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Interview

Eric Laporte – CEO, Countum Group – France

The CEO of the Countum Group, a supplier of accurate metering solutions, provides insight into the challenging merger between Meci and Satam. He is confident that this merger will spearhead the company’s international development.

The Countum Group was born from the 2009 merger between two measurement specialists, Satam and Meci, which were established in 1921 and 1922 respectively. Satam was built by the famous French tennis player Jean Borotra and began life as an industrial company, encompassing several activities revolving around mechanical equipment, while Meci specializes in liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon custody transfer measurements.

During the 1990s, the American company Tokheim acquired Satam. At the time, Satam was considered the French leader in several market segments including oil depots, oil road tankers, aircraft refuelers and fuel dispensers for loading, unloading, transfer, blending and additive injection operations. When Tokheim decided to disengage from Satam, Eric Laporte, the CEO of the company, immediately seized the opportunity: “I decided to acquire Satam with the support of an investment fund. We incorporated Meci in 2009 to form the Countum Group.” Overall, Countum employs 130 professionals and operates two production facilities.

Today, the company operates in a niche segment: custody transfer metering. Custody transfer metering plays an important role in the oil and gas industry, as metering is usually the object of stringent regulations and is mandatory for billing. Both companies address complementary markets as Satam focuses on the downstream sector while Meci is upstream oriented. The merger has therefore enabled the Countum Group to provide custody transfer metering solutions across the entire value chain.

The company‘s core activity consists in providing extremely accurate metering solutions. For example, in France and Belgium, the company’s clients are now capable of conducting fiscal calculations for pipelines using the most accurate measurement instruments. Countum’s products also enable companies to gain the right certifications and comply with local regulations in each country. “Our products are certification enablers,” says Laporte. “Whether it was Total’s Ichthys LNG project operated by Inpex or other projects, our products ensured the certification of their systems. We constantly unveil new innovations and smart products.”

Satam and Meci are also complementary from a geographical standpoint. While Satam has always boasted a significant international presence, Meci was long considered a pure French player. “ One of the objectives of the merger was to capitalize on Satam’s international presence and network of local distributors to encourage Meci’s international expansion,” adds Laporte.

The company was ultimately unsuccessful in sparking synergies between the downstream and upstream sectors as interactions between both sectors are very infrequent. The company therefore decided to implement an independent international strategy for each entity.

Satam’s revenues have experienced a steady growth in recent years. The company immediately recognized the decline of the European downstream sector marked by the closing down of several refineries, and responded by seeking further international expansion. Satam has consequently built a robust presence in Africa where it acts as an undisputed market leader in several countries. The company has also turned toward Asia, Indonesia notably, and Russia.

Meci was in a very difficult financial situation when Countum acquired it. The group dedicated considerable efforts and investments to revamp the company: “It took us five years to restore Meci’s financial health,” Laporte reveals. Fortunately, these investments have yielded considerable results and the company has achieved significant profits in the last two years. Thanks to a recent contract won on behalf of Samsung, Meci’s turnover is now above USD 11 million.

In France, GRTgaz constitutes Meci’s main customer. The shift towards smart grids in Europe and increased interconnections between networks has fueled a greater need for measurement control systems. “Training and development players will always require our high end equipment. For instance, French Gas operators wants to inject biogas in their network, but biogas has different properties and is not as good as natural gas, so it needs additional measurements,” explains Laporte. “Overall, T&D companies will balance the use of natural gas, biogas and hydrogen, and our innovative solutions can play a role.”

When asked if France could become the gas roundabout of Europe, the CEO of Countum declares:My first question is to ask whether the Dunkirk terminal will really be filled with gas.” Laporte considers that too many unresolved geopolitical predicaments can affect France’s ability to become a gas roundabout. He believes however, that France possesses the right attributes to connect the north to the south and neighboring countries such as Belgium and Switzerland.

Although the group regrets the closing down of several refineries across Europe, it has benefited from the introduction of new European legislation and directives which stipulate that existing refineries must comply with new norms and regulations. The CEO of Countum recognizes that this window of opportunity only represents a short-term opportunity: “The ratification of new European legislation will be beneficial until 2017 but given the current slowdown of the oil and gas market, this will help us weather the storm.”

On the international stage, the group has earned valuable credentials while working for Samsung on the Ichthys project. The company is currently in the final stages of a difficult but critical milestone in the company’s development. “We had to overcome certain cultural issues, but I believe that our collaboration with Samsung was constructive, productive and an overall success. We look forward to working with them on new ventures” asserts Laporte.

In Algeria, Meci has equipped Sonatrach, who recently renewed its confidence in the Countum Group. Meci has also provided solutions designed for the first FPSOs which appeared in Nigeria and Angola, Girassol notably.

As a former subsidiary of Elf Aquitaine, Meci has entrenched ties with Total, enabling the company to accompany the supermajor on several projects worldwide. “We have undeniably capitalized on our preferred relationship with Total to further our international ambitions,” admits Laporte.

The CEO was nonetheless forced to recognize that Countum’s positions were weak in the Middle East, where it faces fierce competition from American companies.

Similar to many successful French SMEs, Countum’s solutions are situated on the high end of the market and therefore not aligned with operators’ recent push for cost reduction. “More than ever, we must stress the high end, innovative nature of our products, to our customers who need to understand the high costs of our solutions,” responds Laporte.

Laporte is confident in his company’s future success. He believes that although Satam’s growth will be steady, he can double or even triple Meci’s turnover in a few years: “We strive to perform. We have come a long way since 2009. We have finally put Meci back on its feet and are now mature to activate the internationalization of the company.”

Click here to read more articles and interviews from France, and to download the latest free oil and gas report on the country. 

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