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Alan Thomson

UAE, ABU DHABI - Real Estate & Construction

A Lot Going On Underground

Managing Director, Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC)


Alan Thomson joined ADSSC as Managing Director in 2005, a few months after the company was established. His previous experience includes senior roles at Thames Water, West of Scotland Water, Mouchel Parkman, and RPS, covering the whole water cycle. He has a degree in Civil Engineering and an MBA from Strathclyde Business School. His professional interests include organizational strategy and operational management.

TBY talks to Alan Thomson, Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC), on maintaining a safe and healthy environment for the residents of the Emirate.

ADSSC increased from a 12% Emiratization rate in 2006 to 72% in 2012. How do you manage to attract and keep Emiratis on your staff?

We work closely with other stakeholders in terms of Emiratization. We have a large number of graduates coming into the business, and we try and provide them with the best training possible. Some of them go on to work closely with contractors, meaning that they learn about how the private sector operates as well as how a government business works. We are able to retain them because they enjoy the work, the atmosphere, and the positive aspect of learning and contributing to Abu Dhabi’s society. We have been successful in this regard.

What ongoing projects do you have to prepare for the upcoming population increase?

ADSSC has recently completed four large treatment plants for Abu Dhabi and Al Ain to cater for the increased volumes there. We also have a sewer tunnel project, the Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Program (STEP), which will treble the current capacity of wastewater flows and prepare Abu Dhabi for the next few decades. We are putting in a system that will replace 35 pumping stations with one. It will use gravity to move the wastewater from the city out to our treatment plants, which are located on the mainland. We are constantly looking at providing for the future. To build sewage infrastructure takes several years. You have to plan it well in advance, because as more people come into the area, you have to think about how you plan downstream. New development impacts on the downstream development, meaning you have to allow for downstream flows when you examine upstream development.

What kind of partnerships are you looking for?

We are looking for partnerships where we are all working together as opposed to against each other. We obviously entered into contracts with consultants and contractors to deliver services. We expect high-quality service, but we also look for long-term relationships where we work in harmony with these contractors and consultants. As time goes on, they understand our business better so they can produce a better service for us. A good example is our four operating contracts. When we awarded these contracts, they were awarded for seven-year periods. STEP represents another good example of how we run a long-term project. Our program managers are from US consultancy CH2M Hill, and we have been working in partnership with them since 2008 when we first embarked on STEP—and they will be here until 2016, when we finish. Our working relationship is such that they are in this office, working with our people. This goes back to retaining Emiratis. By working closely with the private sector, we can get people trained to the highest of standards, which helps retain the staff as well.

How do you want to promote yourself within the community?

We want to promote ourselves as an environmentally friendly, sustainable business. In order to achieve our goal of being a world-class provider of services, we need to have that recognition. Only through branding and interaction with our government and citizens will we gain that recognition. Typically, people do not recognize a utility business such as power, water, or sewage until something goes wrong. When it goes wrong, it is a big problem. Fortunately, it doesn’t go wrong very often. To a certain degree, we enjoy being anonymous because we can just get on with our work; however, we do want people to understand what this service is about, and that it does cost money. If you didn’t have water and sanitation, everyone’s health would suffer. Therefore, it is an important service, and one that people should not take for granted. People should recognize that it is expensive to run a sewage or water business, especially in the desert. People should value and respect it, not waste it.



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