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Interview

Diego Saleño – Director & CEO, IPE Neuquen, Argentina

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The CEO of IPE Neuquén elaborates on his drive to develop the company while maintaining the essence of the formerly family owned company based on quality, safety and delivering excellency.

Could you please introduce yourself to our international readership?

“Creating value and solutions is the skill for which oil and gas companies will choose you for repeatedly as their service provider; this means, being a quality supplier!”

In 2003, I started working in the industry with San Antonio Pride, in Buenos Aires and Rincón de los Sauces, Neuquén.

As a technical company comprised of oil engineers, San Antonio Pride gave more than a technical service, because it was aligned with the clients through the operators such as Petrobras, YPF, trying to integrate processes and added value to client companies.

It is interesting how my beginnings in this industry allowed me to be with the clients in the technical discussions, in how to add value from the service provider company to the operator through experiences in different places. I moved on to work on the implementation of the quality system and environmental care within San Antonio Pride first, then in San Antonio International. In 2005, a Spanish global supplier company owned by Repsol, asked me to work with them as quality and processes manager. I handled the major oil and gas projects for this company, in 2008 I assumed my first position as general manager. That is where I first started to relate to the construction and the diverse infrastructure needs of the oil and gas industry. This diverse career track record and experience let me understand that creating value and solutions is the skill for which will oil and gas companies will choose you for repeatedly as their service provider; this means, being a quality supplier!

In the beginnings of 2015, after working with YPF in strategic consulting, investment monitoring and optimization of contracts, I assumed the position as General Manager and Director for IPE, applying my knowledge and experience to a full extent. To me, that was an exciting challenge, because IPE was a family company with a strong focus on electrical engineering and significant technical profile, nonetheless regional focused with strong family values. The idea was to change the processes, add innovation capabilities and commercial and economical prowess allowing investments. Moreover, my mission was to transform IPE from a traditional regional company into a national company. That is what we are trying to do today and it is a highly rewarding experience to add to the base and staff in order to develop the face of company!

What other steps have you taken to make the company what it is today?

First and foremost, keeping the history of the company; with 22 years of experience, IPE grew from three owners and one employee to become a company with a large number of staff that created great things, with offices and infrastructure here in Neuquén’s Industrial Park. The idea was to seize the base, value and spirit of the family company, but applying process development, staff training and incorporating more engineers, but not all at once. My idea was to respect the history and start implementing small changes aiming at professionalizing and incorporating technology and equipment. The shareholders’ contributions were very important because they allowed us to have our own equipment to develop services and projects instead of renting it.

The idea was to add investment and professionals, but all in balance with the family history that the company has and giving the existing staff the opportunity to develop. In fact, apart from some particular positions, we kept the same management team while supporting them in some specialist areas such as a logistics analyst, a purchases specialist or a commercial project development specialist. Respect and giving people an opportunity: that was fundamental!

The truth is, they made me feel like a member of the family and the past owners worked with me for almost a year to ensure a smooth transition. Despite them selling the company, those owners still advise me from a close distance. It was also important to transmit the fact that growth was necessary however that we were not there to change the philosophy of the company, but to develop the potential of the people that were already here.

How would you define IPE today? Is it still a family company?

The idea was to focus on the essence and spirit of the family company, regarding the quality, security, environmental care and technical capacity. The engineering manager – who was also one of the previous owners – is still working as engineering manager for IPE.

Quality, innovation, security and environmental care were the founding pillars of IPE and that is exactly the philosophy we are preserving, nonetheless having developed from being a family company to become a medium-size company. We are still a small company but we are on the threshold to be considered medium-sized. We are very strong positioned in the market, with good working capital and investments in equipment, training and development of the people.

Moreover, we have started investing in innovation, with our own electrical workshops and a lot of people driving the future of the industry. I am convinced that today we are a company shifting from small to medium size, with a lot of market opportunities to win because when the clients scrutinize our history, we have a spectacular track record of excellence! The essence of our quality service is that we anticipate the future by creating long lasting added value to our clients; and subsequently our clients regard us as a boutique company that suddenly has the financial capacity to develop.

How significant is the oil and gas industry to your operations?

