Joost Lasschuit – Managing Director, Top Side Offshore Technology – Netherlands
Joost Lasschuit elaborates on his aspirations for Top Side Offshore Technology, mainly to offer an all-encompassing operations control center for offshore with an expanded product portfolio and expanded global reach in the world’s offshore hubs.
What were your initial aspirations in investing in Top Side Offshore Technology, and what has the focus of your personal leadership directives have been since becoming managing director?
Joost Lasschuit (current owner): My background is in aerospace engineering and my interest in Top Side Offshore Technology and the offshore O&G industry is especially based on the concept of control & simulations and realizing operations control centers for companies with offshore fleets in order to find a global optimum. It’s interesting to optimize an engine, it’s more interesting to optimize a platform, rig or aircraft and even better to optimize a fleet of rigs. This is common practice in aerospace and it is a challenging concept for the offshore industry due to the geographical and remote aspects of being offshore. When communicating offshore you need to use satellite communication, which is a challenge. Many of the steps to realize an operations control center are thus not yet established. Given my background and this market gap, I recognized an opportunity and the potential of Top Side Offshore Technology. What I saw in Top Side Offshore Technology was a company with a long and excellent history in the business. Arie and his brother (Hans) are the third generation of a family company established pre WWII. The company has a tremendous client base all over the globe in niche solutions such as CCTV, weighing solutions and crane safety solutions. This company has the exact chain of assets needed to realize operations control centers, including an excellent customer base, with major clients across the globe, a very skilled team of engineers and quality products. In the spirit of improving a little bit every day, we have an excellent starting point for realizing an ambition at Top Side Offshore Technology.
What is the history of the Rolloos Group and Top Side Offshore Technology’s entry into the offshore market?
Arie Rolloos (AR): Top Side Offshore Technology is a family company. It was founded even before WWII by my grandfather and taken over by my father in 1986. In 1991, I came onboard when we were mainly dealing with the onshore business—the dredging industry, heavy equipment and the steel industry. In 1995, I started selling our onshore equipment in the offshore industry. The margins and demands in the offshore industry were much higher, but clients were still willing to pay for good products, which was different from the onshore companies who often just wanted to pay for the cheapest products regardless of the quality. So, we started with safety instrumentation for cranes, followed by CCTV for the oil and gas industry in 1999. It took a long time to convince people to use CCTV instead of adding people on the job, but nowadays we put between 15 and 20 cameras on an average rig and close to 100 on drill ships. Although times are tough right now oil-wise, there will only be more business for CCTV. These may be hard times, but instead of laying off people we are hiring them in preparation for the good times that are coming.
Why target the oil and gas industry at a time when the oil price is so low, and what type of current and future developments in the industry truly attracted your interest?
JL: I think there won’t be a better time than right now to acquire a company when prices are so low. These times are harsh and prove difficult for many of the larger companies. But, these times have provided great opportunity for companies like ours because we are small enough to be very flexible in adapting to new realities. There are three things that are very important to the business; safety, efficiency and the resulting profit. When business is high, there is too much labor, so you have to focus on safety more and more. On the other hand, if business is low, you have to optimize for your efficiency from a cost-effective point of view. However, there is room for change and innovation. Our ambition and our goal is to realize new ways of thinking; current market conditions represent opportunity, challenge rather than difficulty . The current conjecture also gives us a time frame where we have time to realize these innovations and adapt to the change.
How do clients stand to benefit from partnering with Top Side Offshore Technology for camera, weighing and crane security solutions, compared to what some of your competitors might be able to offer?
AR: The growth in the number of offshore platforms and drilling rigs in the past years is tremendous. A drill ship needs 200-250 people to man a ship and 100-150 new ships are being built. There is a huge demand for people to man these ships and there simply aren’t enough people at the moment. Here you can see the benefit of using cameras instead of people. The point is to put as many cameras as possible aboard these ships to reduce the number of people needed to operate them. It’s not only from an operational point of view, but also from a safety point of view. Since everything is recorded, if something happens on the rig, you can use the data as a case to learn lessons for the future. Of course, efficiency is also an important factor. These rigs cost about half a million USD a day to operate, so every percentage of efficiency that you gain is a win-win. You can thus see that we really have something unique and incredible to offer our customers.
