[Q&A] Backstage with Unibeton CEO Robin Jones
With more than 30 years’ experience as an international construction professional, Unibeton Ready Mix’s Director of Strategic Business Development and Marketing, Robin Jones is well aware of what it takes to stay ahead of the industry curve.
Now, having been with leading Middle East ready mix concrete company, Unibeton for more than five years, Jones outlines the philosophies and tactical decisions being made behind the scenes that have led business to becoming one of the most innovative sector players, not just in the region, but on an worldwide scale.
Business Review Europe & Middle East (BREME): What typical day-to-day activities does your role consist of?
Robin Jones (RJ): As part of Unibeton Central HQ Team, we assist as an “outsource team” for the country locations with strategic BD & Marketing activities to enhance their “in-house” source based teams. Performance & corporate governance monitoring are completed to make sure we have a homogenous balance throughout the company. In addition, we assist with specific project procurement & strategic negotiations as required by the country.
BREME: How do you feel the company has progressed under your guidance and what achievements are you most proud of?
RJ: The UB objective of international growth was a bold and aggressive one since the recession in 2007 / 2008. The owners had a clear vision of where the company needed to be positioned within the GCC region and with our core teams of diverse professionals we are now very well placed within the region in Saudi Arabia and Qatar along with our home base of the UAE.
This has been a fast track expansion, but with our many local & international business partners and experienced track record we were more than able to overcome the risks & progress to a state of success as we realise now.
BREME: What is your approach to the development of skills and personnel within both the Group, and the region as a whole via various CSR initiatives?
RJ: Over the years, Unibeton has been involved in many CSR activities. We are continuously looking into new initiatives that fall within our CSR objectives for all of our operational locations and the specific market perceptions that are apparent at the time.
The group as a whole has an ongoing, diverse set of CSR activities that cover all aspects of our business units which encompasses our clients, customers, employees, community and the ever increasing environmental awareness that is now apparent.
Unibeton with its core business of producing RMC products believe we are at the forefront of the environmental awareness throughout our operational life cycle, hence the international accolades which have be bestowed on us through the years.
BREME: What roles do you have outside of Unibeton, within the industry? Eg. A member of any associations or consultancies?
RJ: Over my career I have been active within the “built environment” fields, within Project Management & Construction Associations, management of sporting, & leisure clubs and I have benefited greatly from long-term charity work, whereby a motto to keep in mind is “give something back”.
BREME: What are the specific trends and challenges that you are noticing within the industry at present?
RJ: Since the recessional influences to the entire construction industry, price of construction commodities has become prescriptive which can and has had a detrimental effect on quality of product and the allied services surrounding it.
However, Unibeton has, since its commencement in the early eighty’s, invested substantial time and cost in “innovative technologies” thus providing solutions to the field of ready mix concrete.
This has been of great advantage and an integral part of our continued success and more importantly our international growth. This has alerted our clients to not just sit back and decide on the cheapest price but even in the aftermath of the recession have continued to request a complete solution encompassing all facets of what a RMC supplier can provide.
BREME: How are you guiding Unibeton to adapt and react to these challenges and trends?
RJ: Unibeton has a very integrated ethos within its management and operational teams. This allows us to overcome the industry problems and differing market forces that challenge us.
We have seasoned professionals in all facets our business who understand the complexities of the RMC industry and more importantly adapt to the constant changes that occur.
We are a leader in “innovative technology” and this brings with it the need for a “learning curve strategy” to educate clients, consultants and contractors and public sector bodies alike of these technologies that will benefit the industry. With this initiative breeds integrity and commitment which in turn leads to long term relationships and strategic alliances for guaranteed ongoing workload.
BREME: How you think the industry needs to change or improve in the future, and how do you anticipate these issues unfolding in the years to come?
RJ: As the concrete portion of any construction project is a costly one, the industry needs to adapt and find ways to provide economic RMC solutions to their projects.
The challenges of environmental impacts are now becoming extremely important and regulations are tougher, so the industry needs to change with it
Concrete manufacture was in the past viewed a dirty and dusty industry but nowadays it’s a necessity and in some instances a complex science. This requires a high level of expertise of which Unibeton has many.
