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Interview

Jelte Kymmell – Managing Director, Mocean Offshore – Netherlands

28.07.2015 / Energyboardroom

Jelte Kymmell shares the vision he had in creating Mocean as a specialist high-end engineering firm involved in complex projects as the early stage of their inception, the company’s focus on R&D and producing relevant solutions to problems facing the industry, and his aspiration to be the go-to company for tricky projects.

What were your initial aspirations in targeting this niche in the market, and what direction you plan on taking Mocean Offshore as managing director?

Spanning the length of my professional career before starting Mocean, I came to recognize a lack of companies offering independent hydrodynamics, mooring and marine engineering services, especially across Western European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Most of those activities have commonly been integrated within larger contractors in the industry. There was some level of independent support for, say marine engineering, but that would stop at a certain level and wouldn’t progress to high-end mooring design, R&D and actual structural design. Recognizing that gap and having worked for multidisciplinary companies before Mocean, I came to the conclusion that there would be favourable market opportunities for us, especially as an independent specialist company offering those services.

In terms of what I’m focusing on now, it wouldn’t be fully fair to say that we have a laundry list of grandiose ambitions to pursue. Frankly speaking, I simply hope to grow the company in a way that allows me to be personally involved in challenging and innovative projects that come through our doors—further fuelling the enthusiasm I bring to work every day. It is my hope to maintain a level of scale that allows us to be somewhat selective with the projects that we take on, a luxury absent from larger-staffed organizations that are only interested in maximizing utilization rates. Preserving more lean operations enables Mocean’s ability to gain an in-depth understanding of our clients’ needs and deliver tailored services with a clear set of procedures that they can work with. We’re not a dedicated research institution, but high-end specialists from project engineering backgrounds focused on creating practical solutions—a positioning that we’re striving to maintain and enhance moving forward.

In terms of resources, capabilities, and strategy, what is the continued relevance of basing your operations here in the Netherlands?

First of all, I have my network here in the Netherlands. If I look at where my clients are, approximately 30 percent are in the Netherlands, 30 percent in Belgium, and a few percentages scattered across the UK, Germany, and Scandinavia. Looking at that client base, the Netherlands serves as a central hub in terms of regional access. To this end, it’s a good country to maintain our business, especially with the local expertise that has been developed over country’s longstanding history in oil and gas.

Within the Netherlands, we’ve chosen to be located in Amsterdam—less obvious than what you would expect from companies focusing on offshore. As Rotterdam is very crowded with offshore-related business, we set up shop to Amsterdam in hopes of appealing to people wishing to do business with us here. Furthermore, there is a relatively new and upcoming market within the North that considers Rotterdam a bit too far. The strategic location is thus evident. And, last but certainly not least, we intend to contract staff with high motivation and likewise high expectations. We feel that Amsterdam has a lot to offer to our future staff.

In terms of industry dynamics, how has the company managed to thrive in an economic environment with constant supply and demand volatility?

Mocean is in sort of a niche within the industry. In times of high demand, people come to us for project support. In times of low demand, clients tend to restructure their fleet and come to us for development or upgrade support. As such, we haven’t seen any decline in project requests in the recent downturn. Structring the business in such a way wasn’t a strategic choice as such. I’m a technician first and entrepreneur second, meaning I like to personally oversee the development and overall composition of the services that we offer for our clients.

Having only been established in 2013, Mocean Offshore has already grasped a strong foothold in the market, completing a multitude of projects across the oil and gas and renewables sectors. What type of market segments is the company’s portfolio currently concentrated in?

Given the in-depth technical nature of our services, we’ve managed to significantly capitalize on demands in the offshore and renewables markets, with a growing interest from deep sea mining and desalination. Approximately 40 percent of our business is attributed to oil and gas, 40 percent wind renewables, and 20 percent to other sectors. As a Dutch company, wind renewables will always be a significant part of the business, but I’m trying to shift our focus slightly more towards oil and gas, mostly in design analysis of mooring systems and installation activities. This is due to the fact that wind has always been more sensitive to political agendas, invariably creating its own set of geopolitical risks that we’d have to factor into our business model.

Currently, other than Western Europe, our project portfolio has been segmented across Brazil, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The majority of these clients have sought out our services in hopes of accessing superior levels of engineering qualities and capabilities that they wouldn’t have otherwise experienced locally.

The current downturn in oil prices has invariably led to oil and gas players pursuing a more cost-conscious mindset in an already conservative industry. How can clients unlock more value by partnering with Mocean Offshore, as opposed to some of your competitors?

We have a mission statement: we hope to make future offshore operations more efficient. We strive to achieve this by reducing environmental footprints, safety risks, and overall operating costs. In line with engineering standards from IOCs and NOCs, our robust methods provide better levels of risk identification and help reduce uncertainties, two factors that culminate in process improvement from an operational and safety standpoint.

A very relevant position for us, and our business, is the fact that we’re independent. Given our background in, for example mooring, international oil companies like talking to Mocean to provide a third party perspective with superior insight and knowledge. We often help prepare new designs for mooring systems or other types of projects to streamline tender procedures and provide in-depth technical support—enabling us to work on those high-end projects in very early stages, which is where technical enthusiasts would really want to be involved.

