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Williams, Co-Founder & Managing Director – Onyx IES Malaysia

Gordon Williams, Founder and Managing Director of Onyx IES, discusses the evolution of this independent and bespoke consultancy since its creation 2008 and its customer-centric offering in Drilling Engineering, Geology & Geophysics, Production Technology & Reservoir Engineering, and Manpower services.

Mr. Williams, you founded Onyx IES in 2008. What would say have been the main milestones and achievements of the company thus far?

Simply establishing the company as a foreigner in Malaysia stands out as our first major milestone. In addition, we set up the company at a time when the price of oil was down at $30/40 a barrel. As such, we had to work with very low revenues and work very hard to strengthen the business to survive this tough first year. Onyx survived year one, and we came into 2009 much stronger. Through it all, our local staff were incredibly loyal, and the vast majority of our initial staff still work for Onyx.

Being awarded our PETRONAS licenses stands out as a second milestone. Onyx had to demonstrate a strong track record both financially and business wise, as well as gaining the required local content to merit this accreditation. With these licenses, we can now contract directly with PETRONAS, PSCs and RSCs, contributing a major source of business for the company.

Onyx started as a consultancy purely supplying the services of people, and a final milestone would have to be the diversification of our services. After gaining our PETRONAS licenses, we have been able to expand our offering and have introduced new partners/principle companies from both the UK and Russia. These partnerships have allowed us to bring in new technologies and new services to the Malaysian market.

Overall, we are also very proud to say that we have grown Onyx organically from day one, with no outside funds or investment infringing upon the company’s independence. We have refused offers from investors and remained independent to be able to decide upon our own destiny and our own partners. As an independent consultancy, we are able to decide more or less who we work with and for and we are very pleased and fortunate to be able to carry out business in this manner.

Onyx has worked with some of the largest companies in the industry including PETRONAS, Shell, Talisman, and Petrofac. Why is Onyx the partner of choice for the industry versus other specialized consultancies?

Yes, we are fortunate to work with a cross-section of clients across the industry operators including PETRONAS in Malaysia and internationally plus service companies such as drilling contractors. For consultancies, reputation is all important to both attract and maintain customers as well as Staff and Consultants. Most all of our clients are coming back for business, as they see the value we have added and trust in our future delivery.

As a small bespoke consultancy, our foremost concern is understanding the clients’ needs. We often only have one chance to work with a client, and this understanding is invaluable. During my previous experience working for Shell, I remarked that many service companies did not take the time to understand our problems and needs. I have thus shaped Onyx in such a way that our staff take the time to clearly understand the clients’ problems. In the cases that Onyx can address a client’s problem, we add value by carefully tailoring our solution to each specific situation. In the cases where we do not have the people or services to solve a problem, we will not accept that job. Many consultancies will take on work, even when they are not fully qualified to deliver the scope of work so so I have always ensured that Onyx avoids such compromising situations.

Furthermore, I have a fairly deep understanding of the oil and gas business with more than 30 years experience plus my supporting staff and consultants also bring a wealth of expertise to the table so we are therefore able to offer cross discipline insights into issues and their pragmatic solutions in both subsurface and wells disciplines. Therefore our in-depth technical understanding of the problems and their solutions by Onyx in each area is well appreciated by our clients.

How has cooperation with international technology partners strengthened your service offering in Malaysia?

Onyx has introduced several new companies with innovative technologies, which complement our own core offering and the competencies of our staff.

For the rig inspection side of the business, we have brought in Aberdeen Drilling Consultants (ADC), a family-based company now for over thirty years. Although active globally, ADC had not yet done any work in Malaysia. As such, Onyx agreed to represent the company here in Malaysia, and their regional Support Manager sits in our Kuala Lumpur office. We are proud to be able to introduce ADC’s standard of rig inspection to the region, giving a new level of service to the rig providers and operators.

We also work with Exceed, an independent Drilling Performance Management company founded in Aberdeen by Ian Mills. I worked with Ian in Shell in the 1980s, and we joined forces again last year to introduce Exceed’s performance and deepwater services to Malaysia. Exceed’s management tools & systems, as well as their training system for staff, offer an improved level of service in the area of drilling performance and Drilling Project Management to the region.

