Gerard Keser – Managing Director, N-Sea Group – Netherlands
Gerard Keser of N-Sea discusses the capacities that the group has added on since the acquisition of Stork’s subsea department and the step change this acquisition has made possible, as well as the company’s growing asset base such as the Edradour.
How has N-Sea Group evolved into its current positioning in the subsea market?
N-Sea Group was founded in 1933 as a ferry company for the islands in the south of Holland, and the company developed a diving capacity to service the burgeoning oil and gas market in the 1970s oil boom. By the 1990s, we had moved into survey and ROV work. We currently offer our services in the domains of IRM, survey and subsea services for existing subsea infrastructure or infrastructure yet to be installed.
Overall, N-Sea Group has decided to target a niche market where we believe that we can truly make a different and add value, namely the area of subsea asset IMR. The market for these services is relatively fragmented with a small number of very large multinationals alongside a plethora of smaller local companies – the just middle is missing. This middle ground is precisely our sweet spot of added value for our customers – oil and gas majors, as well as second and third tier operators who are expanding and looking for partners with whom they can have a more balanced relationship. The larger subsea multinationals have a tendency to dictate to smaller clients, while smaller subsea companies often cannot offer a total package of services to make partnering a worthwhile endeavor.
What do you consider to be the three major milestones of the N-Sea Group under your tenure thus far?
The first milestone has been to greatly improve the quality of the end product we are offering, often based upon previous customer demands. I would say the improvement of the quality of our assets, particularly our diving systems, vessels and ROVs, qualifies as a second milestone. Also, the quality of our data management has been greatly enhanced. Very often, the end result of our services is a report or database which our customers require to satisfy authorities, but also to understand their next focus on remediation of their assets. The second milestone would be innovation; over the past years N-Sea has added great tools, such as Mass Flow Excavators, a closed bell diving system, RHIB dive vessels, and identification tools for objects at or in the seabed. These innovations drive value to our customers. Finally, acquiring the Stork subsea business has allowed us to make a step change in terms of our offering and constitutes a third milestone. Previously, N-Sea Group was a smaller player in the North Sea and now we have moved to become a medium or big sized player and a more attractive partner for our regional clients.
N-Sea Group acquired Stork’s subsea division last year. How has this acquisition pushed you towards achieving your goal to be a “leading subsea infrastructure IMR company”?
N-Sea Group is growing not simply for size’s sake but rather to be able to leverage our assets and bring value to stakeholders. We have a targeted growth strategy to become a leading subsea IMR company.
The step change brought by the Stork acquisition includes several concrete additions to our offering. One of the most promising is the specialty in-house RHIB dive capability for IRM. In this segment, demand is still outpacing supply, which means the division should grow even during this time of lower oil prices.
In general, the Stork Subsea activities acquisition has allowed us to consolidate our bases in Europe and to build a pan-European company. Since our business in Europe is seasonal, we can also utilize the new assets and capabilities brought via the Stork Subsea acquisition during the winter season in other markets.
Given your impressive growth contracts in the UK totaling approximately 100 million pounds last year, please share the importance of your international portfolio to N-Sea?
Our international portfolio is very much pan-European with 99% of our work currently in Europe. However, in 2013/2014, we completed work for small projects in Korea, Brazil and Nigeria. We believe it would be a mistake to launch into major projects beyond Europe immediately, but we are looking at a concerted internationalization strategy for markets with a concentrated number of assets of a certain age. These zones include West Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean, and South Asia. Our internationalization strategy is a long winding process to add value that requires a fair degree of patience.
N-Sea recently added on the Edradour vessel that has a vast range of capabilities that your other vessels do not (i.e., restricted area access). What market advantage does owning vessels like this offer N-Sea Group?
The Edradour is a rigid hull inflatable bottom vessel that has been added on alongside our other two RHIBs, the Aberlour and Fettercairn, and of course our offshore support dive vessels, the DPII Noordhoek Pathfinder and DPII Siem N-Sea.
The Edradour, a GBP 1.5 million investment, features added capability and redundancy, making it ideally suited for restricted area access around offshore vessels, platforms and mobile offshore drilling units where diving support vessels have limited access for maintenance and surveys. The Edradour will be utilized as a specialist diving and intervention craft for the inspection of subsea structure, light construction works, debris removal, special periodic surveys (SPS) and inshore harbor survey work.
This month, N-Sea utilized the world’s first wet repair habitat complete with an onsite subsea cable repair. Can you elaborate on other industries firsts that you will introduce to move the industry forward?
I believe that if you simply do same thing today in the future, a company will die, as the market constantly demands smarter and quicker solutions. N-Sea thus places a strong emphasis on innovation. Since we are not a pure engineering provider, our innovation often stems mainly from lessons learned in projects.
We have worked to develop advanced underwater identification and positioning systems with improved visibility. These systems are used on UXO identification and removal projects. We have also worked on the Mass Flow Excavator equipped with multibeam and camera systems. For cable operators who need to ensure a depth of burial, N-Sea can help them do so rapidly and accurately. One recent development that stands out is our TUP (transfer under pressure) system, a closed bell diving. This system not only increases bottom time by 2.3 compared to a regular air dive system, it is also much safer for divers. It is thus both a safety and bottom line gain.
Many of N-Sea’s services will remain in demand despite market variations due to your focus on maintain existing assets. Nonetheless, how have you worked to retain resiliency despite the recent changes in commodities prices?
Previously our clients were focused on qualitative drivers, but the change in oil prices has led to a major shift towards quantitative drivers. We are thus working to drive down costs.
Firstly, N-Sea Group has responded by making sure that we complete our work right the first time. Although our services may be relatively small ticket item for offshore structures, we ensure that no breakdowns occur to lock in value.
Secondly, we have worked to make sure that we keep up good delivery of work and encourage improvements even during a time of cutting costs. We want our staff to know their jobs inside out and demonstrate their ability to do so: in short; competency management.
Thirdly, as we outsource much of our costs incurred to third parties, we have thus taken this opportunity to renegotiate many of our contracts to ensure more value for money.
You previously served as lieutenant in the Marine Corps and worked in Dutch marine services giant SMIT International. How has your experience managing offshore led to your development as leader of N-Sea Group?
In the Marines, I learned to lead by example and to instill a sense of inquisitiveness to my colleagues; people are very often capable of greater things than they believe themselves, and it is really nice if this can be brought out.. I thus actively encourage all employees at N-Sea to understand the issues at hand. I also encourage them to take on responsibilities and to comply or explain. In my current role, approximately 70% of the business success relies on the management taking on responsibilities agreed upon.
Finally, I travel frequently meet customers, to see how to improve our offering and to understand trends that are shaping our world. I seek to understand how we can best add value for all the stakeholders involved.
My background has been helpful as a big network allows me to access information. I have a big focus on stakeholder management of all types. I have surrounded myself with people interested in improving operations and who are focused on continuously improving our business.
Where would you like to lead N-Sea Group in five years?
During a management meeting last year November, the group suggested that we have 6 vessels and over 200 million euros revenue in five years time; Although these are only provisions, I see a bright future for N-Sea Group, expanding both geographically and in terms of our customer base.
We need to keep focused and remember that we cannot be all things for all people. There is still headway to be made and investments in business development. We will focus on sitting with customers and talking about solutions prior to the tender phase, where we have the most chance to make a positive impact.