This is a company that hardly needs an introduction. They are one of the world's leading international contractors. Specializing in construction, infrastructure and marine works, often in contracts with a high level of complexity. They are based in Brussels and have been for the past 112 years. More recently it was announced that BESIX had been chosen to build the Guggenheim Museum in Abu Dhabi. We are proud to call them our partners and have a beautiful Belgian pavilion to thank them for. This is your chance to get to know them a bit better!
How was your company created? What motivated you?
BESIX Group's motivation is summed up in our purpose: “To excel in creating sustainable solutions for a better world”. The group wants to offer its clients first-class solutions and contribute to making the construction sector a positive player in contemporary challenges, including the energy transition. BESIX strives to do this right from the design stage, with the help of its in-house design office BESIX Engineering, and then during construction. The group also offers financing and long-term operations and maintenance services through public-private partnerships.
BESIX Group was founded in 1909 in Belgium. Since then, the group has contributed to the construction of many of the country's major infrastructures and iconic buildings. From the 1920s onwards, the group diversified geographically, first in Europe, then in Africa. BESIX was established in the United Arab Emirates in 1965 and has since actively contributed to the country's extraordinary development with the construction of maritime, road and airport infrastructures, leisure facilities and complex buildings, including the world's tallest tower in Dubai. BESIX is also involved in the development, construction and management of environmental facilities for water treatment, waste management and renewable energy production.
How many people do you employ?
BESIX Group has 12,000 employees worldwide. 12,000 people of almost 80 different nationalities. This diversity is coupled with high internal mobility. BESIX promotes 5 core values that unite and guide all its teams worldwide: co-creation, respect, unity, passion and excellence.
What does your metier mean to you? What impact do you think it can have?
We create places where people live, work, move and relax. Our projects, therefore, have a direct impact on all aspects of daily life. We always try to ensure that these constructions fit into their environment in a qualitative way, both for the people and for our planet. The construction sector, in general, has long been a major cause of CO2 emissions: we are therefore convinced that it is now at the heart of the solution and we strive to develop constructive and relevant solutions in this area. For example by promoting circularity, high environmental performance for buildings and infrastructure, and solutions that contribute to the energy transition, for example through digitalisation and smart buildings.
What do you consider to be the biggest strength of your company?
A major strength of BESIX Group is that it places excellence among its core values and at the heart of its purpose. Excellence is what we strive for in everything we do: both in the well-being of our employees and in the way we serve our clients in the design, construction, and long-term operations and maintenance of their assets.
It is part of the BESIX culture to innovate and to dare to be a pioneer. This is why we have built the world' s tallest tower or why we offer the most advanced digital solutions, for example in the field of smart buildings. Our teams are entrepreneurial, daring and creative for the benefit of our work processes, but above all for the benefit of our clients, their projects, their expectations and their ambitions.
In addition to the century-long experience of our teams in construction, particularly for extremely complex or innovative projects, one of the particularities of BESIX Group is that it has an in-house design office, BESIX Engineering. This is made up of 150 engineers at the cutting edge of their disciplines, based in Brussels, Dubai and Brisbane. BESIX Engineering enables the group to offer its clients the opportunity to design and build their projects to the most ambitious standards, particularly in technical and environmental terms.
What exactly will you be providing for the Belgian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai? And what did you take away so far from the cooperative effort between a governmental agency and your company?
First of all, it is doubly symbolic for the group to build the Pavilion of Belgium, the country where BESIX was founded in 1909 and where the group is still based, in the United Arab Emirates, a country which we have also considered as a domestic market since 1965. We are all the more proud to have built such a beautiful and high-quality building for Belgium, which can be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere after the Dubai World Expo.
This is not the first time we have worked with BelExpo. We also built the Belgian pavilion for the Milan World Expo in 2015, which we recently reassembled in its entirety at the citadel in Namur, Belgium.
The Dubai World Expo is a special event for our group: we built the Belgian and French pavilions, as well as the infrastructure of the Expo site beforehand.
What do you think of the general design of the Belgian pavilion?
We are of course very proud of the quality of the design of the Belgian Pavilion. Its design but also its construction: you will notice that the final building is even more beautiful than the 3D images we made in the design phase! We have created it together with the architects and all our partners, including for the exhibitions inside the building and the catering. We believe that the design of the building is representative of Belgium and the role that the country can play in shaping the world of tomorrow: ambitious, creative, positive.
What is the vision you want to bring to the Belgian pavilion and Expo 2020 Dubai?
One of the characteristics of the Belgian Pavilion is that it can be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere after the World Expo. At BESIX, we strongly believe in the circular economy logic and have won many awards in this field, especially in the Benelux. The issue of waste in the construction sector is an important environmental aspect: the pavilion gives food for thought on this topic, in favour of sustainable practices in our sector. We hope it will be inspiring for its visitors.
