Arts Suvraga LLC were the company behind the landmark Mongolian project of building an airport at the country’s Oyu Tolgoi mine. In an interview with United World, the Director of Arts Suvraga, Shajinbat Altansukh, talks about the company’s expansion in line with the continued growth of the Mongolian construction sectorThe scenario has profoundly changed since 1999. Can you tell us about the milestones in the history of the company and how important has been the continuous adaptation of the company through the years?
Arts Suvraga LLC was established in 1999. The founder is Lkhamgun. Our company has 5 shareholders. I joined this company in 2004 and I have been working for this company since that as manager and director. At the beginning we were specialized in interior work and construction, but with the increase of the demand we got more involved in the real state market and we started to participate in tenders. We built a hospital in rural area, a small building and a small private camp house in Ulaanbaatar city. As time passed the company grew in size and became today’s company.
Especially, the peak of our company’s growth was from 2008 to 2011 when we accomplished the most part of our projects by participating in large development plans such as the airport project of Oyu Tolgoi mine. We executed this project completely in 14 months despite being a really complex project covering the areas of land works, engineering, networking, electronics and aerodrome roads. It became the first case in Mongolia that a Mongolian company with Mongolian engineers and employees was executing such a big project. This was a big challenge, but we showed to both national and international coworkers what we have learnt in our fifteen years of existence.Because of this project the company was awarded in 2012. Which factors were evaluated?
We executed the project without accidents after more than 1 million hours of work. We are really proud of this project, not just because of what represents Oyu Tolgoi but also because of the great cooperation that we had with the company in charge of the management, an American one, so we gathered internationally qualified experience. And since its competition 3 years ago everything remains perfect. So I’m confident of the quality of our materials, our professionalism and our techniques. This project is our flagship and the best way of showing to Mongolia and to the world what’s Ars Suvraga about. How important has been the contribution of this project to Ars Suvraga? What have you learnt from working hand by hand with an American company?
The science of construction has become universal. Thus, it doesn’t matter whether we are working with American or Russian companies; our construction standard is already an international one. So, from the technical side, we cooperated well and our company can perfectly do the blueprint.
Until the 1990s during the socialist period, there was no “ownership” in Mongolia. You could be jailed if you build a house using new wooden boards, as a citizen should not own a new wooden board. So, when the transition was being made from such a period into today’s situation, there were certain management aspects we were not familiar to. Our company’s advantage is that, we make a plan, try hard to execute it and reach the deadline. From my point of view, Americans are very strict and they schedule every action without compromising quality. Safety is a top priority in the construction sector. What kind of safety guidelines do you apply while developing your projects and how are you creating awareness about this matter among your employees?
In the case of the Mongolian construction sector, it started to become important to follow safety regulations. The US Company we cooperated with has internationally recognized safety protocols that we transferred to our company while we were working together. Now, we have a department for safety requirements and our officers are dedicated to prevent any danger before it actually happens and make sure that every employee goes back home safely.How many employees are currently working in the company?
It depends on the project we implement, but as of today, we have more than 300 employees. During our peak time, it reaches one thousand. Because construction work is seasonal, we employ when it is needed. As a seasonal activity diversification turns essential for the company so you can provide other services during the wintertime.
It is possible, but this is a problem with small countries that if large companies execute all the project regardless of its size, other companies will not be given the chance to mature and grow. Thus our strategy is to execute large projects and leave small ones to other companies as way of splitting the market.
In which kind of activities are you more focus now?
We are now working on a railway project, which is a new type of project for our company. We are trying to execute the project successfully from the very beginning to the end. We have formed a non-governmental union to deal with the government altogether. In addition to that, our company has exposure to road projects, especially to develop highway roads and concrete roads that will allow us to become the leader. In 2012, we bought a concrete road paving machine from the US after being provided with its training. This machine is a brand new technology to make concrete of international standard. We also have some operations in the construction sector. We built hospitals in rural areas and in a coalition with the government are focusing on turning ger districts into apartments. We are also working on 1500 household projects in a city at the border of Mongolia and China and we are planning to start this project in spring. You have worked in Oyu Tolgoi, you have developed big projects with international companies, and you have upgraded your standards to give best quality services. How have you been giving all that confidence to investors, government and shareholders among these years? What makes you different from other construction companies?
From my point of view, probably the difference will be that we try to play in accordance with the international rules, not having our own rules. Generally, in Mongolia, road companies focus on roads and construction companies focus on constructions. As for our company, we do both of them plus railroad construction. In order to add more to the company’s operations, we are also involved with electricity projects, such as constructing high-voltage networks and high-pressure sewage tubes, and we also operate in environment rehabilitation, as our operation is highly interrelated to land and once we execute our projects, we try to leave the land as it was formerly. Also, we are conducting international research with Germany and Japan on how to change waste networks in highly populated areas. How is the relation with the government, as many projects come from public tenders?
My guideline is that, when you are too much related to the government, you can’t really maintain the business itself. I mean: business is business. It shall not be interrelated with politics. As long as our company is conducting research, it shall be beneficial to citizens and to our company. If it is seen the same by the government, there might be support from the government. But in today’s situation, we shall try to do it by ourselves rather than seeking help from others. Machinery is as important as work force nowadays. You have mentioned before that you acquired US machinery some years ago. In which areas do you like to increase cooperation with US companies and in which ways American companies can help the sector to overcome the main challenges that is currently facing?
First of all, buying machines is the same as introducing technology. So, if an American company has a new technology or idea and our interest’s match, I can cooperate in terms of investment. Any cooperation is based on mutual benefits. The economic growth of Mongolia is just about to start. So I will be open to any type of cooperation. You are well aware of the banking and financing sector of Mongolia and the economic cycles. But I believe the economy will prosper in the near future. As a developer, as a businessman and as the director behind the success of this company. What’s is the passion that pushes you to make things happen?
Besides business, my opinion is that, Mongolia has a rich history. I almost traveled all over the world and I have never seen such a rich country in the world. In Mongolia, you can just find a gem on the ground and throw it away without realizing it is valuable. When you are at a river washing, you can find gold in the river. Wild nature, breezing wind and steppes where you can camp anywhere you want. All these opportunities are given because of the democracy. 800 years ago Genghis Khan brought his own management to the world. Now probably it is a time to do the same in economic and mental welfare in the world.