IN this week's SME Focus an engineering entrepreneur who enthuses about life in the oil and gas industry says growing businesses must never lose their focus on sales.
What is your business called?
Apollo Offshore Engineering Ltd
Where is it based?
Aberdeen, and we also have bases in London, Nottingham and Darlington.
What services does it offer?
Engineering design and analysis services to the global energy industries. Our services include front end and detailed engineering design work on offshore platforms and pipelines, decommissioning studies, vessel mobilisation and seafastening design, and vessel and drilling rig upgrade design.
Who does it sell to?
Our clients include Stena Drilling, Enquest, ConocoPhillips and Centrica.
What is its turnover?
To end of September 2013, £3.2 million (a 100% increase on last year) with a long-range forecast of £10m to September 2015.
How many employees?
When was it formed?
Why did you take the plunge?
One of the reasons is probably because my father retired at 62 after working hard his whole life for others and when he died six months later it made me question what work and life was all about. It was then I realised that while I liked work, some things where I worked at that time annoyed me - changing to a computer world was one of them - so I joined a friend to start a business where we could decide how to organise things to best help clients. This business, Prospect, started before Apollo and gave me the belief that I could succeed as an owner and not just an employee.
I also love being an engineer and can't believe how fortunate I am to work in such a great industry - working for good clients, with like-minded colleagues, doing interesting work.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
Fortunately from personal savings, but it wasn't a lot of money, and we had some very good clients early on. I earned revenue almost from day one and developed the business alongside that.
What was your biggest break?
Moving to the fantastic city of Aberdeen as a young engineer to work within the oil and gas industry back in 1989. As a young child growing up in Chester my friend's father worked 'offshore' and went to a place called Aberdeen and he showed us official pictures of the 'bus to work' helicopter and an offshore platform. When I was a graduate engineer I was doing six-month placements over three years and suddenly got the opportunity to go to this 'mythical' place Aberdeen. It seemed like serendipity. I jumped at it. I was also earning a lot more money than my peers in 'traditional' engineering jobs - so that helped too!
What was your worst moment?
My friend and I grew Prospect to 40 people over eight years, but our ambitions had long since differed and when someone offered to buy the business it seemed like an ideal time. The business was sold for a seven figure sum to Hallin Marine, which was at the time a £100m plus turnover business, and I continued as managing director. Unfortunately our workload was greatly affected by the global economic downturn in October 2008 and I was asked to step down for someone else to take the lead. This business was in turn later bought by Superior Energy. The experience was very hard, but looking back taught me much about corporate life versus 'small' business.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Being able to work with great people - clients, staff and suppliers. Also having the energy to make things happen, hopefully to improve the business, although sometimes we get it wrong.
Engineering is a great job because we turn theory into practice and create real things. I became an engineer because I was a natural at maths, loved physics and liked doing practical things, like building go-karts as a kid. In the oil and gas industry generally we all want to improve and learn from past experience, especially failures. In our business specifically we try to understand the balance of life versus the environment and act accordingly. I believe we are very eco-conscious in all we do. I think we make a difference.
What do you least enjoy?
Not always being able to drop everything for a day's skiing, because work gets in the way.
What is your biggest bugbear?
Big egos in business. An individual's ego can get in the way of a growing business.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
To continue to create a sustainable international business working within the energy industry by carrying out engineering design and analysis.
What are your top priorities?
Keep existing clients happy and develop what we do for them, then attract some new key clients and retain our existing staff by growing and providing career opportunities and then recruit more great staff. Generally, have fun doing it.
What single thing would most help?
To get all our staff to focus on 'sales'. It's anathema to most 'non-sales' people - and used to be to myself - but to a growing business it's absolutely essential that all staff do this. We are getting there.
What could the Westminster government and/or the Scottish Executive do that would help?
Simplify the tax structure. Currently we have about four taxes (Employers National Insurance, Employees NI, Value Added Tax, Corporation Tax) that have to be dealt with. Why not make it all simpler?
How do you relax?
I enjoy skiing in the winter and hill walking in the summer, but in the evening there is nothing nicer than enjoying dinner out with my wife Louise, sometimes also in the company of friends. We also regularly catch up with my wife's family in Dublin.