Abu Dhabi Ports Company’s new boss says ’please come and see us’ about 420km2 Khalifa port

Tony Douglas, the former chief operating officer of Laing O’Rourke who became chief executive of Abu Dhabi Ports Company this week, has urged UK firms to seek a role on the firm’s estimated $24bn (£16bn) Khalifa port and industrial zone project.

Speaking two days into the role, Douglas, who is overseeing the 420km2 project, said: “This is a massive project that is two-thirds the size of Singapore. As a global scheme we won’t pander to a UK-type solution but please come and see us. The sheer scale is such that over time there won’t be a lack of opportunity and it will require a sophisticated delivery.”

The project will be developed in five phases with a completion date of 2030, with the port area up and running by the fourth quarter of 2012. Douglas will also run eight smaller operational ports owned by ADPC.

Asked what skills he would bring to the role, he said: “Delivery of a massive piece of capital infrastructure has parallels with Heathrow T5. Then there was my in-depth knowledge of contracting in this region through Laing O’Rourke and Aldar. Operationally I bring my experience of sitting on the board of BAA.”

Douglas left Laing O’Rourke in November last year after chairman and chief executive Ray O’Rourke went back on a pledge to relinquish the reins of power to Douglas.

Douglas said: “After Laing O’Rourke I had the high-class problem of having six or seven offers on the table. They were all very agreeable propositions.” He declined to comment on market speculation that one of the offers was a senior role at consultant Capita Symonds.

Douglas will remain a non-executive of groundwork specialist Keltbray and finish off his other role as chair of the new and existing buildings group on the government’s Construction Innovation and Growth Team, which publishes its final report this autumn.

Douglas on the recovery in the Middle East

“The UAE is a mixed bag. Dubai is still struggling to come out of a very big downturn although there are one or two early crumbs of comfort like rising hotel occupancy rates and some listed companies posting slightly better than expected results. It is broadly accepted that Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have greater opportunity for industry because of their natural resources but nobody is putting too much commitment into investment yet.”