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16/04/18

The power of 17, 19 and 25

Anthony Crowley – Country Manager, Driver Trett Kuwait explains how he came to be in Kuwait and some of the joys and challenges of setting up business in the last two years.

To start out, a quiz for all the learned people reading this article. What is the relevance of the simple series above and what do you think the next number in the series should be?
This is not intended to be a Facebook, or indeed a LinkedIn brain teaser but just an observation on life and doing business here in Kuwait. If you remain interested, and you can actually get through the monotony of the remainder of this article, then the answers are revealed in the final paragraphs. For those who are not interested, then you are obviously learned enough to see straight through my thinly veiled puzzle!

Puzzles aside, I wanted to share a little more about one of Driver Group’s newest offices, in Kuwait; the work that we are doing here, what the market is like, and where the market may be in the next few years.

So where do we start? Oil price – ah, that old chestnut! No, not going to write about that; not one jot. It’s been done to death and I cannot add anything more than the custodians of financial wisdom have already committed in droves elsewhere. No, what I’m going to focus on is the challenges of, or, perversely the joy of, doing business here in Kuwait.

Let me say that I had no intention of being in the Middle East, let alone Kuwait. I had no notion of becoming a ‘country manager’, but I was asked a simple question and, as I was one day away from finishing a claim in Mexico, and not necessarily knowing what I was going to do next, the request appeared to tick a number of boxes. Moreover, the wife was keen(ish).

Like the majority of you reading this, all I knew, or could recall, about Kuwait was on the news in the early 90s. No idea after that but, in good time, I packed my bags, moved over, and took over control of the office on 1 October 2015. When I say office, I mean the laundry room in my apartment. It was eight square meters and to be the Kuwait office for some time (as the building identified prior to my engagement never actually came to fruition – delays in permits, electrical supply, etc.). After much waiting and being provided with numerous completion dates we finally elected, in October 2016, to move into a villa in Mahboulah (rough translation ‘mad lady’) which we currently occupy and where I share the building with our sponsor, Energy Services Middle East and his Kuwaiti legal partner, MMA Law.

Since landing, I have been ably assisted in developing the business alongside my sponsor, Claude Jamal. Kuwait is not a market like any of the other GCC countries. Business is carried out here in a completely different fashion to that of other Middle East countries and it certainly took some getting used to. I am very grateful to Claude, and his partner Abu Sultan, who have assisted me in growing the business to where we are today. It’s been a hard two years, but we are now starting to see the results of that hard work.

I am often asked whether having a business based in Kuwait, and living and working in Kuwait, is an imperative. Undoubtedly, the ability to meet clients, existing or new, on the same day as an enquiry being received cannot be measured. I think our ‘competitors’ have not yet fully understood this and have flown in their personnel on an ‘as and when’ basis (this is still the situation that exists today). When I say competition, there is a lack of competitor presence on the ground in Kuwait and this has also served to our advantage in our first two years, and will continue to be the case as we consolidate our position in the Kuwait market.

Our team of consultants has grown steadily and we are now in a position where we can readily expand to serve any size and type of project. As a business  we have concentrated on steady growth and have expanded to a moderately sized team of consultants who have considerable collective experience across a wide range of industry sectors. We can provide specialist advice on contract, commercial, quantum and matters of planning and delay, irrespective of whether we are representing client, contractor, or specialist subcontractors alike.

There have been a number of notable acquisitions along the way and a number of notable departures also, but we continue to go from strength to strength. This is, perhaps, reflected in the type and nature of the commissions that we have been actively involved with since our inception. These include new refineries, electrical transmission projects, university buildings, residential and commercial developments, new harbours, road and bridge construction, tank farms, gathering centres, and water projects.

We have also been active in the wider Kuwait construction scene through our involvement in industry events such as the Leaders in Construction conference (where we were the platinum sponsor for 2017 and will be again in 2018), our joint seminars with our legal partners here in Kuwait, and our participation and presentation at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) events in Kuwait. The Kuwait business fully intends to be the market leader in this respect and there are already a number of similar events planned for 2018 which will be announced shortly.

What about my brain teaser at the beginning of this article? Well, no real science or mathematics behind it, only to say that:

  • In my research of the market in Kuwait, and before I actually travelled in-country, I read that the average number of visits to see a client before winning any work was seventeen (17) visits! That is a considerable amount of coffee drinking and certainly evidenced by the sheer volume of business development carried out by the Kuwait office!
  • This figure is borne out in terms of one of our recently acquired clients where it took approximately nineteen (19) months to sign a consultancy agreement with us. I am almost certain that our number of visits to see him over this time was far in excess of the average of seventeen (17) visits referred to above.
  • We undertook to register the business in October 2015 and were successful in formally (finally?) registering the Kuwait business in November 2017 which was a total of twenty-five (25) months from start to finish. On the same day, we also obtained confirmation of ISO 9001:2015 certification for the Kuwait business – not a bad day’s work if I may say so myself!

Easy if you know the answers. However, I cannot imagine there were too many of you reading this article that would have been able to guess (but then you would need to be working in Kuwait to, perhaps, better understand).

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