On busy days, UK-based Serco serves more than 600,000 customers on Dubai Metro. Yet only a small percentage of those are aware of the work Serco does.

“Not many people know what we do, why is that?” says David Greer, CEO of Serco Middle East, Africa and India. “You will not see us brand the metro, you will not see us brand a lot of the services we do, but we are there, we call it bringing service to life.”

Serco’s activities extend way beyond Dubai Metro. The service provider is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has about 700 contracts across 30 countries and employs 120,000 people.

Greer joined Serco in December after a career in the oil and gas industry that most recently brought him to the Middle East, when he joined Al-Suwaidi Industrial Services Company in Saudi Arabia. This was preceded by a distinguished career with the UK/Dutch Shell Group, which in addition to postings in South America and the Far East, included a four-year stint in Oman.

Aiding development

Greer says the projects and facilities he worked on had a common theme as they helped the local economy and its people develop, and that is the work he wants to continue doing with Serco. “There is a pleasure as an engineer or as a developer or a service contractor in helping others help themselves towards a better life. And that was the attraction in coming to Serco,” he says.

In the Middle East, Serco’s business is spread across several sectors. The main one is transportation. The company operates Dubai Metro on behalf of the emirate’s Roads & Transport Authority (RTA). The ownership of the asset stays with the RTA, but Serco carries out everything from ticket collection to maintaining the railway, the rolling stock, and managing the stations. The long-term contract ends in 2019, with an option to extend to 2021.

Serco is the dominant player in Dubai’s rail sector as it also operates all other rail systems in the emirate. It manages the monorail on the Palm Jumeirah for local developer Nakheel, the people-mover system at Dubai International airport, and will operate the Al-Sufouh tram once it opens later this year.

Serco’s rail operations are starting to extend across the GCC. In December, it was appointed by Qatar Railways Company as the shadow operator for the first phase of the Doha Metro and the Lusail Light Rail Transit System.

Serco also plays a leading role in the aviation sector, but as with Dubai Metro, the company’s activities are not immediately apparent. “You will find us on pretty much all the airports across the region. You won’t see us, but you’ll find us,” he says.

Serco started working in regional aviation in 1947, when it began providing air traffic control services in Bahrain. It now operates six major international airports and area control centres in the Gulf. “We just signed a five-year extension to provide air traffic control at Bahrain International airport,” says Greer. “We have recently done same in [the UAE emirate of] Sharjah… [and] extended in Dubai, where we look after DXB [Dubai International airport] and JXB [Al-Maktoum International airport], and we operate the upper airspace in Abu Dhabi.”

Away from transportation, another key area for Serco is facilities management services, which it provides to a wide range of buildings. “We manage on behalf of Mubadala [Development Company] Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, Al-Ain University, and the Sowwah Square Development [on Maryah Island] in Abu Dhabi,” says Greer. “These are integrated facilities management contracts where we look after the entire facility, which covers everything from cutting the grass to timetabling for students.”

For future work, Serco’s focus is the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

One of the more immediate opportunities for Serco is managing a specialist cardiac centre in Salalah, which will greatly improve the level of healthcare in the south of the sultanate.

“They have built a world-class facility, which is the sort of opportunity we would like to work on with the Ministry of Health. Bringing that to life brings many benefits to so many people,” says Greer. “If you have [a cardiac] arrest in Salalah, you face a 10-hour journey [to Muscat], but if you [build] modern facilities with secondary and primary healthcare you save peoples’ lives. It is as simple as that. So that is the attraction.”

Key regional role

In Bahrain, the company recently submitted a bid to help develop bus services in joint venture with the local Kanoo Group.

“We have just submitted a very comprehensive bid for a bus service in Bahrain and we have been announced publicly as the low bidder,” says Greer.

Qatar is also expected to create more opportunities as it builds $70bn of infrastructure ahead of football’s Fifa World Cup in 2022. Other targets for future work include the Abu Dhabi metro and light rail network in the UAE and the North-South Railway in Saudi Arabia.

Greer hopes these projects will help Serco grow as it and its people play a key role in the development of the region.

“What this company has achieved over the past five years has been an astonishing rate of growth and we have ambitious plans to see that growth continue,” he says. “Many people have left their homes from far-flung places to help the development of the region, but in doing so, they are bringing benefits to their own lives and families. That is quite rewarding to see play out.”