In this issue of Emirates Projects, we talk to David Stones, Contract Development Director at International Foundation Group (IFG). He is a man who definitely ‘walks the talk’, being extremely environmentally-aware and active, as well as having the sheer guts to work in a war zone to successfully complete a project.
Emirates Projects: What was your thinking behind joining IFG and what were your objectives?
David Stones: IFG gave the impression of being a well-established and forward thinking contractor that was committed to expanding in the microtunnelling field. Not an easy undertaking in the present construction theatre – running with very tight margins, but an exciting challenge.
EP: What is the firm working on at the present time?
DS: IFG is currently tidying up after completing its major tunnelling project in Dubai International Airport. Its present workload in the tunnelling division includes executing some 10km of tunnel in Al Ain, while the foundations division is busy on several projects, including the Address Waterfront.
EP: Looking back, which projects are you most proud of and why?
DS: My greatest achievement was my contribution to building the United Nations’ Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Soon after joining an Italian Contractor in Ravenna in the beautiful north of Italy, we tendered for and won the contract. The company already had a construction camp there and I, along with an Italian engineer (Giovanni di Laberto), were earmarked to lead the new project team. One hitch was the Ethiopian civil war: hostilities were just coming to a head, so when we arrived the airport was full of people scrambling to get away to any safe place, many heading for Kenya. However, with the ‘rebels’ quickly advancing on Addis, Giovanni and I believed we had come so far, nothing was going to scare us away.
We remained the only two Westerners in the company to stay and we still managed to get to the worksite every day, even though the sporadic sound of gunfire made us a little nervous. We organised a local piling contractor and, by the time that the country became safe again and people started to return, the ex-president, Mingistu, had fled and we had installed all 96 foundation piles.
That was very significant politically because the UN was under great pressure to abandon the project in Ethiopia and relocate it in Kenya or Nigeria; after all, the building complex, known as ‘Africa Hall’, was the Conference Centre for the whole of Africa.
EP: What have been your biggest challenges?
DS: The biggest challenges recently have been financial. Over the last several years, construction prices have slumped and employers have really put the squeeze on contractors. There have been fewer awarded contracts and all awarded contracts have been subject to various means of lowering prices. The fair FIDIC Regulation of Contracts and Tendering has been side-stepped.
EP: How would you describe your business philosophy?
DS: My business philosophy is to be fair, open, and honest, which often does not give the desired financial results.
EP: How have you ensured the highest environmental performance standards possible at IFG?
DS: Environmental performance standards are achieved through economy in all aspects of the work. In my personal life I am also acutely aware of the need for the whole world to look after the environment and make it feasible for the planet to survive. For example, I run a small economical car, I have been vegetarian (almost vegan) for 45 years, and I support moves to not only contain but to reduce the global population.
EP: How do you see the firm progressing over the next 10 years?
DS: IFG will continue for the remainder of 2019 as it is and will grow in size, if not in profit. With expected recovery in the construction market in 2020 there should be higher profits and so rewards for hard-working companies. In 2020, I expect IFG to expand into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
EP: What are your interests outside of work and how do you relax?
DS: There is little time now-a-days to relax; we work 6 days a week. However I try to get a few rounds of go-carting in when possible. Recently I gave up squash (after a cancer scare). For ten years I have been Technical Programme Manager and Chairman of ‘Professional Chartered Engineers – UAE’ which is another story and cannot be classed as a relaxation. I am presently moving into a new villa in Dubai, after living in Abu Dhabi for 30 years.