Jan 2020 Cover Story – Building the ECC Empire
Brothers and CEO’s of Abanos Interior Fit-out and Joinery, Engineering Contracting Company (ECC) and Aurora Real Estate Development – Kamal, Kareem and Cian talk about successfully managing the ECC Empire and how they’ve created a family-feel across the Group.
ECC Group’s Journey
Kamal: ECC was established in 1975 and has grown organically to consist of 10 construction-oriented companies that are vertically integrated. Since our inception, we’ve built our reputation in the market about always putting our projects at the center, ensuring it’s delivered correctly and to the satisfaction of the client by offering a high quality service to all our clients to the best of our ability and operating with the highest standards of professionalism.
Cian: Our Chairman has always allowed all our employees an opportunity to take on board more responsibilities, and it has had a huge impact on how ECC Group has formed over the last 45 years, which is how we have developed our company’s ethos and grown organically. We’ve never been shy to take on challenging and tough projects and that’s sometimes a blessing and a curse as you deal with very difficult projects, but it has enabled us to think innovatively, learn to get around obstacles and diversify our portfolio.
Kareem: Reputation has been the cornerstone for the growth of our companies, and we have strived hard to maintain it every day as emphasized by our Chairman – Mr. Hatem Farah and General Director – Mr. Khodr Aldah. The group of companies is one giant family and all the employees are a part of it. We have created a family-feel in the company, and we welcome each one of our people to bring ideas to the table on how to improve our processes and weed out inefficiencies.
Managing a Family Business
Cian: In my opinion, you cannot operate as a ‘one-man-band’; You must rely on your team and work together to achieve targets and goals. We always encourage our people to take on as much responsibility as possible and not settle comfortably in their roles, find new ways of improving the company and look after it as if it’s their own. This creates ownership and our employees go over and beyond their call of duty to help each other, the company and their team for the betterment of the entire Group, as they see it to be their company.
Kareem: We are keen to be one of the pioneers in the industry and keep up the pace in an economy that’s one of the fastest-growing in the world by investing in cutting-edge technologies and revolutionary practices. Managing the different cultures amongst such a high volume of people – over 9,000 employees across the group – is quite challenging, and we have found different ways to sustain a happy, energetic environment that makes every person who joins our Group feel like an integral part of this culturally diverse family.
Kamal: We respect each other, emphasize open and honest conversations and work well as a team. As a family, we work together by recognizing each other’s expertise and as a company, we have the utmost respect and appreciation for all the people who work with us. We are open to change, new ideas and practices that help us with our development.
Uniqueness of ECC Group
Kareem: We have always gone the extra mile to advise our clients and provide alternative offers by conducting studies to see how to save on cost without changing the quality of the building. We have done a few design & build (D&B) projects that we are very proud of and are one of the few contractors in the Middle East to successfully execute them. Transparency and proactivity are key, and we have practiced it since our inception by keeping ourselves up-to-date and conducting our due diligence in new building requirements and regulations.
Cian: We get involved in the projects and monitor them closely, which is appreciated by our clients. Being conservative has helped us get through tough times when the market has fluctuated and allowed us to reduce the turnover of employees. The company has a family feel which is evident from our high employee retention rate with people being in the company for over 2 decades. We’re not interested in growing or increasing our revenue as fast as possible; what we’re interested in is reputation. Our reputation has always been the #1 priority for us and our focus throughout our years of operation. To achieve this, we only take on a few projects at a time, allowing us to completely focus on each one and deliver a superior product.
Kamal: We keep a positive attitude and make our workspaces an enjoyable environment to work in. As human beings, we like to progress and include everyone in that progress, so they all feel valued and appreciated. We are always keen to innovate and be at the forefront of the industry. Such an endeavor is only successful when everyone is a part of this process and thinks of new ideas to achieve as a team.
Kareem: Throughout its history, ECC is proud to have built a diversified portfolio of different projects from residential, commercial, high rise, low rise, parks, schools, hotels and other complex developments in Dubai. These include the Emirates Flight Catering facility (which was the largest catering facility in the world when it was built), Zayed University in Al Ruwayyah (a 100m long atrium covered by a large tensile structure), and Zabeel Park located in the heart of Dubai to name a few from our rich history of completed projects.
