Dateline - Saudi Arabia: Fast, Fluid, Flexible in the Mid East.

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


Everyone knows that the Dubai market has crashed. Six months ago, EllisDon was desperate for people; within the last six weeks, our professional staff of 215 people has dropped to below 150, and our key client is in trouble – very painful developments for many people. Here’s a bit of good news:

Our management team there has spent zero time whining or making excuses. In fact, their cheerful, determined optimism has been instructive for me this past week.

They have found quickly that Saudi Arabia is still healthy, even prosperous, and have three new initiatives in play there – I believe two of the three will likely succeed. I spent a day with them in Qatar, where they have identified opportunities in Project Management (our sponsor told us that we would fail coming in as a contractor, but there are likely good PM opportunities, including working directly for the government) and have been approached by a successful midsized contractor who wants to team up with ED to obtain – guess what? – our systems, our experience, our engineering - our intellectual capital.

And of course, Abu Dhabi remains healthy and promising. Amid the current pessimism, we have picked up a new project there, and continue to build a strong relationship with Mubatala (Emirate’s largest developer).

Then we met an architect, Bill Karr, whom I found inspiring (he has a project in Faluja, Iraq, that he visits by driving across the border, remotely, in a beat up car with a three day beard and no security). He made clear that it is the conventional markets that are suffering, and identified PM opportunities in Syria, Morocco, Turkmenistan, and even Ethiopia – where the government is planning on building two million(!) homes.

Here is the message that team is teaching everyone else at EllisDon: Get out of your comfort zone. This means each one of us. Alberta is slowing, Saskatchewan is rising, we need to be there right now. We seem to be terrified of Water and Waste Treatment. Why? There are good opportunities with Canada’s First Nations tribes we have not sought out. We need to lift our eyes, put on our hiking shoes, and get moving.

If we want employment security, profit sharing, and increasing share prices, we are going to have to get way out of our comfort zone.

Lastly: I want to salute all of EllisDon’s employees in Dubai. Hang in there, we will be growing again soon.