Engineering firm GIBB says it has used its 65 years of heritage to overcome modern challenges, including the disruptive nature of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The loss of lives and destruction of livelihoods associated with the pandemic has been painful to witness. Like everyone else, our business has had to do everything possible to survive the pandemic,” says GIBB CEO Richard Vries.
However, he notes that the challenge is far from over. “The construction industry is currently the worst performing economic sector in South Africa. As a share of nominal gross domestic product, fixed investment has fallen to critically low levels, down to 15%, which is similar to the troughs experienced towards the end of Apartheid and after the emerging market crisis of 1997/98.”
Vries explains that the consulting engineering industry’s market size has shrunk from a peak of R27-billion in 2017, to R10-billion in 2020.
“Our concerns are not only the lost economic opportunities and reduction of inequality in our society that would come from fixed investment, but also the loss of the globally recognised talent pool available in South Africa,” he says.
Rebuilding these aspects of the industry might take many years to do, says Vries.
In this regard, he says GIBB has found ways to enhance its operations, while also creating a better work-life balance for its people, thereby actively transforming the business to take advantage of the opportunities presented by digital evolution.
Despite the various market challenges, Vries says history has shown that the market will improve. “Now in our sixty-fifth year, our company has not only survived six decades of construction and engineering industry boom and bust, but our people have first-hand knowledge of many facets of the industry and the challenges related to developing sustainable infrastructure solutions.”
Reflecting on GIBB’s history, he says he invited one of the founders of the South African chapter of GIBB, David Hill, to join him at the company’s excellence awards celebration in Cape Town in 2014.
“Notwithstanding his frailty due to his advanced age at the time, Hill shared his immense pride in how GIBB had become a leading success in the field of engineering and reminded me that good people build great companies.”
Vries attributes GIBB’s success over the years to its employees’ talent, which was used to carry the GIBB brand as it executed complex engineering projects on the African continent.
“Today, having returned the ownership to South Africans in 2002 and becoming a 100% broad-based employee-owned company in 2006, we still view ourselves as competing with the best in the world,” he says.
GIBB’s journey over 65 years carries with it many stories of success, disappointment, ingenuity, courage, transformation and agility. From its early days as a partnership in Cape Town, providing electrical and structural engineering services, GIBB evolved into a significant multidisciplinary company, offering services across power, transportation, property, water, mining and, more recently, the oil and gas market.
“Through our subsidiaries and affiliates, we now partner with project developers and owners to finance early-stage project development in the water sector, undertake joint development of renewable energy projects and provide lifecycle services,” says Vries.
These include asset management and operations and maintenance of infrastructure projects.
GIBB, has to date, delivered several large and complex infrastructure projects, including the design and construction of a new 500-bed intensive care hospital in 30 weeks early on in the Covid-19 pandemic; being an integral part of the team overseeing the building of the first rapid-rail project in South Africa – the Gautrain; and leading the team designing and delivering the largest pump-storage scheme in the southern hemisphere – power utility Eskom’s Ingula pumped storage scheme.
Also, the firm has led the team designing and delivering a dam to supply the economic hub of South Africa – the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II; been a part of the team planning, designing and delivering a new 68 000-seat 2010 FIFA world cup stadium in record time – Cape Town Stadium; and designed the signalling system to ensure that millions of passengers are safely transported across the country on our rail systems – Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s signalling projects.
“Our ability to develop these projects is enhanced by our integrated approach and the various partnerships we have created over the years. We always seek out partners who share our drive for excellence, be they local or international,” he says.
When GIBB acquired SVA International in 2013, it not only attracted by the architectural aesthetics of SVA’s projects, but it also saw an opportunity to create an integrated professional services offering for the property sector, concludes Vries.