Big interview: Sanjay Bhatia, General manager, Concordia
Concordia was co-founded by DMCC to maintain the master community, and in time the firm has managed to find its footing in the city’s growing landscape of FM service providers, moving away from the ‘JLT-only’ perception that has long prevailed.
The Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT) master community has helped shape Dubai’s southern skyline, the community — of which DMCC was the master-developer — is now closing in on the 10 year mark, and its maintenance and upkeep has been an evolutionary process, says Concordia.
The firm was co-founded by DMCC to maintain the master community, and in time Concordia has managed to find its footing in the city’s growing landscape of facilities management (FM) service providers, moving away from the ‘JLT-only’ perception that has long prevailed.
fmME visited Concordia’s head offices tucked away behind the Al Etihad Gold refinery. “The location might not be something you expect to be part of JLT because there are no high-rises in this side of the master community, but we have our staff accommodation on site, and that’s probably been our biggest advantage over the years,” says Sanjay Bhatia, general manager, Concordia.
Bhatia took over the role of company GM a little over a year ago, and brings a sound understanding of FM, having served in various capacities in EFS FM, Damac and Sodexho India.
He gives an overview of Concordia’s evolution of scope of work across JLT. “There is a big difference in the community itself, first of all it’s not a gated community and faces tremendous pressure on a day to day basis. To add to it the road network is used by people to access other parts of the city and its highways, that brings in close to 80,000 visitors a day into the master community,” he informs.
This unique nature of flow of visitors puts a peculiar set of pressures when it comes to cleaning and maintenance of the exterior, Bhatia says. “The master developer also turned one of the lakes into a park, and we maintain that as well — it’s used for a lot of events which we are co-organisers of,” he adds.
Concordia has a dedicated team of 450 staff working on different aspects of JLT’s maintenance, from rope-access cleaning and maintenance, security, concierge, MEP etc. “Certain services have to be outsourced as per regulation — which include fire, life and safety; we also outsource elevator maintenance and landscaping. The latter most was a conscious decision because it’s a labour intensive service, which we discovered was easier and more affordable to outsource because the supplier has hundreds of staff who specialise in landscaping, rather than us creating a new sub-division within the company [it made sense for us to outsource it].
Majority of Dubai’s residents have visited JLT at some point, if not having worked or resided in the community, and Bhatia notes the efficiencies with which the team handles day-to-day operations. “After I joined, we decided to do a skill-set matrix with all our staff, to see how good the people are: Are they in the right roles and positions? And we found out that the average tenure of our maintenance team is four years, which is a healthy average. The turnover levels are as low as any other company, and any industry standard in the UAE. This gives us a huge advantage because we don’t lose the knowledge of the staff that we have put a lot of effort in training.
“This [JLT] master community has unique features — the lakes, underground services, parking structures and installations within them. Every time there is a change or upgrade in a system — for example we are in the process of changing all the gate barriers in the parking lots to anti-pass back — our staff shadows the vendor and learns from them. Gate barrier maintenance was also taken over in-house two years ago because the team managed to gain superior understanding of the system over time,” Bhatia explains.
He further adds: “We are also in the process of upgrading all security systems and cameras. Again, the approach remains the same: Our staff work with the vendors during the installation stage. Ultimately, that also helps keep our costs down in terms of what the community pays as service charges.”
Bhatia’s modus operandi is encapsulated in the above sentence — keeping costs down for the company, master community and its residents while increasing efficiencies — has been the mantra. “What was happening in the past [before I took over] wasn’t wrong, and it was more of a fresh eye review with my appointment. We focused on building efficiencies. Take a general planned preventive maintenance [PPM] for example: We spend three man hours on doing a specific PPM, which can include up to 15 tasks. Now, it isn’t always necessary to do all the 15 tasks in that PPM, there is always room to push a few of them to the quarterly PPM which does not interfere with the performance of the asset. There is an element of over servicing, which can affect efficiency in the bargain, that’s something we have worked hard on setting in order,” Bhatia explains.
