount of work in the pipeline in the region, not only in the Gulf but also in Syria, Libya and Egypt itself, as these important economies move from revolution to reconstruction, he believes ECG will soon by expanding at its former rate or faster. In the coming year he will be targeting contracts funded by the World Bank, various UN agencies and the African Development Bank, which is helping to kick-start projects in francophone Africa. www.ecgsa.com