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Interview

Gary Graham – Vice President (EMEA), ABS Group, Abu Dhabi

ABS Group - Gary Graham

Gary Graham, Vice President (EMEA) of ABS Group* discusses the acquisitions of Safetec and GenesisSolutions; how the company helps clients operate more efficiently while maintaining high regulatory standards; and the importance of the Middle East in the coming years.

Can you give us a brief overview of ABS Group?

ABS Group is a leading global provider of technical services that enable our clients to operate more safely, reliably, efficiently and in compliance with applicable regulations and standards. We are focused on adding value to the diverse industries we serve.

The last several years have been an exciting time for ABS Group.

Our ultimate mission is to help clients increase their earnings from a financial perspective, while helping them to maintain their ability to operate, with a focus on the various license and safety requirements. By virtue of this mission, we are committed to helping our clients create shareholder value by working to address their specific technical needs to support their assets and operations. For example, we verify that structures, equipment and systems function in a safe and reliable manner. At the same time, we look for ways to create further financial value for our clients, particularly when cost reduction is critical to industry.

These goals may be accomplished through a number of our integrated solutions focused on reducing operational expenses, driving performance efficiencies, managing risk across an enterprise and, most importantly, safeguarding personnel and the environment—all in accordance with fulfilling regulatory and legal responsibilities. We offer a range of technical solutions through our key service lines for Technical Inspection and Verification; Safety, Risk and Compliance; Asset Performance Optimization; and Management System Certification.

Just over a year ago, Todd Grove was appointed as President and CEO of ABS Group, having previously served as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at ABS. Has the focus of ABS Group changed in any way since Todd’s appointment?

ABS Group was formed over 40 years ago to provide non-classification technical services to the marine industry, and it continues to evolve as a company to meet the changing needs of the diverse industries we serve. Today, we play a key role in delivering additional advisory and certification services to other key markets, including onshore and offshore oil and gas, chemicals, power generation, and the government sector, for which we offer a number of risk-based solutions. Through our operating subsidiaries, ABS Group is focused on addressing client needs in areas such as process safety, enterprise risk management and quality assurance, in more diverse global industries such as petrochemical, transportation and pharmaceuticals, to name a few. With Todd Grove’s leadership, we are continuing to build on our trusted reputation delivering enhanced safety, reliability and integrity services to our broad range of clients. Todd brings a wealth of experience from the marine and offshore industries and his prior experience as a Chief Technology Officer brings to ABS Group both the focus on technology and innovation.

You have been Vice President of Europe, Middle East and Africa at ABS Group since January 2014. How would you describe the company’s performance over this period?

The last several years have been an exciting time for ABS Group. We have made a number of acquisitions; namely Safetec, a Norwegian risk management consultancy company with offices in the UK and Malaysia, adding to our existing safety and risk consulting capabilities. Safetec’s particular expertise in offshore capabilities complements ABS Group’s existing global know-how. The acquisition of GenesisSolutions delivered robust capabilities in enterprise asset management, computerized maintenance management systems and asset performance optimization. ABS Group has been able to leverage such capabilities, not only in the U.S., but also in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, building on our integrity management capability.

Over the past few years, the company has increased its revenue across all our markets. In the Middle East and Africa, our business is focused on oil and gas. As the price of oil has fluctuated, this has created a challenging environment for both our clients and technical providers such as ABS Group. In an environment focused on cost containment policies, we can help clients obtain cost reductions by operating in a more efficient manner, while still maintaining the high standards that regulators demand.

Where does the Middle East stand in terms of strategic importance to ABS Group?

Currently, ABS Group operates with more than 2,000 employees in over 30 countries, with a strong presence in the EMEA region. With regional headquarters in Dubai, ABS Group has provided technical services in the Middle East for over 40 years, working within the marine, offshore, petrochemical, nuclear, renewable, defense and public sectors as a trusted safety, risk and integrity management adviser.

Since the Middle East is the largest oil and gas producing region in the world, it provides a great opportunity for us to build a local footprint in the various markets in which we operate. Not only do we bring our international expertise to support projects here, which is something our clients particularly appreciate, but we also work with local companies, such as Saudi Aramco, when they are interested in expanding internationally. We work with such clients in locations as diverse as the U.S, the Netherlands and Singapore. This allows us to be global advisers to our clients.

Many of our interviewees have stressed the importance of ‘localization’, having a level of local content. To what extent is such a strategy important to ABS Group?

As part of the Saudi government’s 2030 Vision and the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the focus is on diversifying away from a reliance on oil and gas revenue, which requires significant investment in human capital and industry. Simultaneously, there is an emphasis on increasing the skills of the local workforce as well as their representation in the private sector. In Saudi Arabia, Saudization is a key element of the government’s strategy, and it is essential for ABS Group to contribute to this process.

Increasingly, a key performance indicator when it comes to the awarding of contracts is local workforce content. The Middle East is a region that has a heavy concentration of foreigners, notably in the UAE, with a very transient population. If you really want to have a company with a long-term future in a region, increasing your local workforce is key.

We have our own Saudization program as part of our drive to expand our local content. We will soon be offering 18-year-old Saudi students a two-year training period with ABS Group, with the ultimate aim of having them join the company. In the UAE, we are similarly concerned with local content but it is slightly more challenging due to the smaller local population.

The GCC is a region that is undergoing a lot of changes. With your background of extensive Middle East experience, what do you see as the key changes that will drive the business in the region over the coming years?

On the power side, nuclear energy is coming to the Middle East. In the UAE, the Barakah Nuclear Plant is expected to begin operations in May 2017. Such a development will change the dynamics of the energy market. Equally, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy is an important development, as an independent organization established by Royal Order in April 2010, responsible for developing atomic and renewable energy strategy in Saudi Arabia.

On the petrochemical side, many of the oil and gas facilities in the Middle East have aged considerably. As such, extension studies will be needed over the next few years. In this regard, ABS Group’s focus on providing services which consider the extension of the service life of assets will be critical in using new technology to revitalize an older asset and increase production levels. Due to the UAE’s drive for greater revenue, we have not seen a high level of redundancies in oil and gas production facilities, so this may be a further source of concern for companies.

What do you want to achieve with ABS Group over the next few years?

We want to continue to leverage our global network of capabilities and bring them to the Middle East. Our ambition is to serve governments and people in the region by increasing the local content of our workforce, thereby investing in the local human capital and local industry. The Middle East has been one of the fastest growing regions for ABS Group, and this will continue.

As someone with over 25 years’ experience in the energy industry as well as extensive experience of working in the Middle East, what is your personal impression of the region?

Sometimes people have the impression that the Middle East is a rather dangerous place, which is certainly an unfair generalization. What I have found is a region that is very interesting from a cultural perspective, and full of potential from a business perspective. The Middle East provides excellent opportunities for companies that are looking to expand. From companies such as Microsoft and Apple, to oil and gas companies, most of the big players understand the importance of being present in this market and they have all established offices here.

*ABS Group refers to ABS Group of Companies, Inc. and its subsidiaries including ABSG Consulting Inc.

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