“We also started looking at age of equipment, as a community JLT is 10 years old and some of the installations have been in operation for about 12 years to 13 years. We, hence, decided to stop spending on major repairs and maintenance of certain assets. There’s no point in keeping a pump alive that’s well past its lifespan of nine years. The cost of running a pump, in this case, is quite high year-on-year. Instead, we adopted a run-to-fail strategy, where we only perform minor maintenance and let the equipment run until it fails. We would then replace it immediately, needless to say,” he adds.
From a financial standpoint, Concordia has experienced double digit growth in profits for nearly half-a-decade. Bhatia says: “On an average, in the last four years, the overall profitability has been in the range of 12% to 15%, that’s excluding 2017. These figures are indicative of profitability and not top line. So, it has been positive, predominantly because of JLT.”
Bhatia doesn’t restrict growth opportunities, and describes the approach as “controlled”, he explains the reasoning behind it. “We have looked at growing our business outside JLT, for sure. But we need to go back in time to understand the reason of Concordia’s formation — which was to primarily manage the overall FM for JLT. Over a period of time, after the initial four to five years of its formation, the focus was on JLT because it was still growing, eventually the focus shifted outside. DMCC and the team within Concordia felt, ‘What else can we do?’ the management and operations team were looking for the next challenge.
Bhatia wants to steer the firm clear from becoming just any other FM company operating in Dubai. “Our aim was not to become just any other FM company within the city, but to start targeting certain towers, properties and projects which match the type standards and SLA expectations we have delivered to,” he says.
As a result Concordia now works with Omniyat in Business Bay and a few other developers. “We manage many of it’s [Omniyat’s] towers, as we started building relations with the firm. The business model, hence, was to manage FM where sub-developers or the owners are serious about asset maintenance which results in better return over a period of time,” he says.
In terms of contracts wins, Bhatia gives a quick snapshot of master communities and projects within them. “We recently commissioned a project in Dubai Marina and Dubai International Financial Centre. We do about 12 towers in Business Bay. We keep getting a lot of tender-participation requests for big projects in Bur Dubai, but that’s not our focus at this point. And, we probably wouldn’t be competitive in that arena.
“We are also working to land three other master communities, not to the scale of JLT but it certainly has the potential of becoming the next JLT. We are working closely with Al Seef to win that contract, we have already secured Liberty House, Al Bateen Residence, and through Golden Mile we are getting on to the Palm Jumeirah as well. Omniyat is developing real estate on The Palm, which could interest us as well.
We work with Nakheel’s Masakin Al Furjan community, they have other tenders and are keen for us to participate in them as well. But, at no point we want to spread our resources so thin that it reflects poorly on our service delivery within JLT,” he says.
Bhatia also feels that the landscape of FM delivery has changed over the years, and that is down to the number of FM companies vying for work in the market today. “There used to be a time when works would be tendered, and you could be sure of the kind of service delivery you got from a pool of top 10 FM companies. That is no longer the case, first of all it’s easy to get a license that qualifies a company to be in the FM sector. And secondly, there isn’t a strong set of guidelines governing them,” he opines.
Bhatia says construction companies who do not have any new projects start maintenance companies as they are sitting with a pool of 200 staff to 300 staff on their rosters. “Installation experts are being thrust into the maintenance field, which is a totally different ball game. It’s very difficult to find a fault in a ready facility for someone who is used to building it instead. That leads to deterioration of a facility.”
Lack of funds available to owner’s association don’t help the cause either, as in majority cases the lowest cost service provider is selected, Bhatia says. “We have seen that through project re-wins, where the building management decided to return to Concordia after they found our service charges too high initially. But they ended up spending much more on rectification than the service charge we initially proposed to them.”
Bhatia feels it’s hence pivotal to have a long term outlook for those investing in real estate. “And in bargain, we encourage OAMs to have long-term contracts with FM companies. It has to be three years to five year contracts instead of one year tenures. Companies such as ours, or our peers will invest in bringing in good equipment, the right staff and make the system more efficient.”
He also reveals that the firm works closely with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA), and welcomes the Dubai authority’s imminent rating system for FM companies. On the whole, Bhatia has managed to leave his stamp on the firm’s operations since he joined 15 months ago. Bhatia concludes listing the endless possibilities within JLT with projects such as DMCC’s Uptown Dubai on the rise.