Bardot – Chairman, Bardot Group – France
The founder and CEO of the Bardot group, a leading provider of subsea solutions, discusses the nature of his services and shares his aspirations for the future.
How did the Bardot Group come about, and what have been some key successes since its creation?
In 1996, I founded my own company, which specialized in strategic polymer parts designed for a wide range of industries like aerospace, automotive, and military. This was after an entire career spell in the polymer industry. I was introduced in this industry to develop the bend stiffener parts for the Technip Group. In fact in 2003, the company was blazed by a fire which permanently destroyed our facilities. In 2004 I decided to build a spin-off company, which is now known as the Bardot Group. After the fire, I had the courage of creating a new company but this time, we would only be dedicated to serving customers in the oil and gas industry. I was initially on my own but was rapidly able to hire very qualified engineers. Our turnover grew exponentially from half a million euros to EUR 13 million (approximately USD 14 million) in a few years. We relied on a business model that differed greatly from our British competitors.
Today, we produce polymers alongside various components made from different materials. Our business model consists in producing locally in order to satisfy our customers’ expectations from inside the market. Our products are engineered in France but parts are manufactured directly in the market where we intend to deliver them. We decided to seek industrial partnerships with companies in demand of engineering processes and recipes for polymers. We now boast partnerships in the US, Brazil, Europe and Malaysia.
The Bardot Group was a pioneer in this niche market. What distinguishes today Bardot from its competitors?
We have to remind our audience that the Bardot Group does not own its industrial assets, which enables us to grow at a robust pace in terms of engineering. We invest a lot in licenses, software and people. It is easy to see that this business model deeply accounts for the company’s success.
For the moment we are specialists in Subsea Umbilicals, Risers & Flowlines (SURF) functions. For example, if a client needs to make the line buoyant, we install some buoyancy; if a client needs stabilization on the seabed, we install smart stabilizers. All these features and equipment can be made from polymers and other materials. We need to go further however by developing an entire smart SURF package. Problems arise less frequently but they are increasingly challenging. We thus need to expand our package to enlarge the company. We accomplished this last year in the UAE, where we procured a USD 10 million project. We were contracted to deliver all of the engineering equipment and the line to install and complete the whole umbilical. We were therefore able to produce innovative and technological research to meet the demands of energy production in extreme environments.
How important is the role of research and development to the company’s success?
R&D is extremely important. We spend around 20 percent of the company’s turnover in R&D, which constitutes a significantly high figure. However, in my opinion, the company is still very small. As I said, we achieved a turnover of approximately USD 14 million last year, and we would like to reach USD 100 million by 2020. This target is very ambitious, but our driving objective is to win larger contracts by enhancing the engineering capacity of the company. If we win next year three large contracts in the range of USD 10 million – which we have now shown we are able to deliver -, already a third of our objective will be reached.
How do you keep up with all of the recent technological developments that influence your activities?
The company is actually a well-oiled organization and we have a special engineering office for the equipment, hydrodynamics, SURF architecture, and a new business unit that is dedicated to service licensing technology. We will license one of our technologies this year. It is a promising step for us and we intend to continue developing this licensing service. We hope that licensing can add one-third to the total revenue target of the company by 2020. Our aim is not necessarily to increase the number of projects we undertake but rather the size of them.
Your SURF activity and solutions that you offer are tailored to clients who work under harsh conditions and in remote locations. How are these circumstances unique?
At the moment, we specialize in deep water conditions. This is very much the case for our project in the Arctic, where icebergs can plague certain operations. In this particular environment we opted for extra-long tiebacks so we developed a full technology for extra-long tiebacks with a special installation. These solutions for harsh environments and extreme conditions are what we strive for here at the Bardot group.
We are an engineering and construction company whose engineers are very focused on unlocking technical barriers and challenges, and I like to think that this is very much the French specificity: strong engineering, skills, and mindsets.
You also take pride in providing your LowPex solutions. Is this something that you rely on to respond to your clients’ intensifying needs and expectations?
All activities and solutions organized by the Bardot Group work towards a common goal: the reduction of capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operating expense (OPEX). We have named this philosophy LowPex. Our LowPex solutions indeed enable us to deliver services that correspond to our client’s challenges in light of plummeting oil prices. In 2008, we all knew that hydrocarbon prices were correlated to the financial crisis. Today the economic slump inspires us to find revolutionary solutions to cut the cost of projects in half. This is why, as a new SURF player, we are trying to develop technologies that will save a lot of CAPEX and a lot of OPEX to our clients.
You have partners in the US, Canada, Malaysia, and Brazil. How are these international projects coming along?
We have already established subsidiaries across the globe but our main objective in years to come is to have foreign companies use our French concepts and technologies. Some of our international branches are more sophisticated than others. For example, our Malaysian branch is the most sophisticated because they are more staffed than others, with French but also highly skilled local staff. They need to be fully operational by themselves. Our ambition now is to duplicate this model to other regions, notably the US and the UAE.
Cutting costs by half is a very difficult objective to reach and I think that the answer is not to minimize the margin, but rather to invest in new technologies. We have promising prospects in the Middle East, particularly in the Emirates. Our next step could be Russia, but this would be a very complicated endeavor!