Thursday 13 Jan 2011


Scaling new heights

Dubai headquartered Depa Ltd has worked on the interiors fit out of some of the world's most iconic projects. Company CEO Mohannad Sweid talks to Sarah Campbell about the company's work on Ferrari World and the Burj Khalifa, surviving recession and preparing for an upturn in business in 2011.

In the past 12 months Depa Ltd has completed work on the interiors fit out of the Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest tower in Dubai, and Ferrari World - the world's first Ferrari-themed theme park on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Both projects are headline acts in the world of construction and interiors and to have worked on one would be a coup for most companies. However, Depa is used to scaling the giddy heights of fame and fortune with its projects. After all, the company was responsible for the fit out at the Burj Al Arab - Dubai's iconic seven-star hotel, and for the interiors of the Emirates Palace - Abu Dhabi's palatial six-star hotel.

"The most challenging project was the Burj Khalifa; not because of the complexity of the interior itself or the challenge of the logistics of it but how to really deliver the quality that was required in a building that no one had worked on before that was 160 floors tall," says Mohannad Sweid, Chief Executive Officer, Depa Ltd.

The Burj Khalifa, standing 828 metres tall, includes a five-star Armani hotel, residential apartments and offices.

"We did the apartments, taking them as complete floors and partitioning them. For the Armani hotel we did all the furniture, finish and equipment. Working with Armani was interesting. He's very demanding but it is worthwhile."

Depa is now working with Armani on other properties around the world - so he must have been impressed.

The Burj Khalifa opened in January 2010 to fanfare and fireworks. Hailed a huge success the development also represented the heights of Dubai's ambition and, on the flip side, the depth of its fall. The world has watched as the Middle East's construction boom ground to a halt over the past two years. This slowdown has had a knock-on effect on the interiors business, yet Sweid appears confident that the slump is coming to an end, with a prediction of more than 10% growth for 2011.

"Interior contractors are always at the end of the food chain for construction. The beauty of the interiors industry is that we had a warning when we saw the construction companies and what was happening to them and we could see that after one year the same would be happening to us so we had to take action or change direction," says Sweid.

"There was a slow down on confirming projects and starting projects in 2010. However, in the last four months things have started moving, both within the GCC and beyond. We have signed a project and have MoUs on a project that we should have started earlier this year, but will start in early 2011. As a result of this backlog we are definitely looking at double-digit growth in the year to come," he says.

Based in Dubai, but with operations now spanning the globe, Depa specialised in the full-scope turnkey fit out and furnishing of five-star hotels, yachts, apartments and other private and public facilities. While expansion has been somewhat curtailed in recent years, Depa is once again trailing a blaze into new markets, with contract wins in Yemen and Angola in 2010.

In Yemen, Mivan Depa was awarded the refurbishment contract to upgrade all the public areas of the Aden Hotel in Sana'a. The hotel has one of the largest ballrooms in the city, three restaurants and bars, and approximately 200 rooms and suites.

In August 2010 Depa was awarded a US$60-million contract for both the interior fit-out and FF&E of a five-star hotel and casino in Luanda, the capital of Angola. The project is being developed by Sonangol, the Angolan National Oil Company, as part of the Government's plan to build 28 hotels around the country by 2011. This was the second contract for Depa in Angola following a contract in 2009 to fit out all 202 guest rooms and public areas of the Talatona Convention Centre Hotel in Luanda.

"Our expansion in Africa will be slow but steady. Next year we will add another African country," Sweid remarks.

Depa plans to expand across Africa and into Asia in the mid-term future. "Our expansion growth will come from South East Asia. We have expanded into Malaysia and Thailand and in both countries we are winning new business. We are entering China in 2011," Sweid confirms.

The company is also bolstering its presence in the Middle East, with new projects in Kuwait and Bahrain, while Abu Dhabi operations continue to see improved business.

"In Abu Dhabi we have done the Emirates Palace, five out of seven hotels on Yas Island, we just handed over Ferrari World and we did the Grand Millennium Al Wahda hotel."

Depa's Abu Dhabi operation also oversees work undertaken in Qatar, where Depa is currently working on the New Doha International Airport. However, in keeping with the company's ambitions, Sweid also confirms that Depa will be putting in bids to handle some of the interiors work for the Qatar 2022 World Cup stadiums.

Boasting a portfolio of business entities that include joinery, metal work, marble and stonework, furniture, carpets, gypsum, lighting and prefabrication Depa has the world of interiors covered.

"Our strategy calls that we should be involved in all parts of interior contracting. One of the elements we have identified for expansion is themeing - museums and theme parks - or projects such as the Atlantis hotel in Dubai," explains Sweid.

In order to fulfil specialised themed contracts Depa entered into a partnership with Irish construction company Mivan to create Mivan Depa in 2005. "We wanted a specialized partner to work on these projects and that is why we selected Mivan - they did Euro Disney. Themed projects are different, difficult and very specialised. It needs a specialised team to understand how to deliver these projects," says Sweid.

Mivan Depa has since done the Islamic Museum in Qatar, the Atlantis Hotel in Dubai and part of the Ferrari Theme Park.

Since its founding in Dubai in 1996, Depa's business network has grown to now cover the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Libya, Morocco, India, Malaysia, Thailand, China, Singapore, UK, the Netherlands, and the US. The group has worked on prestigious projects across 15 countries.

"We've started consolidating and delivering a service that did not exist 15 years ago, which is a comprehensive service. I think we set the trends. We are looking at our role to set the trend for the next 5-10 years. We started local, then regional and now we are international. Most of the important and iconic projects will look for global companies for their projects in the future," Sweid concludes.