INTERVIEW: STEPHEN HIBBERT
head of legal and general counsel,
Qatar Railways Company
Former civil engineer Stephen Hibbert retrained as a lawyer and moved from his native Australia to the Middle East in 2008. He talks to GC about his current role at Qatar Railways Company.
G C I N T E R V I E W
EDITOR AND FEATURES WRITER
GC: You qualified as a civil engineer – what made you decide to switch to law?
Stephen Hibbert (SH): It was very common practice in the ‘70s and ‘80s for civil engineers who did not want to remain as technicians or work on construction sites to do a second form of business degree. MBAs were the flavour at the time, but they involved too much accounting for me. In my initial years as an engineer, I was exposed to a number of contractor claims, and I had always found the contract analysis interesting. This led me to take some contracts and commercial law courses and from there, I completed law and made the transition to a large Australian law firm in 1983.
GC: Why did you decide to go in-house?
SH: I came to the Middle East in 2008. In 2012 I was with an international law firm in Abu Dhabi and Doha. I was retained by Qatar Railways Company to draft the forms of contract to be used on the project and when that work was completed in May 2012 they asked me to stay on. At that time, Qatar Railways Company was two years old and comprised about 40 people. In due course they kindly offered me the GC role. As I said to my partners, after 29 years of doing billable hours, and with a project like this one – it was an easy decision to make. After nearly four years, I can confirm that I am very pleased to have this opportunity with Qatar Railways Company.
GC: What have been the standout projects that you’ve had involvement with at Qatar Railways Company?
SH: At the start of 2012, as a company, we had essentially nothing: no contracts, no forms, and few procedures. From that very flat base, we established our departments, wrote the contracts and RFPs, and went to the market of international constructors for the first five civil packages. We awarded our first contract in June 2013, and the remaining four civil packages by early 2014. Since then, we have awarded the rolling stock and all systems. To put that into perspective, as of today, we have 21 tunnel boring machines active under Doha, drilling 70 km of tunnels to support 37 stations. We are planning for the first train to run at the end of 2018. The committed cost to-date is well above 50bn USD. I should also note that we have three parallel projects: the metro, the Lusail tramway, and a long-distance freight and passenger line.
GC: Looking to the next few months, what are the legal challenges or issues that you predict you and your team will be facing?
SH: Our legal department comprises eight attorneys. Our next major assignment is to procure the operator and the facilities managers for the network, and the legal department is currently preparing the conditions of contract for these positions. We also are heavily involved in contract administration issues.
GC: What’s the secret to being a good legal manager, or a good leader? How do you motivate team members?
SH: Firstly, we work very closely together. Due to the daily demands of the project, each lawyer is well aware of what is happening regarding project issues and our work products. It is my practice that project lawyers should experience their contracts in action. Each attorney has a line or contract package for which they are responsible, so our attorneys are constantly on-site and working side-by-side with our project colleagues. This mix seems to be very well received by all team members.