Into the spotlight: Oryx Engineering Solutions CEO

Abdulla Mannai's OES is bringing entrepreneurial zeal to Qatar

Oryx's facility offers something new for Ras Laffan Industrial City.
Oryx's facility offers something new for Ras Laffan Industrial City.

Abdulla Mannai’s Oryx Engineering Solutions is leading the charge of entrepreneurial services to Qatar’s energy industries in Ras Laffan Industrial City.

Buoyed by massive gas revenues, Qatar has reached out into private investment across the globe, in everything from charitable foundations to Libyan banks. The tiny emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, is looking to spend $30 billion this year, and holds assets worth $85 billion.

From Total to Tiffany & Co, when it comes to engaging with the private sector abroad, Qatar has been a revelation.

Private investment at home remains a different story. For Qatar’s domestic upstream sector to thrive without distorting a nation’s economy, private sector involvement and innovation at home is vital, and this means going beyond the well-worn model of joint ventures established after guaranteed contracts and market shares have been doled out. It’s time for Qatar’s upstream sector to get entrepreneurial.

Eschewing the established model of local joint ventures, Abdulla Mannai has set up Oryx Engineering Solutions (OES), Qatar’s largest integrated engineering services operation.

OES is designed to support large scale industries from a state-of-the-art facility at the heart of Qatar’s energy and industrial sectors in Ras Laffan Industrial City. After years of conception and planning, OES is launching onto Qatar’s engineering services market, and is targeting the region’s energy, downstream, utilities and marine sectors.

“The OES service offering is the first of its kind in Qatar and the region,” says Mannai. “We have a 14,700m2 facility, uniquely designed to meet the needs of our customers, for large-scale industrial maintenance, service and asset management of large-scale equipment, from rotating to electrical motors and generators to mechanical equipment.”

Mannai says that, rather than opening on the back of a secure contract, opening OES was about taking an entrepreneurial risk on building capacity and capability in an area crying out for a service-driven approach.

“International private companies have traditionally said ‘we’ll come, if we have a secure contract,’” Mannai, with the easy charm of a natural businessman, says. “The Oryx story is different. I decided to invest - one might say speculatively - but certainly as an entrepreneur. I wasn’t promised a contract, it was based on initiative.”

“One of the opportunities we saw was that there was a lot of equipment going out of country,” says Mannai.

“Equipment was going back to Europe, Asia and the US, because there was not the
competency, infrastructure or know-how available domestically. That was a market we wanted to capture.”

Mannai sees the firm’s primary client as Ras Laffan Industrial City’s tenants and Qatar as a whole, and an ideal launch pad to provide services into countries such as Iraq and Libya, which have ageing or faulty equipment, little domestic capacity and a need for quick response times.

When it came to a site, Ras Laffan Industrial City was the obvious choice. “Ras Laffan is the fastest-growing industrial city, and it has a diverse offering, from energy generation to GTL and petrochemicals. It’s a question of critical mass. Whilst we see other industrial cities coming up in Qatar, Ras Laffan is best positioned.”

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Starting such an ambitious new business requires more than investment in a site and equipment, and Mannai is keen to explain the work OES has put in to sourcing the right staff.

“The core of our business is people – we have over 300 years’ combined experience at OES,” says Mannai. “We’ve been through a rigorous process of recruiting for the ‘Oryx DNA’. Not only for the technical skill; a lot of it is the personality. We want people who are customer facing and service-oriented, with an ability to learn.”

For Mannai the commercial opportunity for OES lies with marrying a combination of technical knowledge with a service-industry mentality, which builds the trust companies need to entrust their precious equipment to a third party.

“Our customer doesn’t have to worry about the contamination of his equipment, doesn’t have to worry about equipment being poorly handled and dropped, which then requires repair, with all the opportunity cost involved,” he says, attributing OES’s growth potential to an emphasis on being straight and transparent with customers, local delivery and its new facility’s role as a one-stop shop.

Having built a commercial capacity of 105 staff, OES is keen to increase its knowledge base further, and Mannai is not complacent about the need to continually train staff. “We are planning to introduce a training capability, aimed at up-skilling our workforce with vocational training,” he says, adding that training may develop into a service OES offers externally.

Complementing its recruitment drive, OES has brought in international partners to use their knowledge and provide a comprehensive roster of services. The aim, says Mannai, is to offer the logistical benefits of a local facility with world-class expertise and service offering firms.

OES has already secured joint venture agreements with ABB for electrical motors and generators, AESSeal for mechanical seals, and Transcar Projects for logistical solutions and a growing list of strategic alliances. Together, the JVs offer a combination of technical skill, and an ability to collect and deliver capital intensive – and often delicate – equipment safely and on time.

“There are partners out there with great ideas and new technologies, and we want to be part of the process of delivering these,” enthuses Mannai. “It creates value, and builds on our technical competency.”

As a result, OES continues to look for other partners. “It takes time to bring these things to the party,” Mannai says. “It’s the easiest thing to begin a relationship, and hardest thing to get out it. It’s better to take time to get these things right, and ensure we’re really compatible.”

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Inter-GCC logistics remains a brake on business. In future, crossing GCC borders may improve, but for now its a challenge. “We’re not a common union like Europe,” says Mannai. “There can be a lot of problems in the region and a lot of delays. An overnight journey from Germany to France might take the best part of a week to cross borders in the GCC.”

This is where a local understanding and integrated logistics and service offering has the potential to make a difference. “As long as you know the processes and are prepared then you can work the situation well,” says Mannai, who seems undaunted by entering the upstream services market independently.

“If you have the right mindset and you’re prepared for it, then you can do it!”
Mannai’s mindset is not the only one that matters.

Oil and gas is a famously conservative industry, and Qatar’s upstream sector needs to be persuaded that firms such as Oryx do things better. Mannai knows that winning trust doesn’t come easy, but says he’s started out with OES in the right way.

“We discovered what our customers needed, and developed a roadmap around that: there’s now an awareness of what we can do,” Mannai says. “Customers with whom we’ve worked initially have seen what we bring to the table and have been impressed.”

“But there also has to be participation from the established businesses in the upstream sector, including the state or JV oil and gas companies,” Mannai emphasises.

“Once people have come in and taken the entrepreneurial risk to invest, it’s then for local business to recognize that there are local options available – they have to say ‘we wanted these businesses, and now we have to support them if we want to see the sector develop.’”

OES expects to grow sustainable revenues in core areas of maintenance and repair which will allow the company to expand its business alongside the government’s ambitious downstream and industrial initiatives.

Petrochemicals is already slated to boom after a $6.5 billion deal between Shell and Qatar Petroleum (QP) and a $5 billion deal between QAPCO and QP for world scale facilities, both on OES’s doorstep.

“We’ve got two world-class petrochemical projects announced and there will be other projects to come,” Mannai predicts.

“The North Field moratorium’s not going to be forever, and there will be scope for the private sector to participate in downstream growth. That’s something we see potentially in the future for Oryx: products from the downstream industry to which we can then add value, so the chain is growing.”

“What’s changed perhaps is that Qatar has gone through this period of huge growth in capex,” Mannai says.

“When you have been through so much growth, you need to digest it all, and as part of that there will be more focus on brownfield related work than we have seen in the past,
“We’ve just started our journey,” beams Mannai. “And it’s not going to end soon, neither for Oryx nor for Qatar.”


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