- Manickam Asaithambi, Managing Director, L&W Construction Pvt Ltd
A subsidiary of Lee Kim Tah - Woh Hup Pte Ltd from Singapore, L&W Construction commenced operations in India in 2006. ´We spent the first three years understanding the market,´ says Manickam Asaithambi, Managing Director. Having started with project management and construction activities, the company has taken on building contracting works for projects in Chennai, Bengaluru, Pune, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Mumbai and Madurai. Asaithambi shares the company´s 10-year journey in India and more, in conversation with SERAPHINA D´SOUZA.
Tell us about the work you have done. At what stage of a project do you step in? We start from the concept design stage of a project. Design is our main focus. The Indian construction industry needs someone who can provide complete solutions, which is what we do, and we take accountability for what we are a part of. We directly build for corporates and have worked on Design and Build (D&B) and General Contract models with them. We have worked with Ascendas, Qualcomm and with MapleTree from Singapore. We are also working with RMZ and we have recently secured projects from Capgemini and Honeywell. We have more corporate clients and developments with D&B requirements in the pipeline.
The company is in the process of establishing a subsidiary to carry out property development projects....
Yes. We started this initiative in 2013 when we invested Rs 100 crore in a 25-acre plot in Bengaluru. Besides, our parent company Lee Kim Tah Pte Ltd from Singapore has invested in a 104 acre price of land in Chennai. In India we have largely been involved in building contracting works for commercial buildings. However, in Singapore, we are experts in home building, which we are doing in a much smaller scale in India. With these developments and future investments in the pipeline, we are looking to expand it further. We expect this vertical to contribute about 20 per cent of our business in India. Our Bengaluru development project is currently in the master-planning stage. We expect the necessary approvals to be in place by mid-next year and launch it end of next year.
What is the emphasis laid on engineering design in the projects you execute?
Engineering is our main focus. When we design a project, we ensure the build-ability of the design to make it better in terms of constructability, which enables faster and more efficient construction. Moreover, we work with many international consultants to bring in their expertise and also to make them aware of what we do.
What kind of technologies do you bring to India from international practices?
Constructability! Anyone can build, but how we build is what matters. As we are currently doing more projects in the commercial, hospitality and industrial sectors, we use a flat-slab system with table form work. We use different kinds of formwork like jump form, table form, aluminium form work among others which are better and faster than conventional methods. In one of our projects, we used pre-cast technology along with structural steel composite construction for faster delivery.
The technologies and materials are available in India.
How we design our system to suit the requirement is what matters. We believe our uniqueness lies in how we use the resources differently from others - with innovation in design and system methodology.
Also, drawing from our Singapore experience, we do not compromise on the construction equipment required for our projects. For example, if the cranes we require for our projects are not available, we transfer them from our Singapore sites through our existing partners. This helps increase our efficiency thereby helping up meet the time, cost and safety requirements.
Of the total project cost, what are the major investment areas for the company?
Our major investment is basically in construction equipment, especially formwork. We have our equipment bank that allows us to construct better and faster. If required, we work with our partners on the buy and sell back model. So far, we have invested over Rs. 100 Crores on equipment.
So what is the purchase or procurement decision-making process for your projects?
We have three categories of materials for procurement. The first is materials of Type A, for which we have suppliers and subcontractors who are provided with yearly forecast orders, which are regularized with monthly demands. The second category (Type C) are the consumables needed for a project, materials such as scaffolds, plywood, etc which are required on an intermittent basis. In this category, we follow a simple strategy of selecting the right supplier and giving them long-term contractors so that they supply the material when required. The third category (Type B) consists of major specialist subcontracts that go up to Rs. 20 - 30 Crores. For such contracts, we do due diligence and decide the partners or subcontractors, for which we have procurement specialists in house.
What kind of materials do you use to build?
Most of the materials we use to build are available in India. There is a myth that importing construction materials is expensive. In fact, it is cost-effective. We import formwork, waterproofing, materials for interior finishes for better quality and cost-effectiveness.
In India, a lot of timber is used in most projects, which ends up as wastage at the end. We have eliminated 95% timber in our projects and we use more steel sections, despite the difficulties in resourcing the same. We also use fly ash and GGBS in concrete, which is makes it eco-friendly. Eco-friendly concrete is not well accepted in India, but we use it in the maximum possible way in our works - around 40-50%. Further, all our projects are green buildings and almost all of them are either LEED Gold or Platinum rated.
The company is known to have an efficient methodology for EPC-sequenced activities that are planned with logistical support....
We do the initial planning before designing. We understand the concept of what the customer wants and we design for that taking into consideration the build-ability, methodology to adopt and the safety measures required on site. This is the EPC advantage, the opportunity to set things right in the design stage itself, so that when the design is complete, the methodology and materials are available. After that, all we need to do is adopt and follow. Site decisions, many a times, take longer. We predict this early in our projects, which increases our efficiency. Also, our partners -û fatade and M&E contractors - are chosen and are on board at an early stage of the project. The collaboration with them at an early stage minimizes errors. The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) helps us detect errors early and once the design package is issued, the construction becomes completely error-free.
What is the importance given to safety and labour training?
Safety is our first priority. Without completing the safety induction, passing the medical screening and other formalities, no one is allowed on site. We equip ourselves well by having a fully equipped store at site. We have internal labour training, which we find to be more effective. As we are growing, we have an understanding with CID and BCA in Singapore for enhanced training. We send our employees to Singapore for two to three week courses to get exposure and training. We aim to have 100% skill-trained staff by 2017.
Tell us about your landmark projects.
A high-end residential property we developed and delivered in Bengaluru, for which we did the interior fittings, furniture, etc, was a fist of a kind for us. Then, we completed the infrastructure development for a 400-acre township in Chennai, which was also a first. We have delivered an IT space in 18 months, which usually takes about 20-24 months and also an 80,000 sqft factory in Chennai in just seven months.
What challenges do you face in India?
The main challenge we face is that the construction industry is seen as an unorganized industry. If we start calling it organized, things will start falling in place. It is an everyday challenge, mainly because not everyone adheres to rules. Policies are in place but implementation is interpreted differently. We overcome challenges by looking at solutions and not the problem.
How did the company perform last fiscal?
Last year, our turnover was about Rs 700 crore. Currently, our order book is about Rs 1,600 crore. Besides, we have also started a subsidiary for our interior business. We aim to get our turnover to over Rs 1,000 crore by 2017. As our business grows, there are a lot of opportunities coming up in other segments. We are hoping to see good prospects over the year.
Year of Establishment: 2006
Top Management: Asaithambi Manickam, Managing Director; Edmund Cheah, Director; Kim Yong, Chairman -India Operations
Areas of operation: Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Madurai
No of Employees: Over 650
Centre of Operation: Bengaluru
Ongoing projects: 14
Upcoming Projects: 15
Completed Projects: 13