Here in the first extract from our book ‘Building East Africa’s Future’ we tell the story of how FBW was created and its early days working in the region.
FBW Group’s 25 years of growth in East Africa runs parallel with the economic development of the region.
Today the business has thriving operations in Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, as well as offices in the UK and Netherlands.
Things were very different when FBW began life in 1995, founded by architects and engineers working in Tanzania, including Geoff Wilks, who is still the chairman of the group.
He arrived in Tanzania in the early 1990s to work for an international company. A chartered engineer, he recognised the opportunities that existed and linked up with Dutch architect and urban designer Antoni Folkers and Belinda van Buiten to set up FBW, which was originally named after the trio.
Geoff, who still has the company’s first nameplate as a souvenir in his office at home, recalls how its early projects included working on British High Commission buildings in Dar es Salaam as well as health and educational establishments in remote rural areas.
The clients were mainly European donors, the jobs were modest, the designs functional and the logistics challenging.
Geoff explains: “Some of the small school and hospital jobs entailed a three-day drive on dirt roads, or a combination of roads and tracks to get to the site.
“You might be away from home in the car for eight days. There were no mobile phones in those days, so we had to use shortwave radio to keep in touch, stopping at a given time to put up the aerial and make contact with home.”
FBW’s first expansion outside Tanzania saw it take on projects in Uganda, which once again meant Geoff was on his travels, this time frequently shuttling between Dar es Salaam and Entebbe by air.
He says: “We quickly realised the opportunities. We were also struck by the can-do attitude that exists in Uganda. I’ve always maintained the country’s most precious asset is its people.”