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During the past 27 years, Franck Lombard has lived in eight different countries and worked in an additional eight. It’s been an extraordinary journey that has taken the civil engineer across five continents, overseeing everything from waterworks and highway infrastructure to grand government construction projects and skyscrapers.
What perhaps makes his years of air mile accumulation even more remarkable is that he’s done it all at the same company, global construction giant Bouygues Construction Group. But to Franck, there’s a very simple explanation.
“I’m French, and in France, we are more loyal than in places like the US, Asia or Singapore,” he says. “If we love our company, we stay with it. Bouygues is a family business and has always been run in a very human way. It looks after its people so it’s no wonder they feel a sense of loyalty.”
It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed by several other long-serving Bouygues executives in interviews with The CEO Magazine over the years. The company’s inclusive culture is often singled out as one of the reasons. The loyalty goes both ways.
Franck has been running Bouygues’ Singapore subsidiary Dragages for 18 months, but his long history with the company began with eight years as a Project Manager, deployed to developments in countries including Angola, Zambia, Gabon and Poland. He later became Branch Manager in British Columbia, Canada before four years as Regional Director for North America and the Caribbean, based in Los Angeles.
It was while he was there that he was asked to up sticks again, with just a few weeks’ notice, for what has proved to be his biggest challenge.
Bouygues is a family business and has always been run in a very human way.
“I was asked to move to Singapore to provide some help here. So it was a big jump from the Far West to the Far East!” he smiles. “It was during COVID-19 lockdowns and there were many travel restrictions so I couldn’t even meet with anyone. I had 40 Teams meetings before I’d even left LA and another 40 while I was in hotel quarantine in Singapore.”
Singapore’s lockdowns were among the strictest and longest in the world and led to severe supply chain shortages across multiple industries, not least construction, but that didn’t mean Franck had any downtime to get acclimatised.
“Despite all the disruption, it was one of the biggest ever years for revenue as we had six big projects ongoing. All our 1,500 workers are from overseas, so the lockdowns were very difficult to navigate and caused critical and extended manpower shortages. It’s been my toughest year as a business leader.”
Dragages’ first project in the country was the beautifully landscaped Newton MRT Station in 1984. The US$20 million structure was so eye-catching, it drew a crowd of 1,200 when it opened.
Since then, the firm has been responsible for many of the city state’s most iconic new buildings including the Singapore Sports Hub. The architecturally dazzling 55,000-seater National Stadium was the world’s biggest public–private sports partnership when it was completed in 2014. The futuristic complex also includes a 6,000-seat aquatic centre, 3,000-seat arena and a kilometre-long promenade with a skate park and tennis courts, as well as 41,000 square metres of office space.
The Clement Canopy comprises two 40-floor condominiums in Singapore’s west that house 505 apartments and a lush pool complex. This was completed in 2016, and in 2021, the company finished the dramatic 51-storey CapitaSpring retail and office tower in the prestigious Raffles Place, whose sleek lines are broken by trees and greenery, emerging from all sides.
In 2021, Dragages delivered four projects, three of them using a type of construction called prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction, where entire modules or rooms are built offsite and winched by a crane into position on a tower block. The company has been a pioneer in the field, continually improving connectivity and optimising production.
When Franck took over the operation, one of his most urgent tasks was ensuring the safety and wellbeing of his workers during the extended periods of lockdown as government regulations severely restricted their movements.
“They’re not allowed to leave their dormitories,” he explains. “They can’t even cook because the authorities don’t want them gathering in markets, so we give them food and fruit and try to make their lives as good as possible.
“Life is very difficult for them, but the feedback we’ve received is that they feel safer here than they would in their own countries. If we compare our standards to our local competitors, there’s a big gap, but looking after people’s health is part of our DNA. It’s what sets us apart.”
The Dragages dormitories meet the highest standard, with plenty of space, good food and air conditioning. It’s another reason why the company has nurtured a sense of loyalty throughout its ranks.
Perhaps the biggest global trend in the construction industry has been finding more sustainable ways to build and run large-scale projects. Developers are under pressure from customers and governments to help foster cleaner cities less reliant on fossil fuels.
Bouygues Batiment International has made huge commitments on sustainability in a global initiative called ‘Let’s ClimAct’, committing to a 30 per cent reduction in its carbon footprint by 2030, something Dragages has also signed up to. “We’d love to become a leader of low-carbon footprint solutions in Singapore; it would make us very proud. The industry impacts climate a great deal so we can’t avoid the issue.
“Our worst enemy is concrete. There’s a contradiction as we love concrete because it’s stronger than steel and core to our business, but we have to change if we’re going to come up with actual solutions, which will probably involve wood and steel structures.”
We’d love to become a leader of low-carbon footprint solutions in Singapore.
Dragages has also been instrumental in showing clients how structures can be renovated instead of replaced, that battery-powered gensets can sometimes replace diesel gensets on building sites and that low-carbon materials are readily available.
Singapore is still facing great uncertainty, with worries over inflation and slowing economic recovery. Like Franck, it has faced its toughest year but, as Dragages has proved, business success is possible if your staff and customers have a strong sense of loyalty and trust that’s been honed over many years.
“Construction is a very traditional industry, but there is such potential for digitalisation,” Franck says. “We’re not quite at the point where robots are building tower blocks, but some interesting innovations are coming through like integrated digital delivery where every stage of a major build – design, fabrication, construction and asset delivery management – becomes digital and fully integrated to cut wasted time and energy.
“And we’ve already identified some tasks that could be performed by robotics using artificial intelligence, and occasions where we can use video instead of travelling from site to site.”