United World sat down with Mr. Komal Singh, General Manager of Gaico Construction to understand how he has become one of Guyana's leading contractors, but more importantly, why it will become one of the leading contractors in Latin America
Guyana is truly going through an exciting time at the moment. In a period of global economic recession it has been one of the top five fastest growing economies in Latin America and is even projected to have an impressive growth of over 5% GDP for 2014. What impact would you say the construction sector has had on this economic prosperity?
The construction industry had significant impact on our economy and it will continue to be a very major player in the development of our country. This positive impact was only possible through the various initiatives that were taken by government for infrastructural development. Our company has been working very closely in the development of housing schemes road network, construction of highways etc. Personally I feel that the comprehensive infrastructural program that was implemented by the government can only add positive value to our people and our economy. We are committed to working closely with all stakeholders to make Guyana a better place.
Gaico started almost 10 years ago (2005) with a small capital of almost fifty thousand Guyanese dollars and has since grown to be one of the most successful and highly respectable Guyanese companies. Can you maybe give American audiences a background of this impressive journey?
Our Company started a few years ago on a very small scale with an input of G$50,000 Guyanese dollars and we have since grown into company with Asset base reaching seven digits. Our success can be attributed to our commitment to maintaining trust and confidence with our clients. This simply means that we offer quality work and timely execution without compromising safety and ethical business behavior. My vision for this company was to be the Most Admired Construction Company in Guyana for our People Partnership and our Performance. That I am sure we have achieved over the years.
Can you maybe tell us a bit about your current operations and some of the major projects you are working on?
Gaico construction started mainly with civil work construction of bridges and roads. Over the years we have diversified into different areas due to the demand and the need to be fully self sufficient. With the rapid growth in the construction industry it was important to create joint ventures in order to build capacity for future projects. Consequently in 2011 we went into a joint venture to partner with a Trinidad Company (General Earth Movers Ltd) in order to qualify for a major highway project on the East Bank Public Road. Due growth rate of our economy and the massive development we have seen in varying sectors we decided to realize our dream. As a result we have invested on our own Asphalt Plant, Pile Driving Equipments in addition to creating a Marine Department. The Marine department actually supplements movement of materials and machinery which offer synergy to the company. We have moved in to dredging of outfalls and private wharfs since January 2011. In 2012 we bought our first Versi 5012 Dredge from the USA and today we have a full line of marine equipment including a Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge which has the capacity to dredge channels. Our focus will not be just in Guyana but around the Caribbean offering our services.
Where do you see the future of Gaico? What are your growth strategies, since you want to grow in to a regional company?
The future of Gaico still remains one that will continue to strive to be the most admired company in Guyana. That ambitious approach will definitely prepare us to offer our service on a regional level. Our growth strategy for the next five years is to be fully self sufficient offering products and services not just to our local economy but on a regional level. Our recent acquisition of a Trailing Suction Hoper Dredge will now open a whole new line of opportunities within the region. At the moment dredging is a very costly exercise in the Caribbean since most of it is being done by companies out of the Netherlands.
Do you think that the local demand is very high at the moment? Are there a lot of opportunities for construction companies locally?
Yes! There is huge demand for construction companies due to the amount of infrastructural development that is taking place. At the moment we do not have enough contractors to execute work on a timely basis. Since inclement condition weather can have an adverse impact on the construction industry it is critical to have more contractors in the system if we are going to achieve the country’s infrastructural developmental plan.
United World: So you are fully booked throughout the year?
We are fully booked throughout the entire year. We always have a job since we started – there is always work.
You talked about what separates Gaico from your competition. That would be the safety and the ethics. Can maybe give some tangible examples of these principles?
We are a strong believer in is the 3 P’s which represent People, Partnerships and Performance which form the pillars of our success. A few of our core principles are:
We conduct our business in the highest ethical standard.
We make sure our operation is environmentally safe and has no adverse impact on the environment.
We do it safely or not at all.
We do not compromise our ethics for money. What matters to us is not how much money we make but how we make the money.
