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Training expert who coached himself to buy out company

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a football-loving oil and gas finance expert who found that an interest in people set him on a path that would lead to him owning a training business that operates around the world.

HUMBLE MAN:  Drew Leitch believes that showing humility has helped him to develop lasting and valued relationships across the globe.
HUMBLE MAN: Drew Leitch believes that showing humility has helped him to develop lasting and valued relationships across the globe.

Name: Drew Leitch

Age: 51

What is your business called?

MDT International

Where is it based?

Aberdeen

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

MDT International is a global training provider to the energy industry. Since 1992, we have delivered thousands of training courses in more than 70 countries.

We deliver our courses on both an open basis and in-house. They cover key financial, commercial and management topics including project economics, contracts and procurement, negotiation, accounting, audit, project management, leadership and communication skills.

Who does it sell to?

The delegates on our courses either work in oil and gas or for companies which service the energy sector, such as accountancy firms and recruitment agencies. The majority of our bookings are corporate, however there are some individuals who put themselves through our courses to learn more about the industry. We deliver our courses around the world. As well as regular sessions in the UK, including Aberdeen, London and Edinburgh, we routinely train overseas in Brazil, Africa, Malaysia, Dubai and Australia.

What is its turnover?

£2.6 million

How many employees? 16

When was it formed? 1992

Why did you take the plunge?

Before joining MDT International, I had spent the majority of my career in finance. My contract with oil and gas firm Amerada Hess was coming to a natural end and I felt it was time to try something new.

I had always been interested in people and I decided to look back through my old performance appraisals. I identified my strengths and weaknesses and they showed me that I'd always been praised for good communication skills and for mentoring or coaching others.

I decided to put myself through a professional training course to see if I could make it as a corporate and life coach.

After this, I had a chance meeting with the owner of MDT International while he was on a business trip to Rio de Janeiro. We had met before when we were both working in Aberdeen. I joined the firm in 2004 as a trainer and then became the managing director in 2006. I enjoyed driving the business forward but felt I really wanted to own my own firm. So I bought the company in 2011.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I worked for Amerada Hess for 16 years. It was my second job after graduating and I enjoyed a variety of finance positions in Aberdeen, London and overseas. My first international assignment was in Gabon, West Africa where I was a drilling accountant. I had also spent time in Denmark and Norway before becoming finance manager of an exploration-led office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2002. When I took the plunge I was the country manager of that office and the role really forced me to look beyond finance. This was when I decided to branch out.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

When I joined MDT International it was already well established and as an employee there were no funding issues. When I completed the acquisition of the business I did so with a combination of personal finance and bank lending. This was in 2010 and many told me that I would have no chance of gaining support from the banks. In the end I had the choice between two competing funding offers.

What was your biggest break?

I was in the right place at the right time when I bumped into the owner of MDT International back in 2003 in Rio de Janeiro. Our respective life goals made for a good fit. Luck played a big part, but as with any opportunity, you have to work hard to make it pay.

What was your worst moment?

At times a better work/life balance over the years would have been nice.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love being in a training room environment with people who are hungry to learn. This is the type of atmosphere I have experienced in places such as East Africa.

I am truly passionate that we can play a part in empowering overseas communities. I think hydrocarbons --whether discovered in Brazil, Tanzania or Malaysia - don't belong to the international oil and gas companies, the government or the ministry. They belong to the people of the country who should be able to benefit from and capitalise on these resources. To give overseas communities the best chance of gaining employment and benefiting from their countries new found wealth they must have information and knowledge.

What do you least enjoy?

As a truly global business we get the opportunity to travel the world. This is fantastic when all goes to plan but when the wheels come off, especially on return home journeys, it can be very frustrating.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We see ourselves expanding greatly in the next few years. I have recently appointed a general manager to help me with the day-to-day running of the business.

This will free me up to focus further on business development opportunities. I recently completed a 10 day trade mission to East Africa where I visited my 16th country on the continent. We see East Africa and South America as key growth areas for the business. I have also been on a one-week business development trip to Brazil. During the week, we formally signed off a significant two year contract for the provision of our training services to a Rio-based exploration and production supermajor.

What are your top three priorities?

To continue delivering our base business to the standard our clients and delegates enjoy; targeted global growth; to secure longer term contracts with new and current clients.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

In my opinion both the Scottish and UK Government are already doing a fantastic job in promoting Scottish and UK business excellence abroad. I have been very impressed by the quality of support provided to MDT International by Scottish Development International and by UK Trade and Industry (UKTI).

In an ideal world, I would like to see training courses with a reduced VAT burden. Sometimes our UK-based courses suffer from non UK residents finding the related visa application process complex, it might be beneficial to simplify this.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Despite the significant cultural differences that you encounter around the world, people are far more alike than they are different. Showing humility and a human or personal side is something that has helped me develop lasting and valued relationships in every corner of the world.

How do you relax?

I love all sport but particularly golf which I play consistently and badly. I am also a football fanatic. Although born and bred in Aberdeen, my mum and dad hail from Paisley and, at a young age I began supporting St Mirren. I am a shareholder, a season ticket holder and a committed fan of the club. I also follow a Brazilian team called Fluminense with real passion. Some may not believe it but there are real similarities between the beach honed soccer skills of Fluminense and my own St Mirren.

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