Oil and gas is definitively our core business. For that reason, we are based out of Neuquén, the epicenter of Argentina’s oil and gas potential. IPE does general electrical work, for private and state entities; we are developing the substations and the spread area of the national infrastructure, but it is clear that our core business comes from the oil and gas industry.

We have developed substations and technology which aims at optimizing the electrical systems of the oil reservoir. The idea is to keep investing and developing our knowledge to improve these areas. Now, we also consider the electrification of the country as opportunity to our business. This lack of infrastructure on a national level is a whole new opportunity for IPE; we have very specific knowledge and now also the economic capacity to develop this kind of projects.

How will you enable IPE to take part in the wider electrification of the country?

IPE had to focus on the oil and gas because of its financial capacity. Since 2015—due to the new shareholders and the fact that we won capacity—we witness unsatisfied demand within the areas of the oil and gas industry and the need for quality electrical projects to be carried out in the wider region.

The difference is that today we have the technical capacity that we always had, but complemented by the financial capacity that allows us to tap into the development of Argentina’s electrical infrastructure including generation, transformation and transportation. Today, we have the ability to attack this unsatisfied demand with the right resources and the right quality.

Vaca Muerta is one of the attraction points globally for the oil and gas industry and is currently in the spotlight as Argentina is changing and opening to the world. How do you perceive this development in Neuquén?

I think this change is an opportunity. In fact, our shareholders anticipated this change and knew that the lack of investment into the electricity infrastructure was going to come to an end. That is why they chose to access Vaca Muerta through IPE, because that is where they identify the opportunity.

The idea was to get into this industry and into Vaca Muerta’s potential with high quality electrical services. IPE’s owners did not have successors to continue the business, so they found the fair partners in the new shareholders who are now driving the development of the company. There is no doubt that the vision of the new owners was to bet on Vaca Muerta and on Argentina opening to the world.

Without new important players, there is no way to develop Vaca Muerta. Our idea is to position ourselves as high quality Argentinian specialists; not only within Vaca Muerta, but for the development of the national infrastructure, our track record of utmost quality is a differential aspect showcasing our ability to build structures all over the country!

Your strategy to tap into this potential is to position yourself as partner to these big companies?

Exactly! Last month, for instance, we started a project which was completely owned by GE and the contracted company – Ronza Ingeniería, a global contractor – they said that they needed a local partner here in Argentina in terms of technical areas. Now we are constructing a complete high voltage line in Vaca Muerta for GE, connecting GE’s generation projects with the high voltage lines of Neuquén.

Many large companies such as GE are coming to Argentina and when they start their projects here they need a local partner. We know how to handle the unions, for instance, as well as all of the other specific market aspects to be considered.

Do you have enough capacity to partner with more multinational companies?

We will do our best to follow these global companies and big investors. We are not the only ones, however, we know that the change we will have to implement is important and that is precisely what we have been preparing for during these last two years. That’s why we invest in technology, people, training, staff and equipment to do things. I think that now more than ever, we are ready to take the steps that the big companies will require.

Why are you the right partner in Argentina for these companies?

We believe in quality, in technical and innovation capacity, in caring for people and in environmental care. We are a modern company, with modern management. We do not negotiate quality, environmental care or the security of our people. We are high quality specialists!

We will probably be missing capacity for big projects but we believe that we are the right partners, because if we commit to an objective, we will be dedicated to deliver excellency!  We have high initial standards that are not negotiable; maybe that means that we will seize a smaller part of the market but we will provide quality and security without negotiating our base values. We will keep our promises. If we start a project, we finish it. The compromise with the clients is to always tell the truth and show them where can we get together.

At the business and investment forum, President Macri said that the local companies are needed for the country to achieve its ambitions. To what extend can IPE be considered a role model for this development?  

The acquisition of IPE by our new shareholders was done in anticipating of Argentina’s political change. The main investors were Argentinian, because they already believed that the change was coming and that we had to be well prepared for that with the right equipment, technology and processes. The gap between the reality of 2015 and what Argentina needs to be is so big that it is necessary to be prepared for the upcoming challenges.

Large companies will undoubtedly arrive, and they will value the respect for quality and the ability to know our capabilities and what we can provide.  We think we have an infinite of upcoming possibilities, nonetheless, we are going step by step while being proactive and innovative thus strengthening our position as local experts across the country in our segment!

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