We separate ourselves from the competition through our relationship with our client, maintaining quality work to our clients along with timely execution. We try not to overload the system at any one time since it can have a negative impact on our performance. We have seen greatness and confidence from our client due to our commitment to quality and timely execution. That’s how we separate ourselves from the competition. We do not see ourselves as a contractor who executes projects alone but we see ourselves as Strategic Business Partners for our client. In that regard we offer a wide range of services which include design review, financial discussion on getting value for money spent etc.
Do local experts have the ability to partner with US investors or companies that are coming in to the country? Are you looking for other potential partnerships with US companies?
Yes, we do. Actually we offer almost any service to most of our clients. If we are short of technical expertise or machinery resources for such operations then we will revert to the USA for expertise and equipment. We do have existing partners in the USA. We have been working with GRL Engineering for over three years on analyzing piles dynamics for heavy duty structures. We try to raise the bar in the construction industry. We pride ourselves with what we do, as such we have an extremely good track record for quality work and timely execution. This has afforded us an additional opportunity this year to create another partnership out of the US. Earlier this year we partnered with Tampa Tank Inc out of Tampa, Florida on a major project in Guyana.
In terms of growth strategies and considering how much demand there is and the potential that you see, how are you looking to grow your company – acquisition to attract investors or to invest the revenue and profit back in? How do you see your growth strategy?
Our growth strategy will continue to focus on the growth potential of the market. We will continue to invest on equipment, manpower and other technical resources to be ahead of these opportunities. If the need arises for a Joint Venture in order to build capacity locally we will do so since we already see the benefits of such move. However our ultimate objectives are to reinvest locally into the business. Our growth strategy is in keeping with market demands and potential.
You already have a high brand in Guyana; you are well known here; when you are looking for these partnerships how are you looking to market internationally? Do you have any initiatives?
We use relationships or companies that we have been dealing with overseas to recommend companies to us. We will continue to work closely with the US market to seek out additional resources and technical expertise so as to satisfy our customers fully.
Do you think that the government does enough to incentivize / support the private sector here? Do you think the government is doing enough to implement the policies to encourage and facilitate the growth of private companies?
They are. The government is working very hard in such areas especially in the construction industries; there are different levels of contracts in the system and we have come from a very low level. The first contract we got was a $5000 contract in 2003. And it was a very huge contract for us. But we have actually grown largely and moved up the ladder. In the construction industry, the system is geared to allow small companies to grow gradually up in the sector. It’s not like the government has a system in place that excludes companies, you must have experience. They are saying that if you are a first timer, the system allows you to tender for small jobs and you keep raising yourself up.
How did you get involved in the construction sector?
I started working in an insurance company in 1998, I worked there for about a year and then I left; went to Air Services Limited (a local air services offering flights to the interior) for six months. In 1999 I joined Texaco up to 2006 where I basically started as an assistant accountant then I moved to an accountant position, Financial Analyst position, Sales & Marketing then I moved to Suriname for a year to work along with management to help clear audit queries and improve the accounting system. I then came back and resigned in 2006. Due to the merger between Chevron and Texaco employees were being shifted from the hometown to foreign land as part of the company’s diversification plan. I thought that I have given the company (Texaco) a lot of my time and I personally felt that it was time for me to service my fellow Guyanese and beloved country Guyana in a more tangible way. This was my motivation to restart a construction company in a more organized and professional manner. It’s a little bit of a sad story but it turned out to be a good one. In 1991, we started Gaico and things were tough. So we started tendering for jobs in 1991. We started with small bridge jobs and we continue to grow gradually until we came out of the business in 1995. When we started in 1991 we maintained high standards and quality which our clients were looking for; we didn’t compromise on quality and we actually stayed in the business until 1995.
So you did it for 4 years and then you went to Texaco?
Yes in 2005 we recognized that a vacuum existed in the construction industry. That vacuum was starving for quality work and timely execution in addition to ethical business behavior. And that vacuum was for two things; quality and timely execution. I figured that we could fill this vacuum from my company’s standpoint. We may not be able to change everybody or change the industry but we can keep high standards and people or companies will gradually followed it. I think we have actually created a positive impact on the construction industry when it comes to quality and timely execution. We are proud of where we came from and where we are at the moment and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to make sure industry gets the respect it deserves and most importantly the beneficiary (people of Guyana) gets value for money spent.
