After relocating to grow consulting engineer Hilson Moran's Middle East business, Achan is finding schools a problem but his rooftop pool some consolation
What brought you to Abu Dhabi?When Hilson Moran won the prestigious Tameer Towers project, they realised the business potential in the region, and decided they wanted me to expand their operations in UAE and the Middle East. It was an offer I accepted without hesitation - when a person relocates, the new location is an untarnished canvas upon which you can put your own ideas, develop your strategies and build your own teams – all opportunities that do not come often.
What are you working on?In Abu Dhabi, we have secured the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank Head Quarters project and are looking at other major healthcare and education schemes as well as arts and culture developments. In Dubai, we are in discussions with key decision-makers and stakeholders and we're finding that, despite the recession, the quality of our work and the reliability of our global enterprise are appealing to potential investors.
My remit was to take Hilson Moran's CSR and standards into the UAE, initially in Abu Dhabi and Dubai but now also focusing more widely into Qatar and other Middle East regions. Our medium to long term goal is to provide our services across the Middle East and North Africa regions. We have also noticed a move in project sector activity – for example an increase in fit-out project opportunities in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Are you worried about the downturn in the Middle East?Everybody appreciates that the pace of growth the UAE has witnessed over the past few years was unsustainable. The market, especially the real estate sector, was growing too fast and often overtaking the essential infrastructure development that should pave the way for this sort of growth.
Property prices were escalating overnight, which made the market volatile and often unaffordable for the consumer. The current slowdown gives everyone an opportunity to take stock and acknowledge that growth is crucial and necessary in this region but needs to be governed by global market forces as well as local and regional need. I view this as a healthy correction rather than a negative situation and hence a great opportunity for the right development strategies.
Where are you living?In a serviced apartment in the heart of Abu Dhabi city with my wife and son. I have the use of a gym and a rooftop pool. The quality of available accommodation is high and has met my expectations.
The annual rents in the emirate of Abu Dhabi have rocketed over the last two years, For example, three years ago a typical three-bedroom flat in Abu Dhabi could have been rented at 140,000 dirhams; now the same would cost you 350,000 dirhams. This is another example of the pendulum swinging too far one way.
What has been difficult about the move?One problem with this relocation has undoubtedly been finding a good school for my son. The numbers of schools which teach the British curriculum in the emirate of Abu Dhabi are limited and have waiting lists, which is very awkward when you have taken your eight-year-old son out of a good school in central London and suddenly contemplate the possibility of term starting without having secured him a place at school.
What is the best thing about Abu Dhabi?Abu Dhabi has all the qualities of a modern-day metropolis without losing any of its character and charm. The culture of the local people has evolved over many centuries and despite the changes that oil, money and technology have brought, they have retained their cultural identity while welcoming the cultures of their expatriate residents.
What don't people back home realise about Abu Dhabi?It is easy to see the Middle East as a single region that is in turmoil, but anyone who has been to the UAE knows and realises that this is a country that is developing, enhancing its natural resources to lay down the infrastructures to be one of the great financial as well as cultural and sporting cities of the world. People back home should visit - they would be very pleasantly surprised.
What do you miss about the UK?Mum's cooking has to be the main thing, but with broadband internet and satellite TV really there is really little else. Well, apart from when the cricket's on, Test Match Special…
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