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Africa beckons, as Surbana Jurong eyes 40-60% of revenue from overseas in 3-5 years

"Our priorities will be South-east Asia and China - they are the two bigger markets for us. We will look at other opportunities beyond Asia. Africa is one area that we are quite interested ... " - Teo Eng Cheong (above), chief executive of international operations, Surbana Jurong


SURBANA Jurong Pte Ltd, which secured two major contracts in Africa recently, is drawing up plans for international expansion as it shoots for 40-60 per cent of revenue contribution from overseas markets in the next three to five years.

Sharing that target is Teo Eng Cheong, former CEO of International Enterprise Singapore, who is two months into his new role at Surbana Jurong as chief executive of international operations.

"As a Singapore-based consultancy, our priorities will be South-east Asia and China - they are the two bigger markets for us," he told BT in a recent interview. "We will look at other opportunities beyond Asia. Africa is one area that we are quite interested because of its rapid growth."

The two new contracts in Africa - in Ghana and Gabon - brings Surbana Jurong's total order book in the continent in the last six months to S$30 million.

Mr Teo said these two contracts - both 18 months in duration - are much bigger in scale than earlier contracts garnered in Africa and for the first time, involve the implementation of land management systems.

In Ghana, the contract from a local government agency is the largest master planning contract secured by Surbana Jurong to date, involving conceptual planning of the Northern Savannah Ecological Zone of Ghana and detailed master-planning of Buipe and Tamale Cities. The zone covers 54.4 per cent or 130,262 sq km of the land area of Ghana.

It is also the first time Surbana Jurong is integrating master-planning with the implementation of an online land management and property tax system in Africa.

In Gabon, Surbana Jurong is appointed by the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) as the master-planner for the Greater Libreville region, estimated to be 1,000 sq km or around 1.5 times the size of Singapore.

Banking on its experience in urbanisation and industrialisation with its HDB (Housing & Development Board) and JTC background, Surbana Jurong sees Africa as a land of many opportunities amid strong demand for infrastructure, affordable housing and job creation through industrialisation.

"Our aim is not just to provide a masterplan and go away, but to build cities and shape people's lives in better ways," Mr Teo said.

Such a system of documenting land transactions and ownership of land titles provides the "basic tier" on which subsequent information - such as land conditions and usage, building intensity and plot ratio, as well as traffic conditions - can be included. There will also be training provided to the respective government officials in Singapore to understand policies relating to land management.

So far, Surbana Jurong has undertaken projects in 15 countries in Africa, which accounts for 10 per cent of its overseas revenue. The group derives 20 per cent of revenue from overseas operations; about 500 of over 4,000 staff are involved in overseas projects.

Mr Teo said Surbana Jurong is looking to set up a physical office in Indonesia but no time-frame has been fixed. "South-east Asia is our backyard where we should be addressing opportunities, while Indonesia is a natural extension given its large market. We already have some projects there and if we have an office and a team there, we will be able to look out for more projects," he added.

The group has also identified key higher value-added sectors to focus on, including aviation, airport design, hospitals and complex industrial parks. Meanwhile, the tougher operating environment presents "a good time to consolidate and restructure ourselves so that we can be ready when the growth comes back", Mr Teo said.

To beef up global competitiveness, Mr Teo cited three key areas of focus - having technological advantage, ramping up scale, and exploring new business models.

The group earlier spelt out its goal to double its annual consultancy fees from S$500 million to between S$1 billion and S$1.5 billion within three to five years, mainly through acquisitions.

But transforming the company goes beyond that S$1.5 billion target, Mr Teo said. "More importantly, it is to transform ourselves into a company that is competitive globally that can compete with the best in the field."

To that end, Surbana Jurong wants to leverage technology to be at the leading edge and is studying the use of drones for land survey, sensors for smart city planning, and the BIM (Building Information Management) system for urban planning and design. It is also open to adopting different business models for different markets - for instance, one model for Singapore and a different model for Africa - depending on the needs of each market, Mr Teo said.

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