Bishoy Edward doesn’t have the kind of background that one typically finds among executives filling the top ranks in construction companies. As Dhabi Contracting’s chief operating officer (COO) has no qualms admitting, he – unlike most of his peers in the industry – does not hold a bachelor’s degree in an engineering-related discipline.

“My background is in pharmacy; I’m a pharmacist,” says Edward, telling Construction Week that he didn’t really get a chance to practice his first chosen profession, having spent only “a couple of months” in the pharmaceutical sector before making the switch to construction.

“My main aim at the time was to establish a chain of pharmacies under my name,” he recalls. “That was my target, but then I made a major change in my career. I joined Dhabi Contracting as an operating officer and was promoted to the COO position after a couple of years.”

The change in career, he explains, was partly brought about by a sense of obligation he felt towards the business and the industry. His father, Samy Edward, is the chief executive officer of Dhabi Contracting, and has been with the 35-year-old firm for 25 years.

While he might have felt “obliged” at first to make the shift, Edward notes that the move eventually proved to be a win-win for both him and the company, going by the success that he has achieved with Dhabi and the growth that it has seen, with him as its COO.

Founded in 1983, Dhabi Contracting started with only about 100 employees, which grew to about 2,000-3,000 in 2008. “Today, we have approximately 8,000 employees,” he says.

Edward notes that the rise in the number of employees reflects more than the growth in the contractor’s market size. The company currently has $1.6bn-worth (AED6bn) of active projects in the UAE and counts the emergency response centre of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and the Umm Al Emarat Park in Abu Dhabi among its completed projects. The larger workforce also reflects the increase in the number of Dhabi subsidiaries, from “just two or three” when Edward first joined, to more than 25.

Dhabi’s under-construction projects include an $820m (AED3bn), 663-villa development in Ruwais, which the contractor is building for Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and the $540m (AED2bn) Al Khail Avenue Mall, a retail and entertainment property that Nakheel is developing in Dubai.

Meanwhile, the contractor’s subsidiary companies include Al Dhabi Al Motaqadima Safety Consultants, a fire safety engineering and management firm licensed by the UAE Ministry of Interior, and Al Dhabi Security Services. In addition to growing its number of subsidiaries, the company has expanded into property development.

“We have this vision for 2020, similar to Abu Dhabi’s Vision 2020, and as part of that we have decided to develop our own projects,” he says. “We have purchased plots of land in Al Raha and Saadiyat for commercial and residential projects.

“We are also trying to implement a seven-star hotel in Ruwais. We have the land, and the design, which is by Aecom, has been approved. The project is now being reviewed by the [Abu Dhabi] Urban Planning Council.”

Outside the UAE, Dhabi owns a 32-storey hotel in the capital of Georgia. According to Edward, Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi is the tallest building in the city and hosts an office of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFAIC).

“[Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi] is an accomplishment that Dhabi Contracting is pleased to have, [and one] that makes us stand out from the other players in the market,” he says.

Anyone thinking that Edward’s success in the industry might have come easily to him would have to think again. Every achievement to his name, he has earned – and not without effort, he emphasises, adding that while he might not have the requisite engineering degree, he has spent years furthering his studies.

As well as having an Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA), he has a Diploma in Project Management and a Master of Science in Engineering Management, both from Middlesex University London.