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Alwyn — he's the man living the boy's dream

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September 23, 2011 | Nishant Ugal, Upstream Bookmark and Share  

Chief executive of Indian EPC player Essar Projects had a vision when he was eight years old and was following his dad to engineering project locations... and he made the vision real

Imagine an eight-year-old knowing how to operate a cumbersome grader and exploring the swamps and jungles of Malaysia, escorted by his father to various project locations...

Wonderful life: Essar Projects chief executive Alwyn Bowden

Alwyn Keith Bowden, president and chief executive of one of India's leading engineering, procurement and construction players Essar Projects, is living his dream.

From his school days Alwyn always dreamed of being an engineer.

“My father was a civil engineer and I always wanted to do what my father did,” says Alwyn, who joined the Essar Group in 2008.

Alwyn represents the growing expatriate community in India, which has a strong representation in the oil and gas industry.

However, it was not India's culture and diversity that attracted Alwyn to the nation's engineering, procurement and construction sector — he always had a strong belief in India's growth story. 

“There are a lot of opportunities in India which do not exist in any other parts of the world. Elsewhere, there are not many opportunities to develop a company of the capability of Essar,” says Alwyn. After spending the early years of his life in Malaysia, Alwyn took a civil engineering degree at the Swansea University in South Wales, UK.

As a graduate in 1979 he joined Wimpey, a leading building contractor in Europe. In 17 years at Wimpey, Alwyn climbed the ladder from trainee to project director. However, over the years Wimpey diminished and later merged with another European contractor, Tarmac, and now exists as Carillion.

Earlier, Alwyn was involved in building underground bunkers for the US institute of space and naval warfare in the UK, which he remembers as one of the most daring tasks of his career.

“They (the bunkers) are designed to withstand nuclear attacks and to survive independently from the outside world for seven days.

“The project was a big challenge for us,” says Alwyn.

His expertise in handling projects in distant locations comes as an advantage.

Once, while working on a port and jetty job in Jordan, everything that had been designed in the UK got stuck at the docks, leaving the project in the doldrums.

Alwyn took up the challenge and executed the project with precision.

“We did everything ourselves from what was available locally on the site.

“We redesigned the work right from scratch. This teaches you the resilience needed to operate in distant markets,” says Alwyn.

He later moved on to work at Simon Carves, and soon became the managing director and executive director for operations.

Before joining Essar, his last assignment was with Sembawang Engineers as the company's president and chief executive.

Alwyn's past career spans many different fields where he had exposure to upstream oil and gas projects.

However, he feels that with his previous experiences he brings a different set of skills to Essar.

“Diversity helps, and at a certain level you are managing business rather than individual projects,” he says.

Essar is currently involved in the D1 development project for India's state-owned Oil & Natural Gas Corporation, which involves EPC work on three offshore platforms together with subsea pipelines.

The company is also aggressively bidding for domestic offshore projects, and Alwyn sees strong potential in India's oil and gas industry.

He feels that the Indian EPC market is currently in transition and will evolve in years to come.

However, issues such as corruption, the high inclination to lower costs, poor infrastructure and lobbying effects are all deterrents to market growth.

“There is a very strong lobby effect in India and that means many projects where pre-qualifications are written in such a manner that they favour certain key parties,” says Alwyn.

Having worked in various locations across the world, Alwyn considers himself privileged.

“When I look at my contemporaries, a lot of them stayed in the UK and have had a good career.

“But the kind of experience I have had this way beyond anything they can dream of.

“I have seen so much more than my contemporaries,” he says.

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