The industry requires new, innovative products and uses; projects requiring environmentally and carbon free concrete with ever increasing durability, workability and strength requirements. This will change the RMC industry into a creative mode to meet the challenges. Unibeton is already well established on this path, and will always be looking ahead.
Below: Robin Jones
5 Minutes With PwC's Amanda Line on Digital Leadership
1. Define digital leadership, and what it means to be a digital leader?
Leadership has always required a specialised set of skills, such as curiosity, empathy, and decisive action. In today’s world, there is an urgent need for a new type of leader – one who has a digital mindset and has the skills to drive transformation. With the ever-expanding spectrum of new technologies, we need a new wave of digital leaders who not only understand the application of intelligent technologies in the workplace, but also know how to enable and empower their teams - and that comes from frequent upskilling. Digital leaders are represented across numerous sectors and industries, with a common goal to drive a culture of innovation and transformation.
2. What do you believe are the essential traits of a digital leader?
Knowledge of digital and data literacy is a given essential to have a strong command of the future economy. In my opinion, what’s even more important are human-centric skills. It is the soft skills such as communication, resilience, emotional intelligence, and entrepreneurial thinking that are pivotal in this new-age digital world.
Despite the demand for future skillsets, we’re currently facing the biggest skills shortage of our lifetime. PwC’s Middle East CEO survey highlighted that 80% of CEOs believe that a shortage of skills in the workforce is one of the key threats to their organisation’s growth prospects.
Part of our drive at PwC’s Academy Middle East in leading the upskilling revolution in the region is to facilitate lasting change. We deliver innovative and practical training, that includes both digital and soft skills components, for individuals and organisations across industries to create a truly future-ready workforce in the Middle East.
3. How have these traits changed since the outbreak of COVID-19, or have they remained the same but their significance has grown?
Prior to the pandemic, the World Economic Forum set an ambitious target to upskill one billion people by 2030. This was initiated to tackle the 75 million jobs expected to be displaced by automation and AI by 2022. Since Covid-19, the window of opportunity to reskill has become shorter in the newly constrained labour market.
The way we live, work and learn has changed drastically, placing digital technologies at the forefront. The pace of change has accelerated the need for upskilling and reskilling. In many organisations and economies, this crisis has highlighted the discrepancy between the skills people have and those needed for jobs in the digital world.
4. What was the role of a digital leader when the initial outbreak happened?
The need for digital leadership was brought to the forefront by the pandemic. With the huge transition to work from home (WFH), strong leadership has helped guide and steady employees, and ensure continued productivity. Leaders who understand the application of technologies in the workplace have been able to create new drivers for success, including streamlining operational systems, mindful connection of their employees and improved agility in the workplace.
5. How has that role evolved and what are the next steps for digital leaders going forward in 2021 and beyond?
Eighty-four percent of employers are set to rapidly digitalise working processes, including a significant expansion of remote work—with the potential to move 44% of their workforce to operate remotely. This is a very significant change towards a digital future. Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and having digital skills is no longer a ‘good to have’, it is critical to business success. Leaders and employees alike must adapt to a cycle of constant learning and upskilling to remain competitive.
6. How do these roles mentioned compare to pre-COVID?
Digital leaders were in demand before the pandemic, but now there is an additional urgency for a pipeline of talent with the skills to implement new technologies in the workplace. In order to create sustainable success, digital technologies must be adopted as a core business strategy – and upskilling is key. In 2020, PwC’s Academy introduced a number of qualifications in the region to support training for the digital economy, including the region’s first qualification for AI, the Certified Artificial Intelligence Practitioner (CAIP).
7. Whilst the initial strategy for digital leaders was to survive the outbreak, what is the strategy for digital leaders as they look to thrive going forward?
We will see more sophisticated technologies being integrated into the workplace, driven by digital leaders. To support these transformations, we will need to close the existing skills gap, and ensure that younger generations are prepared for the future workplace.
Young professionals will need huge investment in education and skills development. This requires a collaborative effort from governments, private organisations and education providers. In the Middle East for example, PwC’s Academy is working with the regional governments to upskill the national talent for future leadership roles. We also work with the private and public sector for upskilling solutions in finance, tax, HR, marketing, leadership and management, graduate development, digital transformation to name a few. It is this multi
faceted approach to upskilling that will help our region to thrive.