Alexandre Vilanova Jorge. Country Manager, ALMACO Group, Brazil
Alexandre Vilanova Jorge, Country Manager of ALMACO Group, Brazil, talks about the company’s current growth strategies, the successes it has had in the recent past, and where the company aims to be in the next five years.
You have extensive experience throughout the Petrochemical industry so what finally brought you to Almaco and offshore accommodation?
It was the challenge that attracted me to the accommodation market. I have been working for 16 years in oil and gas, through sectors from downstream to equipment, to engineering, working for big companies where the structure is interesting but there is less opportunity to influence the holistic, strategic direction of the company. When Almaco invited me to my current position, I had not previously had the opportunity to directly steer a business operation, to start a process from the beginning and to combine my local knowledge with a wider appreciation for business—this upstream challenge was, therefore, highly attractive. The enjoyable thing about working for Almaco since 2012 now is that I am immersed in something new, and whilst I do not have direct previous experience of the technology Almaco uses, the sales and management aspects of this business are exactly the areas I am most familiar with.
In August of this year, Almaco was awarded the contract for complete Living Quarters on six drillships to be used in the Brazilian pre-salt ultra-deep layers drilling program. What are some other achievements you feel the company has made since it arrived in Brazil two years ago?
Since starting here in 2012, my key challenge has been to build this business. Almaco had a long term and medium term plan for growth in Brazil, which firstly involved me working here in Brazil, on my own, to set the company up with bank accounts, licenses and followed up on this by seeking to secure contracts and make sales. Amongst four potential contracts, the opportunity to build living quarters on EEP’s drilllships was the most favorable, and so 100 percent of my time was focused on this opportunity. It was in January that we received the invitation to bid for this project and June when we received a letter of intent confirming our role. This first contract meant our first year here was a great success, highlighted by the fact that the EEP contract is the biggest contract ever undertaken by Almaco worldwide.
Actually, Almaco came to Brazil on the invitation of Petrobras; the Brazilian giant had been on a mission to Finland to attract high technology companies in 2011. Almaco was invited to present to senior Petrobras staff, including Mr. Formigli (currently the director of Exploration and Production) and following this, Petrobras became the route for Almaco to enter the Brazilian market. Petrobras seemed very enthusiastic about Almaco’s processes and indicated to us that they considered deploying such processes in the Brazilian market would likely result in a highly profitable business. Almaco made further representations and was added to Petrobras’s supplier list and this opened the way to Brazil.
Indeed, Almaco is fortunate to have a positive working relationship with Petrobras, as their scale means they influence many of the standards and customs of the Brazilian market, and that relationship makes business easier.
With the much-anticipated bidding rounds having recently occurred, including for the significant prize of Libra, there surely is going to be a rapid increase in demand for offshore accommodation and galley units. What is Almaco’s strategy at the moment to create growth for the company?
Some of Almaco’s competitors do produce high-level technologies, and have a proven record in delivering good quality projects. It was important that Almaco proved it could exceed the expectations of the market; that the company could prove itself to be more attractive than these competitors. Almaco is now building a local reputation as the best supplier of living quarters and accommodation models.
The company’s strategy is to put the Almaco brand on projects throughout the sector. Combining local knowledge and localized project teams with experience from our headquarters, we can use this experience to build faster and more reliably; we are also able to wield this advantage to benefit our local clients with an intimate knowledge of this market.
How important is Brazil to Almaco’s global portfolio now that this project has come forward?
Brazil is within the top five most important markets for Almaco. There are few announcements of potential contracts from other markets that are of the same scale as that we have for EEP. There is limited local competition as well. As a company, we are here to develop technology in Brazil, which we have imported to the country. Of all the money invested in Brazil’s oil and gas sector, a significant proportion must come from abroad, both in terms of technology and suppliers.
On the other hand, whilst Brazil does represent a significant opportunity, companies operating here must adapt to local challenges. Most other oil and gas rich countries have a simpler business reality to deal with, IOCs frequently talk to suppliers directly, and their business is enough to sustain a company. Here, there is greater complexity due to regulation and local policy.
As a company originating in Finland, how has Almaco adapted to the Brazilian working culture?
It is very interesting to watch the interaction between Finns and Brazilians. If you talk to Brazilians, the stereotype is that Finns, and more generally Scandinavians are cold, and perhaps closed off. I have never seen this to be the case. The Finns have an open nature, and are easy to deal with; both Finns and Brazilians are happy outgoing people.
The one difference of significance that I have noticed is that Finns tend to be very direct, and to the point. Latin people, however, are less direct, particularly when trying to deliver constructive criticism of performance. This does not just apply to Brazilians, but Spaniards and Portuguese too. Often, if one does not phrase critique of an activity carefully, it can be taken personally. Professional critique thus must be couched in careful terms, sensitivity must be shown in this respect. Communication therefore is one of my considerations when it comes to managing relationships between various nationalities.
This is compounded, particularly when engaging with individuals from English speaking countries. For Brazilians, English is a second language and making contracts across this language gap; for example, technical and legal aspects needs both parties to take considerable care.
As modern lifestyles change, for example, through use of more personal communications technology, is Almaco having to adjust its product range to keep up with changing expectations? How would you describe the quality of life offshore here in Brazil?
Working offshore is entirely different; the projects are very impressive. Working in a very hazardous environment, alongside workers who are responsible for your safety as you are responsible for the safety of others, changes the way one thinks about colleagues. This alters the way people behave and there are few personal disputes because of this. In Brazil, local regulations mean that offshore workers cannot be kept on a platform for 15 days. On other shifts, there are instances of working 35 days, followed by 50 days off. It is crazy, and I do not think Brazilian workers would accept such a schedule. The quality of life abroad, however, is remarkably high and at the moment, accommodation is improving and is shared between fewer people, which makes compromise between those living close together much easier. Commonly, in Brazil accommodation is shared between four people; but the standard is moving towards two sharing.
Better living standards mean a reduction in problems with drink, drugs and separation from family.
How do your construction techniques and technologies set you aside from competitors?
At the moment when we construct our accommodation we build a steel skeleton into which we fit modular cabins, which include public areas for games, cinemas, and restaurants as well as private dormitories. Once the accommodation has been pieced together, we then fit out the interiors as suits our clients. Our products are very much customized to client’s needs and Almaco consults customers from the initial designs to completion of the projects.
This is not a patented way of putting accommodation together, but there are certainly techniques that are learned, and experience very much helps in this situation. This is certainly something that puts our business to the forefront of this market.
How do you envisage the accommodation market in the next five or so years and what is Almaco’s strategy to seize market share?
This market should continue to be highly attractive. Indeed at the moment, we are ramping up to bid for a contract outfitting as many as 12 FPSOs with accommodation units. Libra will generate a significant amount of demand for accommodation units meaning there is no shortage of requirements for accommodation units.
Almaco will be aiming to bid for all the potential contracts going, but would be satisfied receiving a lesser number of projects that we could comfortably provide for at the moment— a further five new build projects would be easily within our companies capabilities.