The largest investment and construction company "BI Group" quite recently entered the market of oil and gas construction and today is going to become the leading Kazakhstani EPC-contractor. This company builds not only the city of the future, but also seeks to create the whole base of local business at the international level. Askhat Omarov, the Board member and the partner of "BI Group" holding, sat down with KAZSERVICE and talked about the strategy and success of the company, and how he became the Ironman.
- Askhat Asanovich, «BI Group» has recently started to operate in the petroleum construction sector. How do you evaluate the potential of this segment on the market? What are the challenges the company is facing?
The oil and gas sector is one of the key directions of our economy. The potential growth will increase the volume of investments in oil and gas with the great influence on the construction industry of Western regions of Kazakhstan. When the Future Growth Project of Tengizchevroil was declared in 2014, we realized that the Kazakhstan content is highly important and required in the project, and that the market experiences a shortage of local EPC-contractors. We believed that «BI Group» should take the leading position in this area. That is why we started to diversify our management systems, procedures and internal dynamics, so as to adapt our business for participation in the oil and gas industry. In 2016, we achieved our first goal and were awarded the first contract in the region. As early as next year, the second contract as an EPC-partner followed. We see that «BI Group» will be very soon involved in the process related directly to both the development of new deposits and the renovation of abandoned deposits. Thus, we are planning to take the position of the leading and, possibly, first 100% Kazakhstan EPC-contractor during the next five years. Surely, the challenge was not an easy one. We faced difficulties, especially with respect to detailed design, high requirements for HSE (health, safety, environment) and lack of qualified labor and absence of experience on the international market, but we adapted thanks to strict control on the part of the project management as well as with the assistance of our corporate university. We can say that the project was our hefty and most difficult university in our professional history.
- Along with oil and gas projects, gas chemical projects in Atyrau region are now being implemented. Considering that you stand at the origins of these projects, please, tell us what opportunities are anticipated for local companies at the stage of construction works?
Indeed, the main opportunity for local companies is to gain experience out of huge investment projects in the region. Local construction companies can participate in the implementation of major infrastructure projects with international contractors. This is a priceless experience that facilitates the growth of competences of both specialists and companies in general. «BI Group» has its own vision of cooperation with local companies that are the main business partners for us. Because of the number of our subcontractors and suppliers, we are fully aware that it is our company that bears obligations, and the success and result of the entire project depend on our relations with partners. Currently, over 6 000 companies cooperate with «BI Group», including in West Kazakhstan region. Our Board of Business Partners created with the view of developing relations with local contractors helps solve these tasks, set up effective partnership, monitor the needs of customers and our business partners. This is a good platform that enables us to develop altogether.
-Foreign investors prefer to engage EPC/EPCM contractors for the implementation of large industrial projects where foreign players dominate. In your opinion, what impedes the creation of our own national EPC-contractors?
An inevitable fact is that international EPC-contractors operate all over the world and have much more experience than our local companies, considering that Kazakhstan is still a very young country. All international EPC-contractors on the Kazakhstan market are very valuable, and there is still a lot we can learn from them. And we have to do that. This is a good opportunity to build up our “muscles”, our base of knowledge, qualification and experience.
We are very ambitious, this is a good property, but it is not sufficient for successful partnership with international giants. Our companies shall break the quit bureaucracy, be more flexible, creative and expand their knowledge of international standards, construction regulations and requirements. This is the key for our companies if they want to join the top league of EPC partners.
-How would you assess the quality of local products in the oil and gas industry and opportunities of the Kazakhstan business in general? You must admit that many foreign companies are engaged in the oil sector that create real competition on the market. Can we claim the role of the leader?
Kazakhstan is one of the richest countries due to the availability of raw materials, hydrocarbons, well and poorly studied deposits, etc. On the other hand, we have a comparatively small quantity of products, and even many of the plants produce material and equipment only in accordance with local standards, while most projects involving foreign customers and clients require materials in accordance with international standards, i.e. those of higher quality. I believe that to increase the local content in projects more investments are needed for the development of domestic commodity manufacture.
-The issue of production automation and use of IT-technologies has become more urgent lately. We are observing this trend in the domestic oil industry as well. How have these changes affected the companies’ activities?
IT-services are becoming the milestone of development of each business, whether it is construction, medicine or manufacture of materials. «BI Group» has its own IT development strategy as well. Several months ago, as part of the holding, we created a new company «BeInTech» for the development of IT functions in our company, especially in the area of construction management and planning, automation of production and all business processes. The results of our programmers’ work have been actively used in construction projects. The successful implementation of various software helps save time and funds without any loss of the quality of final products. Finally, we expect that digitalization of the construction industry will significantly affect the cost, which is beneficial to both end users and companies themselves. This is an inevitable global trend, which will help enter a new stage of development for not only the construction industry.
-Askhat Asanovich, let us go slightly off-topic in our oil discussion. You have achieved success not only in business but in sports as well. We know your achievements in such a special and difficult sport as Triathlon. Two years ago you and your business friends covered the hardest distance of Ironman in Barcelona and became the Ironman. Please share your success story with our readers. What changes has this victory brought?
Indeed, this is a special and difficult sport which has proved once again that the sense of purpose is the main key to success (he smiles). To be specific about the Ironman, this includes three mutually exclusive disciplines — swimming, cycling and running. That is, what you develop for swimming is of no use in cycling and vice versa, swimming exercises are not helpful for running. But as a complex, these exercises give the result and enable your harmonious and comprehensive development. During training, you start valuing you free time, since exercises take much time, but you may not forget your work and family. I think that I have become more efficient and learned to value my time.
Sport has always been in my life but there was no particular aim before the Ironman. When the date of start is determined, when you have checked in, there is no way back, and you understand that you have no chance to skip an exercise, because you have your start in a half-year or a year and you will not be able to stand this race without training.
The main race was held in Calella, a suburb of Barcelona. But it is impossible to make the Ironman without training. My Ironman was in Astana, Atyrau, in a swimming pool and gym, on the Ishim embankment. That is where we exercised, where we had to wrestle with ourselves every day.
Finishing in Barcelona was already a reward for all the work-out. Three years ago, Aydin Rakhimbayev, my friend and partner, started running and invited Bauyrzhan Isabayev and me to join him, however not just for running but to run a marathon, 42 kilometers! What for? To prove yourself that you can. Because we cannot grow without changing. This has become the standard of life for us — always finding ourselves a “challenge”. Moreover, we must do that proactively, with an eye to tomorrow, to be more competitive than others. I think, this approach, this craving and desire to constantly improve is one of the key advantages of our team.
I am a finalist of two Ironman events. Ironman in Barcelona and Ironman 70.3 (half) in Vichy. I managed to cover the trail in Barcelona for 13 hours 43 minutes. I swam three kilometers for 1 hour 22 minutes, cycled 180 kilometers for 6 hours 25 minutes, and ran a marathon for 5 hours 26 minutes. And it was the most difficult part. When you have already swum and cycled, you just want to have rest, but you go to the marathon distance. I have to admit that the hardest thing during exercises was to overcome this wall that could seem unapproachable — to make yourself move forward. But we did this and achieved the results!
-Your wishes to the KAZSERVICE magazine readers.
I wish everyone a successful start!