On the software side, we work with Rock Flow Dynamics (RFD), a company of Russian origin based in Moscow and Houston. RFD is backed by Intel Capital and has developed tNavigator™, a reservoir modeling software which is much faster and more efficient than another similar software. tNavigator™ allows Reservoir Engineers to model and remodel reservoirs very quickly and accurately, with great ease of use. We are just starting to break into the market here, with Murphy and Petrofac as clients. Furthermore, later this year following positive signs we hope that PETRONAS will give their approval to use tNavigator™ worldwide for their operations. In the current economic climate, for developing marginal fields and redeveloping established fields, this software offers a paradigm shift in being able to maximizing reservoir explorations.

QTEC, an independent environment services company which originates in Aberdeen and operates in key areas such as the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and West Africa is our fourth partner. Post-Macondo, the focus on environmental issues has grown significantly. In Malaysia, we are looking to assist operators to keep ahead of changes in local legislation requirements. We see increasing potential for the company with growing environmental help better protect the environment.

As a consultancy, Onyx covers both manpower and services with four areas of focus: Drilling Engineering, Geology & Geophysics, Production Technology & Reservoir Engineering. For which services do you see the most demand in Malaysia?

Currently for these four service sectors the split for us is about even, with variations due to specific project demand from individual clients. Demand changes on a frequent basis and at Onyx we have to be ready to react to our Clients needs with the right people at the right time for each scenario.

How are you working to ensure continued growth given the major changes in oil price over the last six months?

Cost and cost savings become ever more important with a reduced oil price, and some clients have already asked for reduced rates for our people and services. Our operation is already very cost effective, and we will be able to offer cost savings to clients, especially thanks to the learnings we gained during the 2008 downturn.

It is difficult to strictly follow any business model created in reaction to the oil price, as changes will abound in the coming months. Rather, we focus on being reactive. Everything can and will change again however our size, independence, agility and ultimately business focus allows us to react quickly and effectively.

As an independent consultancy offering bespoke solutions, how does your strong international component compliment your growth in Malaysia?

The international input to the business works fairly well. Although bringing international services is not usually seen as cheap because the cost base is usually more expensive, however we have acted strategically. As such, we have been able to add value at the right place and at the right time in Malaysia. Bringing in new ways of doing things plus getting things done effectively and without re-work is more often cost effective in the long term.

The 1Malaysia banner encourages international knowledge to help develop Malaysia and there are some key areas which for example Malaysia currently lacks expertise such as EOR, HPHT and deepwater. Malaysia is going through a learning phase, and bringing in international resources and expertise will only encourages future learning and subsequent sustained growth. At Onyx, we always try to embed the skills we bring along to help develop and grow local industry and leave behind a positive legacy. I can draw a similar comparison with my experience in the North Sea in the 1980s, as local companies in the UK also lacked the know-how to independently develop the industry. American expertise was brought in and was invaluable in helping the UKCS move forward.

To date, what project best represents Onyx at its full capacity?

Not one but all of our projects and business ventures both big and small best represent what Onyx do best. Each one is as important as the next to us so we always endeavor to apply ourselves in a manner which we would expect others to do for us. We then hope that our Clients recognize this and therefore simply ask us to help them out again.

To answer the title of our report, “Malaysia: Asia-Pacific’s oil & gas hub?”, does Malaysia have what it takes to realize this ambition in an international competitive environment?

Absolutely! Firstly, Malaysia is in a great position geographically to service the region, with strong logistics and a constantly improving communications network. Malaysia also offers many opportunities to service the Southeast Asian market as a whole, while cost wise Malaysia is competitive in terms of both office space and workforce, especially in comparison to Singapore. The 1Malaysia banner is a great concept and has created a fruitful business environment. Many international companies such as Shell have recognized Malaysia’s potential and established regional headquarters here. PETRONAS has established a clear reputation as a leading NOC, and all the important companies in the sector are present. At Onyx, all our clients, as well as their technical staff, are located in KLCC. Kuala Lumpur has thus proven an ideal location to set up our business and grow Onyx.

As a final thought, what is one piece of advice you would give to a young entrepreneur entering the oil and gas arena in Malaysia?

Any entrepreneur has to understand what he or she can offer and then deliver upon what is offered to both staff and clients. The key is to understand yourself, your clients, and your staff and then to build upon this knowledge. If an entrepreneur does not recognize his or her competency limits or tries to push beyond these, problems will be no doubt be encountered.

To read more articles and interviews from Malaysia, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.



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