We’re not limited by a specific set of rules or constraints. We tend to think that we manifest physics into project-applicable activities. via comprehensive computer tools,. Furthermore, every one of our staff members has extensive experience in dealing with oil and gas projects. The first word from our company subtitle, advanced offshore technology, implies our core values driving our continued success: Advanced Tools, In-depth understanding and eye for relevance, All three pillars are equally important, but perhaps the one underlying factor imperative for the success of any business is an eye for relevance—understanding what it is exactly that a client needs, then producing innovative, cost-efficient, and specifically tailored solutions to address those needs; this is the mantra from which we operate.

30 to 40 percent of the company’s projects are related to first time developments in the industry. Can you elaborate on the type of R&D projects that Mocean is currently undertaking to address current and future market demands?

There are two types of innovations. There are innovations that we engineer for our clients and then there are innovations that we’ve taken of our own initiative. One example is that we’ve been partnering with floating wind energy solutions, TLP-based solutions. We’re also developing the SeaSpyder project, a system that enables simple, safe, and comfortable transfer between platforms and vessels. There are a number of systems already available on the market, but we have a more permanent system using passive type operations and unseen levels of comfort and safety. The SeaSpyder enables contractors like jack-up operators and broader oil and gas operators to develop their platforms without helidecks, for example, which in turn generates significant cost savings and improved safety performance. Currently in the initial phases of engagement, it’s our biggest ongoing in-house development, and we’re expecting to have a functional prototype ready by 2016.

Have you considered expanding the company’s capabilities to applications onshore or even outside oil and gas?

With regards to onshore, I would doubt it considering that our current set of core capabilities relates specifically to the motion of water—hydrodynamics. Everyone in our company has a good understanding of hydrodynamics and the corresponding response of ships and floating or submerged structures. In terms of expanding outside of oil and gas and into newer developments, we see deep sea mining aligning quite nicely with the services that we offers. There are plenty of opportunities for Mocean to add value for companies operating in this sector, and we may start to see them manifest.

Above targeting specific market segments, we also consider our company as an ideal incubator for new and innovative concepts or ventures—collectively combining the network, capabilities, ideas, and talent present in Mocean, as we’ve done with the Sea Spider. That’s also important to consider when at small companies without the objective of rapid expansion. Some people aren’t aspiring to rise up the corporate ladder in hopes of becoming a manager or director. That being said, however, it’s important to fuel the growth ambitions of individual staff members, which we’ve done by creating an open environment where employees are encourage to take ownership over their own ideas and develop them in conjunction with Mocean.

Perhaps the most vital asset and key component to the company’s continued success is its people. How does the company go about attracting and retaining the best talent available?

Surprisingly, the most successful recruiting activities have been from people writing to me. From a financial point of view, it’s much better to acquire talent without the use of HR staffing agencies or recruitment services, which we do utilize periodically, especially for some projects that require a specific skillset. But for the company’s core composition, we prefer people who pursue a more proactive approach and knock on our door; these are the individuals that ultimately become success stories. Although we don’t have the resources or scale of companies such as the IOC or main contractors, Mocean has done quite well through our means—having tripled the size of our company to 12 people in only two years.

Can you highlight one or two examples of previous projects that truly exemplified the company’s philosophy: “Be thorough and creative”

Currently, we’re a core part of an ocean clean up project that is focused on cleaning up plastics in the ocean. This opportunity not only appeals to us from an environmental sustainability perspective, but also from a technical challenge standpoint. The project entails creating a system that will span an unprecedented depth of more than 4km. Our predecessors who were originally contracted to assess the feasibility of the project concluded that it could not be done—triggering our involvement. So now we’re involved in developing this system, finding new ways to think outside the box. The sheer scale and relevance of this project is so widespread that if a specific type of fibre needed for the project is unavailable, new factories will be built to move the project forward. The traditional limitations when considering oil and gas or even renewable projects are simply not there anymore. Projects like this one are really an outlet where we combine creative thinking from an engineering and design perspective. We’re still in a phase where we can really change the outcome of this project, so we’re really quite excited for further development.

Out of all your experiences and roles in the industry, what ultimately encouraged you to become an entrepreneur and start your own venture? And where would you like to take the company in the next 5 years?

When I look back in my career, I’ve noticed that maintaining or building a network doesn’t cost a lot of time or energy. I like to interact with people and I’m eager to learn about other people’s ideas. After some time I would notice a multitude of people approaching me for my advice, knowledge, and network, so I came up with a business model that would leverage all those capabilities that I’ve accumulated over my career. Mocean was essentially an organic response to the fluid combination of my professional and personal interests.

In the coming years, I would like to further strengthen Mocean’s presence in oil and gas and renewable energy, while capitalize on growing opportunities in deep sea mining, desalination, or even floating air fields. I’m aspiring to position this company as the point of reference for complex projects requiring extensive technical knowledge and capabilities. That’s what I hope to achieve, and whether that will be 20 or 30 people, I don’t have a specific goal in mind for that. In terms of personal motivation, as long as I can continue challenging myself and my people to provide practical answers to challenging problems, then I can only see the sky as the limit.

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

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