More recently, we have handed over the world’s largest 3D printed building – a project that has received the Guinness World Record. Other notable ongoing projects include UNA and Rawda Developments by Nshama, both of which are ahead of schedule, Mirdif Hills development developed by DIRC – one of our largest contracts at AED 1.08 billion; Park ridge comprising 3 towers developed by EMAAR. A VVIP Palace which is an extremely challenging project, built into the mountains of Fujairah, using the mountain as the foundation and structural elements of the Palace, finished with the highest quality of materials. This is just to name a few.
Cian: Aurora has recently delivered Lyra (112 apartments) in Al Warsan 4 that has been incredibly successful with 90% units leased in 6 months with no marketing. The project stands out like a beacon in the area and what we’re trying to showcase to the market is that it doesn’t matter what segment you’re catering for be it affordable, luxury or mid-range, the quality of materials and design can be of a very high standard which is embodied in Lyra.
Another project of Aurora’s expected to be delivered in Q1 of 2020 is Hyati Avenue (103 apartments and 19 townhouses) – a premium-affordable development in JVC. We’re also working on a project in Downtown Jebel Ali (180 apartments) which will be short-term-corporate-leased apartments/holiday rentals, fully furnished and following a similar model to the Airbnb concept, with the availability of restaurants, coffee shops and other luxury amenities.
Kamal: Abanos is one of the largest and most sophisticated joinery companies in the region operating in a 24,000 m2 manufacturing and warehousing facility. We take pride in all of our projects and this is particularly showcased in the Four Seasons Hotel in Abu Dhabi, the fit-out works for Dubai Design District, intricate fit-out works for the Etihad Museum and the fit-out of the highest restaurant in the world – At. Mosphere restaurant on level 122 in Burj Khalifa.
More recently, some of the key projects Abanos is currently working on are the Dubai Expo Village 2020 by DWTC (consisting of 9,000 doors, 20,000 kitchen units, and 13,000 wardrobes), the fit-out and joinery of the serviced apartments and public areas for the 5-star Address Residences by Emaar, the mega-residential project Mirdif Hills, Mulberry and Park Ridge by Emaar as well as Rawda and UNA by Nshama.
Vision and Objectives
Kareem: To uphold the reputation our Chairman and General Director have built over the last four decades and continue to grow organically. We also want to become the most efficient contracting company in the region by implementing the latest technologies: being at the forefront of BIM – proven by ECC becoming the first BIM ISO Certified Contracting Company in the UAE and in the adoption of Lean Principles in construction. We are also looking to take on more challenging and unique projects to further diversify our portfolio.
Cian: Our primary aim is to continue on the path of innovation, as we have done recently through the implementation of BIM and Lean; technologies and processes that reduce wastage and improve efficiency. We have two new divisions: CoreServ a facility management company and ECC Renovations, a small-to-medium scale renovation and fit-out company that we’re looking to grow and expand in the coming years.
Kamal: I would like the Group to advance towards digitization and automation in construction and continue building on the legacy that has been established over the last 45 years. All of us love what we do and working with each other, keeping our doors open for ideas and improvements. By doing this we have found that there’s great comradery within the company and people love their work as we are always positively challenging each other to come up with the ‘next best thing’ and to prove that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’.
Hatem Farah: “My partner – Khodr Aldah and I, whom I’ve known for over 48 years share the similar principles which have been the secret to our success – do the best work possible, pay attention to details and look after all our employees.”
Khodr Aldah: “Since the seventies of the last century up to this 21st century, ECC has always been at the forefront of innovation, and being particularly interested in challenging projects. This was and is the secret of our successful growth, amidst several local and global downturns, bringing the Group to reach the heights we have today, unmatched by most of our competitors. Few examples of ECC’s achievements are our first steam curing plant in 1977, up until ECC becoming the first contractor in the UAE to be BIM ISO Certified in 2018/19.”