Business View Caribbean interviews Anthony Le Blanc, Director of ACE Engineering Ltd, as part of Best practices in Dominica Business.
ACE Engineering Ltd. is a private, limited liability company incorporated in Dominica in 1997 by three engineers who worked at DOWASCO, the local water and sewage company. “We were all providing engineering consultancy to the private sector,” says Anthony Le Blanc, one of the original, shareholding partners and one of the company’s current Directors. “We decided to consolidate our activities and form a company. In 1998, we all moved from the water company and two of us started working in a modest home office in Trafalgar, and in 1999, we got involved in construction because some of our clients wanted us to do design and build, but that was our strategy, anyway.”
“In 2000, we decided to relocate to Roseau, the capital, in order to be a major construction subcontractor of SERT, a French company contracted for one lot of the Roseau Water and Sanitation Project,” Le Blanc continues. The Roseau Water and Sanitation Project, which was conceptualized in the early 1990s but only completed in 2003, included the study, design, and construction of sanitation systems to improve sewerage collection and disposal systems in Roseau. In that project, ACE Engineering Ltd undertook about one third of the total water and sewer works of the main on-shore, pipeline contract valued at $16 million.
“In 2004, having decided that we wanted to separate the consultancy and construction arms of the business, we decided to sell the consultancy arm to a local company, SORREL Consultancy Ltd., which one of our shareholders was also a shareholder of,” explains Le Blanc. “So, we kept the construction arm and developed it into what we are, today. We concentrate mostly on civil works – infrastructure types – roads, retaining walls, utility infrastructure (water supply, underground utilities), as well as housing and commercial real estate development.”
Among the many recently completed projects of ACE Engineering Ltd. are:
- West Coast Water Supply
- Cyr Resource Centre
- Roseau Cathedral – Erection of Steel Framing System
- Ross University School of Medicine Entrance Road and Guard House
- Petite Coulibri Resorts
- Point Michele Sea Wall
- Morne Bruce Water Storage Tanks
- Melville Hall Drainage and Lighting
- Petro Caribe Jimmit Fuel Storage Facility
- Infrastructure for a few housing developments around the island
Typical ACE Engineering Ltd. clients are utilities and public sector projects that are financed externally through institutions such as the World Bank, the European Union, and the Caribbean Development Bank. “Our niche is civil works,” says Le Blanc, noting that the company also works for local housing and hotel developers. “We are contracted directly, or where it is a better strategy, we engage other larger or smaller players as joint venture partners, or subcontractors, or we become subcontractors, ourselves.”
Over the last several years, ACE Engineering Ltd.’s workforce has fluctuated with the local economy and the ups and downs of the construction sector. At one time or another it had anywhere from approximately 40 to 120 employees. “In 2012, we had more than 120,” Le Blanc remembers. “2014-16 were our leanest years; we had just about 43 employees at the end of 2016.”
When asked what differentiates his company from the competition, Le Blanc points to its mission statement: “To satisfy our clients’ requirements by providing good quality and timely services in a financially viable manner, while maintaining a good and safe environment where people can showcase their talents.”
“Our strategy is led by our mission,” he continues. “Satisfying our customers so the net effect is a customer who wants us back; providing the required quality always and within the time allocated; being efficient, so we can justify and maintain our pricing with a reasonable profit; running a tight ship, financially, so our bankers have no issue in providing finance; and treating our employees well and getting them to have a vested interest in our mission.”
The company also continues to innovate and look for more efficient ways of doing things. “Even after we have priced a job, we continue to research and consider different approaches in order to improve efficiency and safety. We will invest in new, more efficient equipment whenever it is the best strategy.”
Le Blanc adds that staying solvent means staying on top of the nuts and bolts of the construction business. “Construction is entwined in laws, rules, and formalities,” he says. “You have to understand the various technical, regulatory, and legal requirements of the business in order to obtain the best value in each undertaking and to stay in business.”
Over the next several years, Le Blanc says that ACE Engineering Ltd.’s agenda includes renewing its equipment fleet, and planning for its succession. “Making sure that when I move on, and the other shareholders move on, that there are people who can continue to provide services and keep the mission alive,” he relates.
In addition, Le Blanc says that ACE Engineering will continue its fight for a more open and transparent public procurement system in Dominica. “We have found that the market for locally-financed work is not as open and transparent as it ought to be,” he claims. “That has affected how we do business. It’s made it even more difficult to get work from the government, directly. As a company, we have spent much human and financial resources aimed at fixing that, so that we have an opportunity to get a share of the market and the taxpayers get value for their money.”
Nonetheless, Le Blanc stresses that ACE Engineering Ltd will continue to ply its trade strictly in the country where it all began. “The directors took the strategic decision not to island hop for work; to limit company growth in order that we have a reasonable life with our families,” he says. “The same for our employees. Quite often, people see business as the only important thing. Happiness for us is being the best at what you do where you are and allowing others to do the same. We have evolved over the last 20 years to being a significant economic player in Dominica. We have imprinted our mark on construction in many ways. We have touched the lives of many persons, mostly rather inconspicuously – but profoundly. We would want to continue to do so for years to come.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: ACE Engineering Ltd.
WHAT: A construction company concentrating on civil works projects
WHERE: Roseau, Dominica
E.H. Charles & Co. Ltd. – Established in 1967, E.H. Charles & Co. Ltd. manufactures housing components, including timber doors, windows, and millwork. In 1981, the company began supplying builders’ hardware and building materials. The company is also the agent in Dominica for True Value Hardware, the Makita Corporation, and Berger Paints. – www.ehcharlescoltd.com