Gerry Boux – Managing Director, Haven Fire & Safety, Abu Dhabi
Managing Director of Haven Fire & Safety, Mr. Gerry Boux, discusses his company’s steady growth, the core principles at the heart of his operations, the importance of the UAE as a regional hub and his personal commitment to the country.
You founded Haven Fire & Safety in 1997 and you are coming up to your twentieth anniversary! Can you give us an overview of Haven Fire’s journey in the past couple of decades?
When the company started in 1997, it only had twelve employees. Many of us had in fact been working together earlier in the UAE, hence we were a very tight-knit team and our previous experience in the UAE meant that we were already familiar with the region.
In the early days, we were focused on marine and offshore services, before gradually expanding into system engineering and supply. First, it was by working with principal companies like Ansul, who were actually our first major product supplier and subsequently we expanded further by adding more complimentary fire suppression and detection systems. Now we have a whole range of products from top-quality overseas companies.
Currently we employ over 100 permanent staff and have established branches throughout the Emirates.
What would you say has been key to your success in the past decade?
We have enjoyed significant organic growth and we are now one of the largest, fully independent players in the fire and safety industry here. Sometimes we forget that we are no longer a small company!
We have achieved all of this without the financial backing of a major corporation, but I believe our advantages in business philosophy and product offering more than make up for that. We are very flexible because we are not bound by unnecessary red tape sometimes found in bigger corporations. This means we can quickly react to engineering needs and industry trends in order to make any necessary decisions in a timely manner.
Another important aspect is that we have always maintained a very high quality staff. Staff management is key in terms of continuity, ongoing internal and external training plus the maintenance of health and safety records, especially as a company grows from small to medium-size. We have been very conscious to maintain standards and to communicate the importance of HSE, quality and client commitment to both new and old staff alike.
In this difficult climate and especially because Haven Fire is such a niche company, it is important to differentiate yourself from your competitors. What strengths would you like to highlight in Haven Fire?
As a leading fire-protection, engineering, supply and service company, we pride ourselves on offering a “one-stop shop” for our clients’ system solutions and equipment needs. I can say with confidence that the range and quality of our activities are unmatched and we have an excellent reputation for successful completion of projects, no matter how large or complex.
We tend to work to the US distribution model, which is that we provide full local engineering, management and support for our principal’s products and system solutions as an exclusive distributor and they in turn provide us with the requisite ongoing training and equipment. In this way we maintain our independence and cultivate our own specialties. One of the first things we learnt as a small company starting out: we had to be self-sufficient. We learnt not to rely on subcontractors or anyone else to help when one of the rigs or tankers under our management ran into problems. Everything had to be available and completed in-house. Hence, we made self-sufficiency one of our business’s core tenets. As a result, we currently retain an excellent engineering team and we carry out our own engineering in-house.
Secondly, our goal has always been to work with the best possible suppliers of the highest quality products that we can find. We have a whole range of products from top-quality overseas companies.
Thirdly, the fact that we began in the oil and gas industry, providing offshore and marine services meant that we were already used to operating to very stringent standards and documentation requirements, given the required fire response efficiency. We feel that this has definitely given us an edge over our competitors, who work exclusively in the commercial sectors where they may not have been exposed to the demanding requirements found in the Oil and Gas sector.
Ultimately, it comes back to our core philosophy. We listen to our clients, who are leading players in the industry. We then provide tailor-made solutions that really meet their specifications and we ensure that these solutions are cost-effective for them over the entire lifetime of their projects.
Given that Haven Fire works across many industries, how important is the oil and gas industry as a component of your activities?
The oil and gas industry undoubtedly forms the bulk of our business. We do reach a wide customer base covering all major market sectors but as we began in offshore and marine services, a core part of our operations remain related to oil and gas.
That said, given the inherent volatility in the petroleum industry, it is reassuring that we are able to diversify our business through our activities in other industries For instance, a significant source of our business revenue also comes from industrial fire suppression. We do this for many industrial market sectors throughout the United Arab Emirates. Some element of this converges with the oil and gas industry as well, through the need for similar systems in offshore applications.
Given your international presence, how important is having the UAE as a base?
Our business in the UAE represents the majority of our revenues. We work with major international companies and we act as a local partner for them.
However, we have many operations in the Gulf region as well as internationally that are run from the UAE. For instance, we have worked in Nigeria, Ghana, Oman, Egypt and Korea, among others. These projects occur mainly through connections with clients that we find in the Emirates, who may then require help with projects outside the UAE. As we are trained and approved by global leading manufacturers, we are well positioned to be able to support installations and projects all over the world.
One example is power generation companies, to whom we provide fire and safety solutions for their temporary power solutions. These companies have their bases in the UAE but we could end up sending engineers with them to anywhere in the world. For instance, we recently carried out a project in Panama and another one in East Africa, in order to support our principals.
Essentially, if there is a requirement for a product line or service that we offer, we will do it. It goes back to our flexibility and our commitment to our clients.
Given the dire straits the industry is currently in, what is your strategy for maintaining Haven Fire’s record of steady growth?
Although the oil prices are down and the industry is facing tough times, what is important to remember is that the oil and gas industry is one in which fire safety is of paramount importance, not least because of the magnitude of potential disasters and the exorbitant costs attached to any disruption in normal operations. Fire and safety systems are indispensable to the continued safe functioning of the industry.
Particularly in a cost-cutting environment like the current, when companies begin to cut down on staffing and other operating costs, they sometimes do not renew equipment as often. With increased wear and tear on equipment and systems, the importance of having excellent fire and safety systems as a fail-safe measure increases significantly. Compromising on fire and safety can lead to tragic consequences.
Our strategy in response to this current oil price crisis is simply to increase our efficiency. We stand by our philosophy of providing high-end, high-quality products. This is a principle we are committed to explaining to our customers: a quality solution is cost-effective over the long term once you take into account its stability and reliability. For instance, it is not really cost effective to reduce the initial outlay if this involves cutting corners, as this would result in loss of reliability and associated higher lifetime costs for rework and increased maintenance demand.
We have an unparalleled HSE record. The current challenge is to explain this notion of value to our customers, who are understandably worried about their bottom-lines. We are committed to assisting them as much as possible with this by increasing our efficiency, not sacrificing on quality.
What is your final message on behalf of Haven Fire?
Our vision for the future is simply to continue growing the business in the steady and sustainable way that it has achieved from the outset. We are very proud of our progress over the years and we would like to grow further while staying true to our roots. In the past few years we have successfully completed some very big projects and whilst I would say that at the time this initially stretched our capabilities, our team stepped up and all projects were completed on time and on budget, meaning that such opportunities were fully seized in order to contribute further to our ambitious growth plans going forward.
I came to the Middle East in 1981 and the UAE in 1982 and like many others I only planned of staying for a couple of years. It has now been over thirty years and counting. Not only have I raised a family here, my children are also raising their families here. I have witnessed the amazing transformation this country has undergone in the past three decades to become the wonderful place to live in it is today. Quite honestly, I have had a great experience in the UAE and I am immensely grateful for the opportunities this country has given me.