Drawing on a rich Indian heritage, Voltas has been transferring formidable levels of MEP contracting knowledge into the GCC, proven by a rich track record and a pipeline of projects that continues to grow
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
The UAE is hurtling towards the highly anticipated Expo 2020.
Lasting six months and officially the largest event ever staged in the Arab World, this celebration of cosmopolitanism will see the world’s commercial eyes cast upon Dubai, with delegates from 190 countries and millions of international visitors set to pour into the city.
It is an enormous operation, one which began as soon as the award to host the event was made in November 2013.
For the UAE’s construction industry, it has provided a massive opportunity to showcase the best of what it can offer, a fact not lost on Suresh Kumar, Senior General Manager of Operations for Voltas’s International Operations Business Group.
“The country is getting ready and the infrastructure and building sector has been gearing up in a big way,” he reports. “All the contractors and vendors are busy in and around Expo 2020. Away from this, Dubai is developing in all directions and a lot of projects, especially in the residential and hospitality sector, have come up.”
The final push to prepare for Expo 2020 has provided a welcome boost to a sector which has not always been easy to operate in over recent years, and Kumar is quick to recognise a positive impact that such a challenge has brought with it.
“While there has been a slowdown, this has forced industry leaders to think of innovative and creative methods,” he continues.
“This has been further enhanced by the implementation of building information modelling (BIM) and other digital initiatives, like robotics and artificial intelligence, innovations which have finally touched the construction industry. It is true to say our sector is no longer a story of just brick and cement.”
Indeed, as well as improving technology, the Voltas story is one centred around people.
Described as the company’s most important real estate by Kumar, it is his own story which neatly reflects the commitment to skills development and opportunities to be reaped at the firm.
“Straight after graduation, I joined Voltas as a management trainee,” he recalls. “Even in those days, 31 years ago, Voltas was one of the employers young engineering graduates dreamt of working with. What attracted me at the beginning was the tough selection procedures, which made one feel it was a great achievement to get into the company.
“I am proud to tell you that Voltas provides a great learning opportunity for young individuals which no other organisation offers. The amount of theoretical, practical, management and commercial knowledge that a young graduate can gain from this company in the first few years is, probably, a combination of two or three masters’ courses in technology and management.”
Kumar was also aware back in the 1980s of the reputation, standing and ethical values of Voltas’s parent, India’s Tata Group. Having started out in the company’s home country, he moved to the Middle East and found an industry already benefitting from the wealth of knowledge developed by the firm.
“It was a pleasant surprise for me to understand that there was no single organisation in the region – whether contractor, consultant or supplier – without an ‘ex-Voltas’ person working in them,” Kumar adds. “It made me believe that Voltas was the greatest alma mater for this industry in the Middle East and possibly the Far East as well.”
Whether it is blue collar workers, design engineers, draftsmen or managers, Voltas prides itself on the knowledge and client-caring attitude of its human resources.
In order to keep up-to-date with the latest production and installation techniques that define the MEP contracting world, the company deploys a robust training, coaching and mentoring system that develops personnel capable of meeting the modern-day challenges of the industry.
Further, it continues to recruit from universities and pair graduates with seasoned engineers, the knowledge transfer process taking around two to three years.
“We have also engaged with various skill centres in developing skilled technicians and work with vendors and suppliers for training on the latest technology for our current workforce,” Kumar says. “To sum up, Voltas is an organisation with a culture of education, and one which believes that learning is the only way to grow.”
Such a track record of nurturing talent has, unsurprisingly, resulted in the delivery of a huge portfolio of successful projects across the UAE, a major focus for Kumar in his role as Senior General Manager of Operations.
Among the most significant is Voltas’s MEP work on Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).
“We have completed the first three phases and are proud to tell the world that all of this work was highly successful, and that we have received Taking Over Certificates,” explains Kumar. “All our stakeholders – the client, consultants and the main contractor – are extremely happy with Voltas’s performance and this has resulted in securing many projects of repute in the UAE and elsewhere.”
Indeed, the last few years have been an extremely busy time, Kumar citing a tremendous array of activity carried out not just in the UAE, but all over the wider region.
From the iconic Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi and Burj Khalifa (Dubai) to Bahrain’s international airport and several hotels in Oman, Voltas has an enviable record of delivery which has led to a continuing stream of new projects being taken.
Among these ongoing developments are the Conference and Exhibition Centre for Expo 2020, the Across Ages Museum in Oman, and Vendome Mall in Qatar and the Al Sahel Hotel & Resort in Bahrain. The company is also working on district cooling plants, an international airport expansion and a residential building project in the UAE, and a wastewater treatment and reverse osmosis plant for a dairy facility in Oman.
Technology and innovative techniques continue to be front and centre of these works, be it in the form of prefabrication, BIM, or other modes of digitisation. Such methods have evolved over the years, Kumar recalling three projects that stand out to him as particularly influential from a personal perspective.
“One is the PSLV rocket launch tower project which I was part of during the beginning of my career, and a second is the Information Technology Park in Bangalore, the first integrated IT park of that size making Bangalore the Silicon Valley of India,” he says. “The third is Etihad towers, an absolute jewel and icon for Abu Dhabi.
“All projects see the same enthusiasm and passion, and Voltas gives tremendous opportunities for a professional to draw inspiration and gain knowledge from such experiences. It is the freedom and support that the organisation gives which makes a young engineer a true professional in his or her early career.”
Adding to the project pipeline is a clear priority for Kumar and Voltas moving forwards.
Southeast Asia is a region identified for potential expansion, with the company able to draw on a track record of successful projects in Hong Kong and Singapore, work which has included an airport project in the former and the Thomson East Coast metro line in the latter.
Consolidating its leading position in the GCC is the immediate priority, however, an objective which Kumar believes will be achieved through a continued focus on enhancing process with technology and developing even more skills within the organisation.
He concludes optimistically, in particular citing the promising future ahead for the UAE’s construction sector.
“Dubai is just eight hours flying time to two thirds of the world. The kind of freedom and facilities offered by the governments in the region continue to attract many corporates from around the world to set up their hubs here, and the UAE’s ability to attract talent and make them feel at home will invite more FDIs and continuing opportunities.
“The GCC was earlier known for oil and gas development and today the shift is towards manufacturing, tourism and knowledge-based industries. The kind of infrastructure that has been developed in the region, especially the UAE, provides fertile ground for these markets.
“Today, the country can compete with any other in the world and we do not have issues that normally affects or makes investors cautious. As long as one is prepared to follow rules and regulations, this region offers the best opportunities for both employers and employees.”