t’s not uncommon to hear stories of individuals and companies in Dubai achieving rapid success, given the fast-paced nature of business in a city where anything seems possible. Whether it’s tech start-ups, product suppliers or even homegrown engineering consultancies, entrepreneurs from all over the world have found a place to set up shop in Dubai and flourish. However, achieving success is easier said than done, with the competition and challenges in the market enough to test the resolve of even the most strong-willed of entrepreneurs, especially in the wake of the infamous financial crisis. As challenging as it would be for any new business to survive in those conditions, it is doubly difficult for contractors, who have to deal with pressures from both sides – suppliers and clients – while also juggling project deadlines and deliveries. Therefore, it may come as some surprise to hear of a homegrown contractor that has not only managed to surmount the obstacles before it, but also thrive, having carved out its own niche away from the spotlight. And all this while having been founded in 2008, right before the worst of the crisis hit. This, then, is the story of Airolink, a contracting firm with ambitions to be a leader in Dubai construction, but also one determined to succeed on its own terms and at its own pace. Back in 2001, Dr Anil K Gopinathan Pillai was just another postgraduate looking to establish himself in the world. Having graduated with a 18 February 2018
sensing an opportunity Dr Anil Pillai founded Airolink in Ireland when he sensed an opportunity in the local construction market, during an economic boom.
Master’s of Business Studies in Ireland, he says he felt that the moment was right to set up his own company in the country. “There was a small boom going on at that time, and construction was the biggest industry in Ireland,” he recollects during an interview with Big Project ME at his offices in Business Central Towers in Dubai Internet City. “I didn’t have any connection to construction at the time. In fact, I started my own restaurant as an initial construction package, and that’s where I got the idea. I got a couple of subcontractors involved and that’s when I came to know that there was a huge demand for construction. This was when I thought about choosing that path.” Having received rave reviews for the construction and design of his restaurant, Pillai decided to take the leap into the construction business, starting with a small contract for building cladding.
“I started my own restaurant as an initial construction package, and that’s where I got the idea. I got a couple of subcontractors involved, and that’s when I came to know that there was a huge demand for construction”
“I didn’t even know what cladding was at the time. They told me that it was stone, so I said no problem and started looking at how I could source the stone, then called the exact people and went on from there. I did it as a business – it wasn’t construction. I would call it a construction business. I was just arranging and managing things like how much the fund was and how to best utilise it. That’s what I did. “When I started, that was a small project, but because there was a huge demand for construction in Ireland at the time, suddenly we got a couple of new projects, along with the right resources. That’s the way we started in construction,” he relates. Having begun by employing just two engineers, Pillai says that as demand continued to rise and everything came together, things began to progress rapidly over the course of the next few years – 2003, 2004 and 2005 saw the newly established company take on several important projects. “Ireland was booming – real estate was huge, with the commercial and residential sectors hyped. But suddenly in 2005, we could see and sense that something was wrong. Clients were disappearing and we could see that a problem was coming. “2006 was very bad – whatever clients promised, they couldn’t fulfil, whatever promises were made to our supply chain, it all collapsed. 2006 and 2007 were very difficult. We were dealing with China and Germany, we were taking stones and materials from different parts of Europe and Asia, but it was all collapsing, and we could see it happening.” It was around this time that a friend of Pillai’s recommended that he visit Dubai, given the huge opportunities there at the time. With projects like Dubai Metro and Burj Khalifa under development, the city’s reputation as a hub for