Your mission statement is very apt “To be the most admired construction company in Guyana” do you see other companies looking up to you, are you setting the trend in terms of quality and timely work?
Yes! I am very sure that companies are using us as a bench mark for their company. I am proud to say that 90% of our employees did not go to secondary school. They were dropouts because of financial issues; but I’ve trained them over the years and they are the ones who are executing all the work on our projects. The other 10% are the qualified team. I found out over the years that these individuals have great potential but due to social issues they were never given a chance for higher education. We import experts from the USA to offer training in various areas for our employees. Almost all our employees are multi-skilled, thus offering us a competitive advantage over our competition. Every year we try to train at least six of our employees to handle different machines.
This was actually my next question; why the CSR and training / investing in your employees is so important for Gaico’s corporate culture?
Our employees are our greatest asset. They form the foundation out of our success and we believe that training is critical for our success. We also believe that equipping them with the right skills and tools will improve our efficiency and productivity thus saving the company lots of money over the long run. Because of our Human Resources focus I am proud to say that we have an extremely high efficiency ratio. Our operation is approximately 85% machine operated. Our employees are multi-skilled as such we have very high production level thus allowing us to maintain a high efficiency ratio.
It really seems like you have implicated this family environment. How many employees do you have now and the training turnout must be extremely low, correct?
Staff turnover is extremely low. For a year we see approx 1% staff turnover. Our employees are here to stay because they are motivated and most importantly respected in many ways. We demand respect among our employees and similarly we make sure our employees carry themselves is a respectable manner. We train them to earn respect instead of demanding respect. I actually train them the importance of being responsible on their jobs so that they come to work with a sense of responsibility. They know they need to work as team players and I think all of them come to work with a sense that this is a job that all of us need to do together and at the end of the day they are willing to be part of the team.
In President Ramotar’s opening remarks for GuyExpo 2014 he stated that partnerships are key to facilitate the rapid development of Guyana. Do you think the average American businessman knows of all the competitive advantages Guyana has to offer for investment?
No, I do not think American society understands or is familiar with the massive opportunities that await them in Guyana. Tourism, infrastructural development, mining etc. are just a few of the opportunities that await prospective investors. With more international and bilateral programs that are now being implemented by the government I am sure more American investors will be targeting Guyana as their next investment destination. Over the years government through the tourism sector and other bilateral meetings was able to successfully place Guyana on the international market.
In this globalized world, the importance of countries to brand themselves and communicate their strengths to the international community cannot be overstated. How then would you like our American audience to perceive Guyana?
Guyana is one of the growing economies within the Caribbean. Over the years, we had significant infrastructure development and foreign investment in the gold and bauxite sector. Our country continues to develop rapidly so the need for more infrastructure to sustain these activities grows rapidly. Guyana is extremely rich in its resources, unfortunately because of the geographical location within the country it is very expensive to tap into these resources. For this reason the government though policies decision is encouraging foreign investment. The American and international community should see Guyana as one of the future destinations for ecotourism, a country that has an open door policy for visitors and investors and most importantly a country that has a very diverse culture filled with cultural diversities.
If we were to come back here say in 5 years and interview you again as the general manager of Gaico; what do you see the company involved in, what achievements and accomplishments will you have completed?
Within the next five years we are confident that our company will stand out as one of the leading construction companies in the industry. Our plant yard will be ISO certified and we will be fully self sufficient in the construction industry. We will also be in a position to offer services not only to the government of Guyana but regionally. Our company will also have a training school offering training in Machine Operation, Laboratory Analysis for all civil works etc. This will allow our industry to have more trained and experienced personnel available to work in the construction industry. Our investment in a Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge and other marine equipment will definitely add value to our growing shipping industry that is desperately seeking to reduce their freight rate through larger vessels and deeper drafts in our main port of Georgetown. We are committed over the next few years to engaged government and all other stakeholders in achieving this objective. As a company we want to partner with more international companies to help develop our beautiful country.