BEIRUT: Like many Lebanese contractors, Frederick Mansour saw opportunity in the post-Saddam Iraqi market and jumped at it. However, his company’s first attempt to venture into military contracting failed.
Home-Tech’s short-lived experience in Iraq ended in drama in 2004. The company’s envoy to the troubled country was abducted and had to live through the decapitation of a fellow hostage before lengthy negotiations led to his release. The incident left the traumatized employee in need of therapy for over a year.
Yet, Home-Tech General Manager Mansour didn’t despair and his efforts were later crowned with success.
Today, Home-Tech is invested in more than five countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Abu Dhabi and Lebanon.
The firm, which started in 1997 as a public sector contractor, made its debut in military contracting following the 2006 war when it reallocated its resources to the construction and renovation of military camps.
Mansour, who holds dual Lebanese and French citizenship, said Home-Tech was awarded its first contract by the French battalion of UNIFIL.
“Home-Tech secured its first contract through a contact at the French Embassy ... then contracts with the UNIFIL Italian and Spanish battalions followed,” Mansour adds.
The shift from public sector to military contracting has both advantages and drawbacks.
Higher profit margins top the list of benefits, according to Mansour.
While profit margins range between 15 to 20 percent for public sector projects, they could reach between up to 50 percent for military camp construction projects in south Lebanon and up to 300 percent in countries such as Afghanistan.
However, higher profits come at a hefty price, Mansour adds.
Contractors have to adhere to tight delivery deadlines and endure life-threatening work conditions.
“We used to give our Afghani driver a certain destination before our departure and change it as soon as we got in the car,” Mansour recalls.
In Lebanon where security threats were marginal, Mansour highlights other difficulties that faced Home-Tech following the war. Those included a shortage in the local labor force and the lack of road infrastructure.
Under those circumstances, Home-Tech had to complete the construction of military camps under very tight deadlines to accommodate the increase in the numbers of UNIFIL troops.
“Sometimes, we had to walk through the bushes because bridges had been bombed ... we also had difficulties finding labor because people were busy in the construction of their demolished homes,” Mansour says.
Home-Tech was involved in the construction and renovation of nearly 30 UNIFIL military camps across south Lebanon, each comprising between 100 and 900 personnel.
The company, which has offices in Dubai, currently employs nearly 110 individuals between full- and part-time employees in Lebanon and abroad.
Over the past six years, Home-Tech expanded its operations to Afghanistan, where it is currently developing a $16 million project for NATO forces
“A retired UNIFIL army engineer put a good word for Home-Tech after witnessing the company’s professional success in south Lebanon, which helped us expand to Afghanistan,” Mansour says.
“Investments and projects abroad are at least 10 times bigger when compared to Lebanon,” Mansour adds, highlighting that the firm’s main competitors in the business are Lebanese.
Home-Tech is also considering expanding its services to provide food and beverages to military personnel as well as offering cleaning and daily maintenance services.