A man without bordersPublished 16/9 at 14:52
Back in Sydney 20 years ago, he was known as the ‘Road Runner’, the industry’s best wall chasing contractor which saw him run one of the biggest concrete cutting firms in Australia. Today his target is the Middle East and Europe. Meet Youssef Hallak from LT Diamond Drilling.
The concrete demolition, sawing and drilling business is still a much localised market, meaning that contractors mainly work in their own country, or even only in their own region, with few companies working internationally. There are exceptions, and Youssef Hallak of LT Diamond Drilling Srl. in Bucharest is a big one.
From Lebanon to Australia
Youssef is in his early 40s, but has quite a life story to tell. He is a true professional with a burning desire to learn, improve and explore new fields of technology when it comes to concrete cutting and demolition. And he is never still, constantly on the move. He was born in Lebanon where his family comes from, has one brother and seven sisters. He speaks highly of his parents and his family, his belief in God and true values, which are the foundation of a good life. His father ran his own construction company, which did a lot of work in Saudi Arabia. When Youssef was old enough, he started to work at his father’s company in Jeddah, and at the age of 20 decided to get an engineering degree at a university abroad, choosing Australia for his education. “I heard a lot of good things about Australia, but I had never visited the country before. It took me a while to get the student visa but was picked as one of 50. But as soon as I had it I went and started to study at a university in Sydney,” says Youssef.
After several years of working in the construction industry in Saudi, and ready for learning new techniques and methods, Youssef found out that all installation channel work at a construction site in Australia is done after the walls and floors are completed with so called wall chasing techniques, which is seldom seen in Europe or the Middle East. In Australia there was great demand for wall chasing, but not many specialists to provide it. Youssef realised that if he became really good at it he could make quite a lot of money, doing it faster and better then the Aussies. He learned the technique, and invested in the equipment, and it did not take long before he got his first commission. Soon he became well known for his services in the Sidney area, and he even got the nickname ‘Road Runner’. He could make 400m of wall chasing per day in straight cuts, and he always cleaned after himself, which normally was not included in the service of other wall chasing contractors. “When I completed a job I used to write ‘Road Runner was here’ on the wall,” says Youssef with a smile.
It was while working with wall chasing he came in contact with the concrete sawing and drilling business and realised that these methods was something he could use. In 2000 he started his own company in Australia, and by acquiring two colleagues, Leo and Theo’s Company, the business grew. The LT in his company’s name actually stands for Leo and Theo, and at that time in Australia LT Diamond Drilling was one of the five biggest concrete cutters in the country with the company growing fast. “Ever since I was a small boy I have understood the importance to deliver the best quality in work and as fast as possible. And never say no to a job at any time. That has helped me a lot in my business,” says Youssef, who mentions one particular situation in Sydney. There was a big oil leakage in the Sydney harbour that needed a skilled concrete cutter to fix the leakage. The leakage happened during a weekend, and the harbour authorities could not find anyone to fix the job until they called LT Diamond Drilling. “We said yes of course and fixed the leakage. The project became one of our most well paid projects ever and gave a very strong position on the market.” Today the market is flooded with concrete cutters but LT is still a big player.
To the Middle East and Europe
Youssef had a bigger plan for his life and his company, as he wanted to explore more markets and was always open to take on new assignments. In 2005 he was offered a project in Singapore, which led him and his company to Dubai the year after. While working in Dubai he set up a subsidiary in order to work in the whole Middle East region. The following years LT were hired to do several projects at military defence stations in Saudi, Iraqi, Dubai and Lebanon. This area was really booming until it came to a stop in 2011, but the following year, 2012, life took a new turn for Youssef. During a business trip in Romania he realised that the country was a perfect hub for taking on jobs in Europe and the Middle East. The business in Australia was doing well on its own, enabling Youssef to concentrate on new business in the Middle East as well as slowly looking at jobs in Europe. In 2015 he settled in Bucharest setting up LT Diamond Drilling Srl, with the company being located on the outskirts of the city, close to the international airport. The LT office and workshop in Bucharest today consists of 600m2 of offices and workshops, and about the same size of outdoor space, with Youssef hoping to extend the facilities by acquiring a nearby plot or another location nearby.
Today the company in Romania employs 38 people, with 12 of the workers recently arriving from Nepal, a region that right now is suffering from severe unemployment. The company in Australia has around 30 employees, but it does not stop there: LT Diamond Drilling also has a subsidiary in Lebanon with around 40 employees and a branch office in Dubai. All together the LT Diamond Drilling Group has 108 employees, and Youssef estimate that they will reach some 130 employees by the end of the year. Youssef is additionally in the process of establishing a new office in Moldavia and also one in Syria. “I see a great potential in these areas and I have already visited several times and we are bidding on jobs,” says Youssef.
With 40 employees in Lebanon, more 30 in Moldavia and Syria and 38 in Romania, LT has the resources to take on large scale projects both in Europe and the Middle East being able to easily allocate staff to jobs. The Romanian company has grown rapidly in only four years, and today the turnover lies in the region of €4M. Youssef estimates that the business will grow to €8M in another three years.
