A strategy for growth and diversity

Jad Chouman

Partner & Head of Middle East

“We’re in an exciting phase of ambitious growth and diversification.”- so says Jad Chouman, Head of the Middle East for HKA, who could be describing the macroeconomics of the Middle East, rather than reflecting on HKA’s strategy in the region.

The HKA Partner has recently taken over the new sole Head of Middle East role, having previously been Co-Head of Region with Haroon Niazi, who now leads the global risk mitigation consultancy’s core construction claims and expert (CCE) services across Europe, Middle East and Africa.

HKA’s strategy has driven the recent expansion across the region and includes significant assignments, ranging from Qatar’s 2022 World Cup and metro developments to Saudi Vision 2030 giga projects.

While the Kingdom and other Gulf states transition from hydrocarbons by developing their services economies and other sectors, HKA’s growth and diversification are being fuelled by its four main service streams – Construction Claims Expert Services, Forensic Accounting and Commercial Damages, Forensic Technical Services, and Advisory Services.

As the world’s leading construction consultancy, evidenced by topping the global Who’s Who Legal rankings for the last seven years, HKA has more experts listed in the region than any other firm. Whilst 18 years ago, the norm was to “export” work back to practices in America or Europe, the UAE business has now become the region’s longest-established construction claims and dispute resolution consultancy as HKA has focused on attracting and training its own pool of local construction experts.

“HKA operates without borders, and we always seek to bring the best experts to service our clients from across EMEA or the globe, whilst we also pride ourselves on having local expertise where needed,” said Jad Chouman.

Expanding into Forensic Accounting and Commercial Damages 

A similar process is now underway with Forensic Accounting and Commercial Damages (FACD) expert services.

 “We started by relying entirely on our European experts, but now have a team of people on the ground here, so that they can be close to our clients and developments happening in the market,” Jad explained.

In spring this year, HKA appointed Clare Lavin as a Partner in the Middle East FACD team. It is set to grow as service markets develop independently of construction.

“We are seeing more commercial, financial and economic disputes that require forensic accounting and commercial damages expertise,” Jad confirmed.

All types of contracts, including commercial and investment treaty disputes, can avail of this expertise, but also state bodies.

“There’s a demand in the public sector for our investigative services to assist in their endeavours to fight corruption and fraud, bringing in best practices to ascertain compliance and protection of government funds,” Jad added.

Building Forensic Technical Services capabilities

Since HKA became an independent business in 2017, it has been building up its Forensic Technical Services (FTS) capabilities. Over the last year or so, the firm has acquired teams specialising in fields such as architecture, aviation and environmental consultancy.

The EMEA FTS operation is headed up by Julia Humpidge, Partner, with Bill Haggart, Partner, leading FTS in the region. This local team has many testifying experts and draws on HKA’s European network of technical specialists. These disciplines are highly specialised – ranging from metallurgy to seismology or fire engineering to boiler chemistry. So, the plan is to grow a local team of assistants to support them and offer FTS across the region, drawing on HKA’s comprehensive line-up to match the appropriate specialisms to each client’s technical challenges.

Providing upfront strategic Advisory Services

The EMEA advisory services team is another significant growth area and is led by Dafydd Wyn Owen, Partner, who works closely with colleagues in the region. HKA has proven the value of upfront, strategic advice on the planning, procurement and management of major infrastructure and capital projects globally, but particularly in Australia and Europe.

Advising on effective contracting strategies, early contractor involvement, and collaborative working, may currently be a niche service in the Middle East, but the scale of upcoming projects and market conditions demand new thinking and ways of working.

“We have already been retained on Saudi Arabia’s giga projects, and there is a growing demand from other major clients across the region,” said Jad.

Shared foundation

The common foundation for all service offerings is sound and impartial advice rooted in world-leading multi-disciplinary expertise and experience. This enables HKA to anticipate, investigate and resolve the most complex challenges for clients.

“We can provide the full scope of services from the inception of projects through to damages calculation,” he explained.

With four main offices in the region (Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia), the consultancy has been established here for over 40 years, and is proud to have been in KSA for 17 years. Jad added: “As an agile business, we can be anywhere our clients want, regardless of whether we have a local base or not.” HKA works with many established clients in Egypt, for example, and also in North Africa. Other growing markets include Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan.

Talent strategy

Underpinning the HKA growth strategy is the ability to attract and retain high-calibre consultants. “Over several years, we’ve built a brand and culture that is attractive to people, and we retain them. Our attrition rate for ‘good leavers’ is very low.”

Word of mouth is powerful. People in professional services talk to their peers about their working environment, collaborating with team members, and the scale and complexity of their projects and disputes. “So, we’re able to choose the best people who fit our highly collaborative culture.”

High-profile, complex projects are another big pull factor for ambitious professionals. “This is what personally attracted me to the Middle East region in 2005. Now, exciting projects like the Line, NEOM and Red Sea developments are inspiring a new wave of expats as well as the region’s home-grown talent,” said Jad.

Strength in diversity

As a global business, HKA relies on people from diverse backgrounds working closely within and across teams. “We recognise the strengths that diversity brings in creativity and decision-making.” HKA is working towards gender parity, has signed the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge, Equal Representation for Expert Witnesses Pledge, and its Experts support, advocate and participate in various industry and professional events around the world.

Though English remains the lingua franca of mediation, several consultants are Arabic and French speakers. HKA invests in mentorships, provides for neurodivergent employees, and engages in outreach work with schools, promoting careers in the industry and inclusion. Other community activities involve sports sponsorships – for girls’ rugby and the Dubai Hurricanes – and support for the Emirates Red Crescent Authority’s IFTAR campaign.

Jad also emphasised the wider value to the industry from sharing lessons learnt through HKA’s unmatched project experience. The CRUX integrated research programme analyses the root causes of claims and disputes. These are ranked by region in the annual CRUX Insight Report and can be analysed further through the free-to-use CRUX interactive dashboard.

“We share CRUX insights directly with clients but more widely through our CRUX ambassadors,” Jad stressed. “We believe that, if applied on major projects, this knowledge can lead to better outcomes for the benefit of all stakeholders,” he concluded.


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