Face to Face: John G Spitz of Hill International

Face to Face: John G Spitz of Hill International
John G Spitz, Hill in ternational's senior VP in Saudi Arabia, training the country's workers project management.
Published: 24 February 2013 - 8:01 a.m.
By: Yamurai Zendera

John G Spitz, Hill International’s senior vice president in Saudi Arabia, talks about the work the firm is undertaking with the government to build knowledge and expertise of project management in the Kingdom. By Yamurai Zendera

Hill International has been established in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia since 2007. In that time it says there has been a positive shift in government attitudes towards project management (PM).

Four or five years ago PM was non-existent in KSA, now clients are seeing the benefits of what project management consultancies (PMCs) bring to a project, says John G Spitz, Hill International’s senior vice president – KSA operations. And he should know, given that Hill currently manages just over $40bn worth of work in Saudi.

It’s clear that Spitz prides himself on the work Hill is doing to further understanding of PMC in KSA. It has established key ties with a number of government ministries such as the Ministry of Interior (MOI), the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) to train local staff and students on PM and also set up robust procedures. It is also working with Aramco Gulf Corporation (AGO) near the Kuwaiti border.

Asked why Hill is making such a concerted effort to train up Saudis, Spitz gives an insight into the philosophy of the firm, which translates not just in Saudi Arabia, but across the entire region. Currently around 15% of its Saudi workforce is local, comfortably above the 11.9% mandated by the Ministry of Labour.

“It’s our responsibility as a company not to go in and do our work and then walk away, and they’re (the Saudis) left with a beautiful job done, but what did they learn? The way I look at it is as training somebody that will take my job at some stage in time."

But Hill has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve: "And what would even be better is that person we train came up through the ranks and was a born and bred educated Saudi Arabian."

“We have huge difficulties in markets where they don’t understand what we do. So when you go in and train people, especially the young ones: the young engineers, the young graduates.

Once they understand what this is all about and they see the benefits of having PMCM (project management/construction management) it opens the doors for us in the future to be able to swiftly, easily and transparently talk.

They will understand what we are talking about rather than hitting a brick wall where no one understands. This is why this is hugely important for us throughout the region, not only here. We do master classes even for senior people.”

Spitz says that when Hill deals with clients it always gives a presentation about what he calls “knowledge transfer” whether or not it is stated in the contract. “We are serious about it, we’re not one that just talks about it; we actually do it.”

With Saudization of jobs a huge issue in the Kingdom right now, it is easy to see why Hill’s approach to training up the indigenous population and setting up government ministries procedures is being met favourably.

Towards the back end of last year, it signed two five-year contracts worth a combined $32m with the MOH for PMCM services on the King Faisal Medical City in Abha, the Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz Medical City in Al Jouf and 10 hospitals with locations throughout the Kingdom.

All of these medical projects are part of the government’s efforts to improve healthcare services for its rapidly growing population, which is expected to rise from the current 26 million to 29 million by 2015.

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