Indian builder creates new WEF HQ

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In a move symbolizing the growing spread of globalisation, the World Economic Forum, the organization that gave the world “Davos Man”, will on Thursday unveil an extension of its Swiss headquarters that was built by an Indian-owned company.

The 4,924 square metre extension, which more than doubles the size of the Geneva offices of the WEF, whose conventions are popular with international chief executives, politicians and other globetrotters, was built by a Swiss company acquired this year by Hindustan Construction Company, one of India’s biggest engineering groups.

Ajit Gulabchand, HCC’s chairman, said his company bought the 66 per cent stake in Zurich-based Karl Steiner, Switzerland’s second biggest construction company which also built the WEF’s existing offices, after the Swiss group fell into difficulty during the global financial crisis.

“Building the World Economic Forum’s headquarters has a value of its own,” said Mr Gulabchand before leaving Mumbai for Europe last night to attend the inauguration of the new offices.

He said the high-technology project, which incorporates green features such as geothermal heating, would strengthen HCC’s technical knowhow and its credibility as a building construction company – hitherto it was better known in India for big ticket infrastructure projects, such as power plants.

“We wanted to buy a company from the developed world so we could bring extra intellectual property to what we are doing. We have to deliver the new generation buildings here [in India],” he told the Financial Times.

In contrast to their European and US peers, Indian companies emerged mostly unscathed from the economic crisis, giving them an opportunity to resume their global acquisition spree that culminated before the crisis in the £6.7bn acquisition by Tata Steel of Anglo-Dutch steel-maker Corus.

Mahindra & Mahindra, the automotive manufacturer, this month was chosen as the preferred bidder for South Korea’s Ssangyong Motor Co, while Bharti Airtel, the mobile operator, in February acquired the African assets of Zain of Kuwait for $10.7bn.

Indian oil, steel and power companies, meanwhile, have been on the hunt for coal and other commodities across the world, including in the US, Indonesia, Africa and Australia.

Mr Gulabchand said HCC wanted Karl Steiner, which it bought in May for an investment of SFr35m, to begin work on the group’s domestic projects, such as Lavasa, a giant township development the group is building near Mumbai.

As part of its expansion into India, Karl Steiner might also consider a possible acquisition of an Indian domestic builder to give it a better foothold in the building construction business, he said.

He also wanted the Swiss unit to build a presence in other European markets and to expand to the Middle-east.

HCC has traditionally been known in India for its expertise in hydro and nuclear power plants and for building the Mumbai Sea Link, the city’s flagship road infrastructure project connecting the airport in the city’s north partway with its southern business district.

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