The Britons Helping to Build the Emirates' Promised Land

By Leftly, Mark | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 27, 2010 | Go to article overview
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The Britons Helping to Build the Emirates' Promised Land


Leftly, Mark, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


Tony Douglas, a 47-year-old from the sleepy Lancastrian market town of Ormskirk, will jet off to Abu Dhabi this evening on a mission to build one of the Middle East's grandest megaprojects.

As chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC), Douglas will lead the construction of a 400-square-kilometre industrial area midway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai known as Khalifa Port. The project, which will include an offshore port and workers' residential areas that are as big as small cities, will be two- thirds the size of Singapore and the first phase alone will cost 27bn dirhams (4.9bn).

This marks something of a comeback for Douglas, whose star dimmed slightly last year. He had been groomed to become chief executive at 5bn-turnover Laing O'Rourke, the country's biggest privately owned construction group.

Tough chief executive Ray O'Rourke cancelled plans to hand over the reins to Douglas, who had been his understudy as chief operating officer for more than two years.

This was part of a wider trend in the construction industry of big-personality, long-time bosses being unwilling to loosen their grip during the height of recession. As another example, Stef Stefanou, the owner of concrete contractor John Doyle, parted company with highly regarded chief executive Rob Johnson as he looked to have more day-to-day control.

Industry gossips speculated wildly about where Douglas would turn up next. Infrastructure schemes seemed a likely destination as Douglas had previously been responsible for the 4.2bn construction of the architectural odyssey that is Heathrow Terminal 5.

Tomorrow, Douglas will confirm his new role to the Gulf media. Television crews will scramble for interviews with him and his chairman, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber. The latter is also chief executive of the company behind the Masdar initiative, which will be the world's first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city.

Douglas will find himself in the heart of Abu Dhabi's drive to turn this small emirate into one of the world's leading metropolises. This has become part of an overall plan known as Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, which was launched in January and comprises a number of annual and five-year development targets.

Neighbouring Dubai might have some of the most crippling debt problems, but this emirate is attracting big name British talent to lead its growth.

Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone

Douglas replaces acting chief executive Tawfiq Yousof Al Mubarak, and will be the most senior Westerner in a company dominated by Emirati.

Dredging and land reclamation work started two years ago at Khalifa Port, one of nine ports that come under the remit of ADPC. But the vast industrial zone that surrounds it is by far the company's number one priority.

The port will start operations in autumn 2012. Beyond that, houses, infrastructure and industrial areas will be developed. Some analysts have put the eventual budget into the hundreds of billions of dollars, but the truth is that the scheme is currently too complicated to cost properly.

All manner of industries will be developed, from processing aluminium to trade and logistics centres. They will be separated into clusters, with zones for paper production and petrochemicals already earmarked.

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