Olivier Crasson is currently Head of Concessions & PPP – Middle East at BESIX, the large Belgian multi-services group which was established over 100 years ago and is also the General Manager of Ajman Sewerage (Private) Company Limited (ASPCL). Olivier has a degree in Law, a Master in Politics and, also, has an Executive MBA degree from London Business School.
Q. You have been a professional football player, a TV broadcaster and a journalist, and have participated in local elections in Belgium, ventured as an entrepreneur and worked as an executive of a multinational company. How did you come to be General Manager at ASPCL?
A. Our approach has always been consumer led and this is the prime reason why we are successful and are known as leaders in our category within the GCC region. How do we maintain our position? By creating and launching products that are relevant to the current needs of our consumers and the market. This is achieved by regular market research and constant feedback from our consumers. I firmly believe that there has to be a two way communication for any brand to be successful, the more you listen the better you are able to understand the situation / requirements and you can plan accordingly.
Our extensive research and development facility also helps ensure that we keep ahead of the curve in terms of product development and bring to market products that are new, yet relevant.
Q. You have been associated with a world class sewage collection and treatment plant – can you tell us how the plant works?
A. As you say, this is a collection system and treatment plant which means that we are in charge of the entire process, starting at the boundary of the houses, where our manholes have been installed, and ending with a pipeline providing the Government of Ajman with treated water. To get there, the water is pumped throughout the city and reaches our treatment units where it follows 3 different treatment steps: an anaerobic stage, an aerobic stage and a set of filters. Furthermore, the water is disinfected with chlorine before being used for irrigation and construction purposes.
Q. What was the biggest challenge that you faced in getting property owners connected with the system?
A. The biggest challenge was to incentivize the owners of old houses to connect to the system. While we had no difficulty to encourage large building owners to connect their properties, some people did not even need their septic tank to be emptied because of leaks. They clearly did not see the benefit and they had to start paying service charges – hence, the need for marketing and awareness campaigns. Believe me, marketing sewerage services is not easy but is a very rich experience!
Q. How is your role changing now that you are also Head of Concessions & PPP at BESIX?
A. My role is now more focused on strategy and development, rather than purely managing operations. Of course I will always be at the service of our partnership with the Government of Ajman but my involvement in Ajman Sewerage Company will be limited to Board decisions and the day-to-day management is left to the Deputy General Manager, Peter Lembrechts. Most of my time is now focused on new PPP initiatives in the region and their integration in our portfolio. Of course, this is heavily construction related (water and wastewater infrastructure, roads, etc.) but I am also keen to add other dimensions to our presence here. The best example is BESIX Park, our new venture focusing on car park construction but also parking consultancy, management systems, operations and maintenance. A first BOT car park would be a very interesting development for us in the region.
But you also need to grab opportunities when they arise: our most recent PPP, Safi, in Ajman, is again a “Premiere” in the Middle East: we have set up a Company with His Highness Sheikh Rashid to commercialise treated effluents produced by ASPCL. We strongly believe in water reuse as a sustainable business and hence jumped on the opportunity.
Q. Given your very varied past, do you have any message for the youth of today?
A. My first message would go to the Young Emiratis that are very lucky to live in the UAE. This place is a very stimulating environment for all types of businesses. Entrepreneurship is encouraged here but I would advise young Emiratis to set up businesses with a long term view rather than go for a short term profit. By the way, I have never seen such smart traders in my life. My second message would be more general. I would advise the youth to learn other languages, to travel as much as they can to understand and see the world. You can achieve so much with an open mind…
Q. Have you yet achieved all you wished to – where do you see yourself in future?
A. Of course not. There are so many things to do that I can’t see myself answering yes to that question one day. I see myself in the future developing sustainable business initiatives, most probably with a “green” touch. More importantly, I wish I can help my children develop sufficient skills to have a happy life in tomorrow’s tough world. Since family is of fundamental importance to me, I wish we can grow together and keep these bonds.
Q. Can you please tell us something about yourself and your family and how you have managed to juggle such a full life?
A. My wife and our two children have always been a source of energy and inspiration. Since I am (almost) always working, my best holiday memories are definitely when I can just go home and spend time with my family. If I had to summarise how I have done it so far, I would say that I have been running a marathon while juggling … and smiling at the same time!