What projects do you have for the future?
BESIX is known for its ability to design and build complex and ambitious projects. We have also developed state-of-the-art expertise to assist our clients in the financing, then the long-term operations and maintenance of their assets.
For example, in Dubai, we are currently building the world's largest waste-to-energy plant built in a single phase. It will produce 200 MW of sustainable electricity. We are involved in the project in three ways: financing, design and construction, and then maintenance and operations of the plant for 35 years. We have been involved with our client, Dubai Municipality, from the outset of the project and will continue to be for several decades.
BESIX is already involved in major projects in this field, from infrastructure in Western Europe to water and waste treatment plants and sustainable energy production in the Middle East. We believe that this type of model, such as public-private partnerships, will continue to spread throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. BESIX will contribute to this!
What are the biggest challenges you face regarding your work?
The construction sector has traditionally had a large carbon footprint. The main challenge for our sector is to actively contribute to the energy transition, thereby combating climate change. If it is a major cause of CO2 emissions, it is also part of the solution!
This is why we promote sustainable practices. Renovation of buildings rather than destruction and reconstruction. Circular economy and zero waste logic. Energy-efficient buildings and infrastructure. Or smart and digital solutions: our smart building solutions, with our aug.e platform, are a good example of energy performance and preventive maintenance. In each of these areas, we will continue to innovate in the coming years and strive to bring our clients cutting-edge solutions!
What are the values and objectives that you bring to your work?
The focus of our group is reflected in our purpose: to excel in creating sustainable solutions for a better world.
This is based on five core values. Unity: the importance of our people supporting each other and ensuring that our successes are always collective. Passion: we expect our colleagues to be passionate about what they do. Respect: this is a question of attitude which has a direct impact on the quality of life at work for everyone and in a group like BESIX, which has almost 80 different nationalities, this is obviously essential. Co-creation: we believe strongly in pooling expertise, skills and sharing experiences. Finally, the fifth value is excellence: striving for excellence in everything we do!
How has the current pandemic affected your work?
The pandemic has imposed new ways of working on us, including on the construction sites. It has also had an impact, for example on our supply chain. It is still being felt today with the increase in the price of building materials which is a direct consequence.
What is most important, however, is the way in which the BESIX teams across the world have adapted to this new reality: by demonstrating their commitment to our group and to our clients, by showing their creativity and their ability to find and create solutions. Despite the difficulties, our teams have maintained the group's values in the way they work, in particular excellence. We cannot praise them enough.
Do you have any advice for others who want to start off on the same adventure as you?
We strongly encourage foreign companies, especially Belgian ones, to set up long-term operations in new countries, in particular the United Arab Emirates.
When BESIX sets up in a new country, our approach is to focus on our core business. For example, we are a world reference in the design and construction of marine infrastructure: jetties, quays, breakwaters, shore protection, etc. This is also true for complex infrastructures or buildings that are particularly demanding in technical terms. We enter a new country to meet a need in one of these three areas.
In general, we try to take on a local partner who shares our values and has a lot of experience in the country. It's a win-win situation: we bring them new expertise and enable them to build projects that would have been impossible without us. Conversely, we gain from their knowledge of the terrain.
Final installation and diversification come later when we have proved ourselves with one or more projects.
Today, BESIX is based in Belgium and we consider that we have three domestic markets, places that we call 'home': the Benelux-France region, the United Arab Emirates and Australia.
Not including the Belgian Pavilion, which is your personal favourite project you have worked on and why?
In the United Arab Emirates, first of all, we are very proud of our track record. We have actively participated in the development of the country; we have built port infrastructures, bridges, tunnels, extraordinary buildings, environmental installations, leisure parks... In general, the first project that comes to mind when one speaks of BESIX in the Middle East is the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower. Of course, we are very proud of it. But its height does not tell the whole story: above all, our teams have dared to go where no one has gone before and have managed to achieve unique and pioneering feats. This requires ingenuity, creativity and the ability to create solutions. This is true for the world's tallest tower as well as for many other projects we have completed around the world.
Today, in Dubai, we are very proud of the Waste-to-Energy project. Instead of dumping waste, the plant will turn it into energy. It is one of the world's largest projects in this field. Not only did we design and build it, but we are also an investor and helped put together the 1.2 billion dollar financing. Finally, we will also operate the plant and maintain it for 35 years. We are proud of this because we are demonstrating that we are more than a contractor: we can truly help states to design and implement large-scale projects that are critical to achieving their ambitions, in this case, environmental and energy ambitions.