CCC cuts headcount and debt as it looks to preserve cash

Middle East's biggest contractor is looking to redeploy affected staff or place them on secondment with competitors

A tunnel at the Riyadh Metro project, where CCC is part of a consortium building lines 1 and 2. CCC chairman Samer Khoury said the company will break even this year despite revenue more than halving to $2 billion. Reuters
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Consolidated Contractors Company, the biggest contracting firm in the Middle East, has undergone a “strategic restructuring” to lower both its headcount and its debt by 30 per cent as it looks to preserve cash amid Covid-19.

In a video message to staff and partners posted on Wednesday, Mr Khoury said uncertainty driven by the pandemic had led many of the industry’s clients to pause or cancel projects, leading to a shortage of cash. This means “many contractors are not able to make ends meet and unfortunately some of them had to go bust”.

“However, I’m here to assure CCC is doing well and we will survive this as we have done many other downturns,” Mr Khoury said.

“This Covid-19 reset has ... [prompted us] to make a strategic restructuring to our group. And we did that. And we are more competitive,” he added.

CCC, which has its headquarters in Athens, Greece was founded by Palestinian businessmen Said Khoury, Kamel Abdul-Rahman, and Hasib Sabbagh in 1952. The company now employs 70,000 people, down from 100,000 in January, Mr Khoury told The National. Revenue will fall to $2 billion this year, down from $4.5bn last year as "many projects were delayed and stopped or slowed for several months".

He also confirmed some staff in the UAE had faced delays to salaries, but said this had only occurred in the Emirates and the maximum delay being faced was two months' worth of payments.

Contractors across the world have been hit hard by uncertainty due to Covid-19.

Despite its challenges, CCC will break even this year, Mr Khoury said.

"We lowered our debt by 30 per cent this year, which is all positive. And we are anticipating … major jobs in the Middle East, Africa, CIS countries and this will happen from now until the next six months,” he said.

Revenue is expected to improve marginally to $2bn-$2.4bn next year, “but 2022 is where we start ramping up”, Mr Khoury said.

He said the company benefited from the fact that it operates across a broad category of industries and markets. It also anticipates more work through public-private partnerships as well as independent power and water projects.

Efforts are also being made to find roles in CCC subsidiaries or sister companies to reallocate staff members who are facing layoffs.

“And if that doesn’t work, we will talk to our competitors - maybe we can second you until we can hire you again next year,” he said in the video message.

Some of the employees that have been released by the company have been told they can rejoin the company next year once contracts pick up. But in the meantime CCC has agreed deals with two e-learning platforms so they can take part in online training or degree courses, Mr Khoury said.

CCC has also created a new division called CCC Start-Up that is investing in construction-related technology ventures such as Building Information Modelling software, drones and 3D printing.

Mr Khoury and other members of the company's founding families took a step back from the company in March this year, handing operational control over to three of its senior, long-term executives – group vice-president for sales, proposals and support Hani Rayya, Africa area managing director Jamal Bahlawan and acting chief financial officer Yousef Ghantous.

He said it was "unfortunate" that the three men took over the running of the business just as Covid-19 hit, but added they had navigated the crisis well and are "doing a super job".