By Ben Jacklet
Okay, so Otak is no Stumptown. Actually, Otak is twice as big as Stumptown, and while it may not have a fanatic customer base among hipsters, it does have 300 employees with deep expertise in how to make cities work better. So when a foreign company buys a majority stake in Otak, it’s a big deal for Oregon.
Unlike Stumptown, Otak is not trying to obfuscate the investment. CEO Nawzad Othman, an ethnic Kurd who came to the United States from Baghdad when he was 17, says the recently announced merger with HanmiGlobal will create all sorts of opportunities for Otak, both in Oregon and globally. HanmiGlobal is based in Seoul, Korea and is one of the 20 largest construction management firms in the world.
Othman (pictured left, from the magazine's January 2009 issue) started Otak in Oregon 30 years ago, during the big recession of the early 1980s. His company has grown into one of the state’s most successful urban design, architecture, planning and engineering firms.
When the most recent recession hit, Otak was heavily invested in projects in the United Arab Emirates, with an office in Abu Dhabi employing 100 people. Revenues peaked at around $70 million in 2008 for Otak, but have fallen off in subsequent years as the UAE building frenzy has slowed (Othman says they are now between $45 million and $65 million per year).
Although Othman’s company got hurt by the contraction in the Middle East, he says it had to happen. “They were moving way too fast [in the UAE]. Now they’re doing things that are more measured and focused, and that creates opportunities for us.”
HanmiGlobal’s investment in Otak could enable Otak to move into areas where it has not previously worked, such as India, China and Southeast Asia. Othman says he expects jobs to grow both in Oregon and abroad.
“We are going to remain an independent company,” Othman says.
Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.