Shifting sands: The lowdown on the Middle East’s PPP emigres

Led by Saudi Arabia’s mass-scale PPP drive, the region has begun to attract a swathe of European talent to its shores

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The market for PPPs across the Gulf region has never been greater. Activity is dwindling in many parts of Europe - and particularly in the UK, where a decade of relative inactivity has left the country that pioneered much of the early PPP contracts with plenty of experts but few deals to work on.

As a result, there is a growing trend for experts to move to the Middle East, where their skills, expertise and experience are in high demand.

For example, a rebound in oil prices has helped the Saudi Arabia - world’s biggest oil exporter - to push ahead with giga projects valued at $1.25trn, including its $500bn smart city, Neom ­– much of which is planned to be delivered through PPPs. 

Here's our roll-call of just some of the recent arrivals in the Middle East:


The former Lisbon-based deputy head of KPMG Impact, Fernando Fario, moved onsite to Riyadh in August this year to head up KPMG Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure financing, infrastructure and real assets team.

Fario has spent his career advising public and private sector clients on major infrastructure projects across the transportation, energy, water and social infrastructure sectors.

The firm has also promoted several of its local practitioners in its advisory business over recent months, as it looks to significantly bolster its presence in the region.


Chief executive Graham Thomson relocated from the UK to Saudi Arabia in September to launch the firm’s new office in the Middle East.

The company, which provides intelligent document software to help organisations manage complex contracts such as PPPs, has established Affinitext Arabia for Legal Technology.

Based in Riyadh, the new entity will “work with existing and new customers in the successful delivery of the visionary developments in the region,” the firm said.

The move may suggest a growing maturity in the Middle East market, as public authorities look for more intelligent ways to manage their PPP documentation.


Belgian construction firm Besix moved a team onsite to Saudi Arabia’s Oxagon City in August this year to support its work on the design and build of more than three kilometres of quay walls at the Port of Neom.

The company won a contract to work on the UAE’s first schools PPP in 2022.

Earlier this year, the firm’s head of bids and assets, Nicolaas de Koning - who has himself moved to Dubai to head up Besix’s work in the region - suggested PPPs would be the key driver of growth for the company across the Middle East.


US engineering firm Bechtel opened a new regional headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia last month.

Its new office will support the firm’s growth in the country, where it is working on a variety of projects including the Neom programme and the Riyadh Metro.

“This new regional headquarters reflects our strong and long-standing commitment to our customers and partners in the region,” said Craig Albert, president and chief operating officer at Bechtel.

Bechtel has worked on some of the most ambitious projects in Saudi Arabia, including Jubail, Ma’aden, Neom, Trojena, the Riyadh Metro Project and New Murabba.

There have also been those who have been appointed by regional players to bolster internal PPP expertise. John Seed, the former European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (EBRD) project preparation head, has recently taken up a new post working for Saudi Arabian consultancy Dar Al Riyadh Group. He is relocating to the kingdom’s capital Riyadh in late October.

As the firm’s new group director of strategy and development, Seed will support its focus on consulting on public and private sector developments across the kingdom. He will support the business in its growth strategy and work to develop new opportunities and service lines within Saudi Arabia.

Seed joins having spent the past year as a partner lead at ERM, leading its advisory business.

These are merely an example of some of the companies and individuals that are looking to the Middle East as the key market for their future development. We have already seen other organisations establish a presence in the region - such as Plenary, who last year opened its second office in the United Arab Emirates. The Middle East is one of the firm’s core focuses, alongside Australia, North America and, more recently, Europe.

With PPPs increasingly being viewed as useful tools to deliver vastly complex, mega projects, the model is being stretched to its limits and as such experts are being attracted to helping solve challenges that have never been taken on before.

While this is a phenomenon not only occurring in the Middle East, the availability of public investment and the political will to drive through such projects has been seen more readily in a number of Gulf nations - perhaps most noticeably in Saudi Arabia, where the vast Neom initiative is generating significant interest.

To read more about how PPPs are being developed to deliver initiatives such as Neom, click here.