The optimal working model for success
Youssef believes that he has found the perfect working model for his companies in Europe and the Middle East. “I think I and my management have become very good in finding the right staff. We put a lot of effort in training our staff internally. 10 well trained and loyal employees can do the work of at least 30 untrained. So finding the right people is crucial,” says Youssef. In terms of equipment Youssef says that LT Diamond Drilling was for years a loyal Husqvarna user, but something happened along the way with the relationship. Today the group of companies has a very close relationship with Tyrolit when it comes to concrete cutting equipment, tools from Arix, Zenesis and Tyrolit, and drill systems from Weka. LT also buys its floor saws directly from US Diamond Products.
Since a couple of years back LT has also invested in robotic demolition, and today only buys demolition robots and attachments from Brokk and Darda. “I am extremely satisfied with Brokk and Darda, and very happy that I found these suppliers. I am also just as happy with our other suppliers of equipment. We have a perfect setup,” says Youssef. About a year ago LT in Romania bought a Brokk 110 and Brokk 170 and attachments from Darda. This year he wants to buy a Brokk 300 and Brokk 800 with attachments. LT has a number of wall and wire saws from Tyrolit, about 90 complete drill systems from Weka, and currently 11 fully equipped trucks. The company also makes its own core drills and does its own retipping.
Youssef says that the construction industry is very busy in Romania and has been for a while. However, when LT started to offer demolition robot services, they lost many contracts, although this is no longer the case. “Since we could offer demolition services with remote controlled robots we have not lost one single contract in Romania.” Youssef is thus very satisfied with the close relation he has with Brokk. “We are getting outstanding support both in terms for spare parts and training. Brokk make the training right here in Romania and that saves us a lot of time,” says Youssef.
It was just a couple of years back that Youssef and his company started to work with Brokk robots, but now in Romania the company has already 10 trained operators, with currently some 60% of its business coming from concrete cutting services and the rest related to Brokk operations. Youssef states that in the future he will develop and extend the demolition services he offers to include heavy duty and long reach carriers. Right now there are not enough people, and there is not enough space to store all equipment and machinery, although, “The business is there for it,” Youssef says. He adds that they are also ready to send Brokk robots to projects in Syria and Moldavia, with the reconstruction of Syria has already started, and LT is ready to support it.
Where Youssef is investing most at present is in terms of Brokk robots. He plans to buy a number of machines each year and send them to the different regions where they work, such as Romania, Syria, Moldavia, Lebanon and Dubai, and estimates that these will be replaced in every couple of years. The competition in this field is not strong in Romania when it comes to contractors that work with demolition robots, with there being only about 25 professional concrete cutting contractors in the country today.
Bucharest is ‘boiling’
When PDi’s editor in chief Jan Hermansson visited Youssef, he was taken to some jobsites in Bucharest. The city is frankly ‘boiling’ with construction cranes located throughout the city. The first visit was to a construction site on the south side of the city, where a large complex of apartment buildings is being built. LT has three men working on site, which consists, among other things, of demolishing a floor, which had been incorrectly poured. A Brokk 110 is being used along with floor saws from Diamond Products. This particular project is not that big, and will take about four days for three men to complete. The construction firm is the Romanian company Confrasilvas, which is one of the biggest construction companies in Romania, and involved in the majority of projects in the capital.
The next jobsite visited was on the western side of Bucharest where Militar apartment complex is being constructed by the developer Evogue. On this side of the city there was not a single building ten years ago, only fields and trees. Now there are plenty of high rise buildings with apartments, being a relatively inexpensive part of the city to live. Here LT drills about 200 holes per day for plumbing and other installations in various dimensions, and during the visit LT was making an 800mm hole in a very confined place. The hole is for taking care of wastewater and needs to be drilled down to 700mm. In order to get the core out a cracking device from Tyrolit was used.
The next project, located more in the downtown area of Bucharest, is by a developer from Jordan. The company bought the land and has constructed a number of high rise apartment buildings with large flats. LT has worked for about 18 months on the huge project and has about two more years work to go. Until now, some 7,000 holes have been drilled and about 5,000 remain to be completed along with numerous other tasks. The project is divided into two phases with the complex containing 11 buildings, which altogether comprises of 1,270 apartments and 3,000m2 of retail facilities. Phase 1 started in September 2017 and will be finished in August of this year, with Phase 2 scheduled to start in 2020. Total investment is estimated to be some €88M.
The developer also has construction projects ongoing in Bucharest, Constanta, Brasov and Mogosoaia, with the company today employing some 850 construction workers. When PDi talked to one of the project managers at the project in Bucharest, he stated that the construction industry is Romania is really booming right now, and believes that it will continue to increase for another 4 to 5 years. The apartments cost about €1,050m2, whilst the less expensive Militar complex cost about €850m2. The construction boom in Romania began in 2014 and is currently increasing by some 10% to 15% each year.
Youssef also has a large number of other projects he has been involved in to talk about. For instance, earlier this year LT partly demolished a large glass factory some hours from Bucharest, including a furnace and 12 generators, 18m high. This was a very complex project and needed very detailed planning. The key to the success, amongst other things, was a Brokk 800, with the project taking three weeks to complete.
Youssef Hallak and his company LT Diamond Drilling are following a firm road to success in the Middle East and Europe. The most important element to this is that Youssef is not afraid of breaking boundaries. That trait took him from Lebanon to the Middle East, Australia and to Europe. At the demolition conference, Demtech, 13 November in Mumbai, India, Youssef will be sharing his knowledge and experiences, lecturing on the subject: ‘Robotic demolition and concrete cutting in a nuclear environment’.