He knows the recipe for success. In conversation with Kamal Farah, CEO of Abanos Interior Fit-Out & Joinery on how Abanos has been part of the ever-evolving UAE design industry for the past three decades and aims to be a part of it in the future as well

By Roma Arora

He’s constantly challenging himself. Challenges that come with working in the field of construction and design, to create and innovate, to constantly motivate your team so that they are able to reach and achieve their true potentials. And, finally, the challenge to be able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to deliver a superior end product to the client. Meet, Kamal Farah, CEO of Abanos Interior Fit-Out & Joinery, whose powerful vision has taken Abanos to another level of success. After completing Masters’ in Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol, UK, Farah worked as an on-site project engineer with Mowlem, before returning to the UAE. He then developed experience in on-site civil engineering, project engineering, in addition to working in the contractual, tendering, and plant departments with Engineering Contracting Company Group (ECC Group).

Currently, Farah is also the board member of the ECC Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the performance of various divisions of ECC Group. Farah changed the business model of Abanos, which was established in 1985, focussed on joinery and evolved to include interior fit-out in the early 2000’s foreseeing the existing gap in the local market. Farah shares: “Another reason for this evolution was to give our clients a holistic service and merge together the counterparts of joinery and fit-out. For an end user, it is extremely helpful to have the same contractor for both services as everything is achieved seamlessly, which is our vision.”

Farah aimed for a continuous and organic growth and his plan worked well in favour of the organisation. “Our team has expanded steadily and organically, now operating in the UAE and GCC markets, employing over 1,200 dedicated, highly skilled professionals– all hand-selected from various parts of the world, becoming one of the largest and most reliable holistic interior fit-out and joinery companies in the UAE.” Abanos’ diversified experience and portfolio include some of the most well-known projects and landmarks in the UAE such as Old Souk Dubai, At.mosphere Restaurant in Burj Khalifa, Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi, and Zayed University to name a few.

For a creative person like Farah, it’s very important to take on difficult tasks and work on their solutions. One such extremely challenging and fulfilling project was the Dubai Design District (d3) for him. Farah recalls: “I must say d3 was an incredibly challenging and inventive project. We had to create large-scale seating areas that were extremely innovative and aesthetically striking in a short time frame from an artist’s sketch without clear dimensions or 3D modelling. We began fabricating and modifying the structure millimetre by millimetre in our manufacturing facility to be able to deliver the initial design requested by the client.”

Abanos’ 33 years of journey includes a diversified clientele portfolio of governmental, semi-governmental entities, and private entities. Key clients include Dubai Municipality, RTA, Emaar, Dubai Properties, Tamdeen, Arabtec, CCC, ASGC, ECC, Shapoorji Pallonji, and Al Wasl among others. Farah discusses: “We believe that all our clients are our strategic partners, with whom we work hard to develop a fruitful, sustainable, and long-term relationship, with one objective in mind, to establish a mutual trust. Operating for over three decades now, we have grown in size and manpower, gaining a lot of experience and market knowledge in this industry. We constantly try to stay ahead of the curve by upgrading our technologies and systems and pride ourselves to be at the forefront of implementation of the best technologies.”

d3 project by Abanos

Abanos has heavily invested in technology enhancement and upgrades to ensure delivery of high-quality projects. Farah clearly believes that technology and innovation is a major part of the design. He shares: “We have invested 7.5% of our annual revenue to upgrade our machinery and technologies in 2017. We strongly believe that this investment in technology enhancements and upgrades ensure high-quality delivery for our projects, as we strive to provide uniquely designed, innovative offerings to cater to the needs of all our clients. Furthermore, Abanos’ continual re-investment into the company allows us to maintain best practices in order to stay at the forefront with respect to Sustainability and FSC certification, whilst also being a “smart” company.”

Abanos operates a 21,000sqm facility in Dubai Investment Park, with state-of-the-art machinery for wood cutting, moulding, carving, veneering, laminating and painting, capable of meeting the ambitious requirements of clients across a diverse range of sectors. With a manufacturing facility of 15,000sqm and warehousing facilities of 9,000sqm coupled with an investment in modern machinery, the company has the capacity to handle various large projects simultaneously and is capable of meeting international standards of quality and lead times. The idea is to offer the best to the clients. Farah elaborates: “At Abanos, we are constantly trying to upgrade our systems, softwares and technologies used at the factory by implementing international standards and practices and are currently expanding our 21,000sqm facilities, furthermore, in the Dubai Industrial City Area. Our team is always on the look-out for the latest trends and international standards practiced across the world, to provide the best offerings to our partners.” Abanos had also implemented the acoustic perforated panel, a sound absorbing technology, on key projects in the UAE that includes Zayed University, Green Wood International School, Etisalat University, and most recently Abu Dhabi airport to name a few. For Farah, designing a space is a well-thought process, which needs to be sustainable in all respects.

“When I think about space, I always consider three elements—comfortability, efficiency, and sustainability. The importance of architecture as a trigger to physical, physiological, and psychological well-being is nowadays becoming a topic of significant relevance. The space has to be designed efficiently along with being sustainable,” adds Farah. Sustainability is a key virtue practiced at Abanos through green credentials, specialisation, and engaging a holistic approach towards the projects. Farah is a great supporter of sustainability. He says: “When designing a space, we always consider factors such as light penetration, heat absorption, how the object interacts with the environment, monitoring the usage of electricity, efficiently, and effectively as well as introducing greenery to the surrounding Abanos has adopted an aggressive sustainability method and has become a pioneer in applying the certified Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in the UAE. Along with recycling of wastage, from the source of the tree to the production process, for every tree cut, they are certified that they can plant two more. Farah leads a team of over 1200 employees and inspires them to move in the right direction. Farah says: “I have always been very fortunate to be surrounded by inspirational people. I am constantly motivated by leaders and visionaries around the world about the importance of teamwork, respect, honesty, hard work, and education. I am also very fortunate to be working with a team of people who resonate and share the same values.

It is through this mutual respect and honesty that Abanos has grown, by embracing the philosophy of inclusion, teamwork, transparency, and communication between all the team members.” Farah is a people’s person and believes that good leadership is not doing one thing right, but doing multiple things right. Farah explains: “You need to love and be passionate about what you do to be able to direct, motivate, and guide your team to reach the desired end goal. Strong communication, transparency, and respect are a few principles that I practice every day with my team. The best leaders lead their team by example and that’s what I practice every day at Abanos.” The interior fit-out is one of the major markets of design and it’s constantly evolving and ever-growing with it being expected to be worth $9bn in 2018. The surge in construction for the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, has in turn expanded the fit-out market with multiple projects being developed for the Expo, one of which is commissioned to Abanos, the Dubai Expo Village.

Abanos is working on ambitious Dubai Expo Village project

“Our current ongoing project, the Expo Village project is a landmark in the history of Abanos, using state-of-the-art joinery and fitout products manufactured at Abanos’ facility to supply and install non fire-rated and fire-rated doors, kitchen cabinets, and wardrobes for the Expo 2020 Village project. The project built up area is 48,488sqm with a contract value of $13.4mn for carpentry and joinery works, spread across 11 plots, five parcels, three of which have been commissioned to Abanos.” Farah feels that the integration of technology with fit-out is imminent to provide the user with a well-connected and functional space. He goes on: “Organic workspaces will also be more popular and common, with trees and living walls being incorporated into the workspace. Dynamic spaces, that enable the walls, furniture, cubicles to be modular and movable is another trend I envision that will gain popularity.”

“Our extensive years of experience, knowledge of the market, enable us to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with the upcoming trends in the region,” signs off Farah.”