As Saudi Arabia’s construction boom gathers pace, it is easy to forget that the kingdom has been a long-term market for several international companies. One such firm is US-based Parsons.
“Our first job was in 1956 at Dharan airport, and we have been in Yanbu since the 1970s, so we have been in the kingdom for more than 65 years,” Martin Boson, general manager of Parsons Saudi Arabia, tells MEED.
Today, Saudi Arabia is a significant part of Parsons’ business. “More importantly, it’s a great growth-oriented market. If a company is looking for organic growth, Saudi Arabia is a good place to be,” says Boson.
The company’s most recent win is a five-year contract to provide project and construction management services at King Abdullah Financial District. The contract joins a roster of major projects that Parsons is working on across Saudi Arabia.
The right jobs
Despite being engaged on most gigaprojects and major construction programmes in the kingdom, Parsons has the appetite for more work.
“We are focusing on the jobs where we think we have an advantage and can deliver for the customer,” says Boson.
“If we do not think we’re the right company for a particular project, we will not pursue it. We want to go for the jobs we think we can successfully deliver. It is a great market, but not every job is for everybody.”
Growth can also be achieved by expanding the company’s range of services.
“Our work in Saudi Arabia is mostly as a PMC [project management consultant]. When I came on board [in the kingdom] two and a half years ago as the general manager, we did design, but just for our PMC customers. Now, we’re going after other design work,” says Boson.
This is because the market has shifted, he says. “It used to be that design was only by local Saudi companies, and we could not compete in that marketplace. There are now huge design programmes that our competitors are delivering, but rather than do what they are doing, our strategy is different. Our strategy is local delivery, not offshore.”
Design work allows Parsons to be involved in even more projects in Saudi Arabia.
“When you work as the PMC at the top of a major programme, you get conflicted out of everything else. That means we can’t go after the design work for many projects. But for the other projects, where we are not delivering PMC work, we can go after the design, which gives us another opportunity to work on the project,” says Boson.
With abundant project opportunities, companies are entering the Saudi market, creating new competition for established players.
“In my view, the market is big enough for many more players,” says Boson.
As well as companies, Saudi projects need people to deliver them.
“We are continually looking to hire the best talent to help us deliver for our clients. For the recruitment side of the machine, we are a big company with scale and a good reputation so we can attract people. We are focusing on retention and growing the talent pool,” says Boson.
“People are the company’s greatest asset, and investment should be in people.”
With a young population, a key area of focus for the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 is creating employment opportunities.
“We have a programme for Saudi nationals. Every six months, we bring in 12 top students from the local universities to undergo a training scheme and then get sent out for on-the-job training on projects. We have started taking on graduates from that programme,” says Boson.
There are a lot of greenfield projects where you can implement sustainability from the masterplan, into design, through to construction, and then onto operations and maintenance
Martin Boson, Parsons Saudi Arabia
Another key area of focus is sustainability. “Talking from an engineering standpoint, we should not put out any designs or masterplans that are not sustainable,” he says.
“When we manage construction activities, there are so many things that you can do. This should just become something that we do because that is more cost-effective, better for the environment, and will deliver faster for the customer.
“Saudi Arabia is a strong market with its big construction programmes. There are a lot of greenfield projects where you can implement sustainability from the masterplan, into design, through to construction, and then onto operations and maintenance,” he adds.
Boson highlights how carbon emissions can be reduced by improving infrastructure design.
“The lifespan of an asset is being extended. We used to design bridges for 30-50 years. If you can design that for 100 years, then you have saved one whole bridge, and that means that even if you did not sustainably deliver the bridge, you still halve the carbon.”
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