09.06.2007, 19:17

Down the Hudson

An interview with Ken Hudson of MAB Properties.

Since its formation in October 2005, MAB Property Services has established itself as a provider of facilities engineering, maintenance, and soft services work. FM Magazine caught up with director of business development, Ken Hudson, to discuss the company's future plans.

How large is your staff?

We currently have 250 employees and are looking to expand. We expect to double that number within the next 6 months.

Are you focusing on any particular segments?

FM is our core business. We offer a total solutions package for facilities management and provide associated services such as janitorial work, physical and electronic security surveillance and recruitment services for clients as they need them.

What are the majority of your employees engaged in: maintenance or security work?

In a total facilities management package, the number of facilities maintenance and engineering staff is probably going to be equal to the sum of security personnel. It depends on the size of the complex and how many people with each skill-set you need.

What was the motivation for setting up the company?

The owners of the company recognised there was a clear need for facilities management providers in the market and decided to establish MAB Property Services in Dubai.

The driving force behind that decision was obviously the explosive growth in the construction market and this led to the decision to establish the company's main headquarters in the Shangri-La Hotel building.

We are not just here to create a company but to bring the full facilities management skill-set to the marketplace.

Are you targeting any particular market sectors in terms of residential, commercial or public sector projects?

Right now, we are looking primarily at the commercially developed larger projects. But we are also looking at residential and facilities maintenance, as well as the public sector - and the Government of Dubai in particular with whom we have held preliminary discussions. The commercial developments remain our key focus though.

In the FM business, winning a project is one thing but executing it with quality is really the key to success.

Do you foresee yourselves managing large, gated communities or are your aims more modest?

In the near term, I wouldn't say we even want to take on the management of a full complex. Nevertheless, we can manage sections of different complexes.

Most of the FM companies here are also relatively new and, with that, I want to again say, we are taking a long term view. We are not looking to grab every piece of work that is out there but are selective in what we choose to tender for because execution is the key to success. In the FM business, winning a project is one thing but executing it with quality is really the key to success.

How would you differentiate your service offering?

I think we have a multi-faceted unique selling point. First, I’ll say we want to give a value based price to the client but believe that should not be the deciding factor. The benefit that we bring to the market is a strong quality assurance programme. We have  health and safety and environmental policies from which we develop site-specific quality control processes for clients.

Given your own background working in the United States, what are your opinions on the levels of FM awareness and the quality of construction?

I don’t have an opinion on the quality of construction since I do not have much exposure to it.

Developers do have an understanding of what FM services are, but there needs to be a clearer distinction made between development, construction, handover and FM solutions.

I think developers are also learning that facilities maintenance has to be regarded as an integrated function to the construction process - not a consulting process but an evaluation that establishes what kind of end product will be delivered and what its maintenance requirements will be over the next twenty to thirty years.

Do you advocate FM companies becoming involved at the design phase?

It would be better if FM companies were involved during the design process since this would ensure that practical considerations, including sufficient access points for future maintenance, were built into properties.

I think that may be a step that is taken further down the road. Something that can happen now, however, is the involvement of FM service providers at the very onset of the handover of the facility from the construction company to its ultimate owners.

Who do you actually approach to get jobs. Do you speak direct with clients or developers, or do you approach other facilities management companies which may need to subcontract some of their work to other providers?

We look at other FM companies as well as property management companies to see whether we can complement each other's services on the property management side. I think that maximises synergies between the two business lines and allows both types of company to operate concurrently as building owners require both service areas.

Which other GCC countries are you looking at?

We are talking with several companies in Kuwait and at least two in Bahrain, and are looking at the formation of business partnerships that will allow us to provide our services across borders.

You mentioned the supply of manpower as one of your activities. Can you elaborate?

Right now we supply unskilled and semi-skilled workers. But our goal is to reach the point where we will have a skilled labour force that will fulfill our own FM requirements and which we will also be able to hire out to other companies.

The labour market is changing rapidly. Some FM companies are saying they are having problems hiring people from the subcontinent since emerging markets are developing quickly and wages are going up in those countries. Companies are also experiencing problems providing incentives for people to leave their families and come to work here.

These new dynamics have been discussed by the leadership at MAB but another factor which we believe will have an influence, is the current debate about living standards for expat workers and the number of hours they are required to work, especially during the Summer months. We know the government is looking into this issue but do not know the specifics which may, ultimately, impact on the total cost of labour.

Did you experience a culture shock when you arrived in the UAE from the United States?

In the United States, there is pretty much a ready supply of skilled labour in most areas. What I did find different is how difficult it is to recruit skilled people and get them into the marketplace. It can be a very long process!

That said, facilities management is a mature service line in the United States whereas it is in its infancy here.

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