JL: On offshore structures, many inefficiencies arise when people are moving around because they want to communicate but are unable to. You see inefficiencies where knowledge cannot to be distributed, as it is inside a person’s head or in a local database without a tools to easily extract it. Both of these problems can be tackled with our network and communication solutions. A smart phone will give access to knowledge via databases it is connected to , which means you can work near your sub-system and get the information you need – real time monitoring data and all the surface history: always and everywhere. Furthermore, you can contact the expert you need from wherever you are whenever you want. Imagine a world with open communication lines and real time data passing from rig to shore via our communication system. This is the vision we have and it’s our ambition to realize it. We aim to always improve efficiency by needing less people to do the same job. The subsequent reduction in the movement of so many people has the added bonus of increasing the safety.
How are you expanding upon the company’s current portfolio?
JL: In the past, we have had tremendous impact with our narrow product portfolio. We have been excelling in our niche solutions. When you have the ambition to realize operations control centers as we do, you need to broaden your product portfolio. You have to think about not only your CCTV and weighing systems, which are basically sensors, but you also need communication. Our private 3G GSM network is part of this, but you can also think about integrating more subsystems in an integrated database. The necessary elements are communication, integration of data and more smart camera solutions. Geographically speaking, of course it is of tantamount importance to establish a global network.
Together with the company’s US subsidiary, how will the company pivot from its current positioning and further strengthen its global footprint beyond just a network of representatives?
JL: At the moment, we benefit a lot from our local partners. In the end, however, if you want to be innovative, you always have to be ahead of the market. For this, you need to have your own branches and your own organization, because innovation cannot be done alone; you need partners, which are our clients. We put a lot of importance on the relationships with our clients. In the future, we will establish more networks, though we will not be in every country. We will be in all the major hubs such as Houston and Singapore/Kuala Lumpur, and we will continue to benefit from our local network.
How instrumental has the Netherlands been to the company’s growth over the years?
JL: I think there are two main reasons why the Dutch are ideal actors in the offshore and oil and gas sector. First, we are Calvinistic, in the sense that we like to be opportunistic in our solutions but conservative in our financials. Most of the Dutch companies are not public; they are family-owned companies and are here for the long run. Second, it may be a global sector, but it’s a small world. The Netherlands is an even smaller world where everybody is always nearby. Everybody knows everybody, and we have a very sharing based style of doing business. We share the good times and we share the bad times.
AR: Furthermore, the Dutch boast a VOC mentality (Dutch East India Company). We are a small country but we still want to conquer the world. There is not a single offshore or oil-related company without a Dutch person involved.
In terms of resources, support structures and investment climate, what makes the Netherlands an ideal environment for entrepreneurs such as yourself?
JL: My partner and I are very down to earth and we always strive for the best solution for our clients, in the most direct way possible. The Dutch in general are very direct. Sometimes other cultures have difficulty understanding this, but the offshore industry is looking for very direct individuals who always find the best solution. The solutions are our primary goal. That drive to be an entrepreneur and to search for new and better solutions is present in the Netherlands, both within the larger companies but also in private equity companies that can offer solid support needed to realize ambition. We are not here to consolidate within this company; we are here to take further steps towards a future with a greater impact with our solutions.
To what degree has the company focused on offshore wind, especially here in the North Sea with such a pervasive interest on renewables and environmental sustainability?
JL: There are a lot of global differences in these opportunities. The North Sea is of course a major location for offshore wind energy. Increasingly more we are establishing our CCTV solutions for wind parks. We are building one as we speak with 40 to 50 cameras to provide continuous vision on and monitoring of the site. You can imagine it’s hard to visit those installations as it requires going by boat. With our solution, they will be able to monitor their installation 24/7 in all conditions possible for the harsh environment the North Sea is. All harsh environments with remote locations are priorities for our continued growth, such as offshore drilling, wind energy parks and refineries.
What type of the R&D projects is the company currently undertaking to expand its portfolio of value-added products and services?
JL: There are several different areas we will be focusing on and they will all have a part in the integral solution— the operations control center. For example, communication and distribution of knowledge can only be accomplished with applications. First, you need your network, which is what we are establishing with our 3G GSM local network, an extension of the current system. With that you can transfer voice and data. However, if you have the network, you need to develop apps. There are many apps in existence already, but those are mostly cloud-based. Cloud-based apps run with server parks onshore. If you want to use them offshore, you’ll have to use satellite communication, which is very inefficient. This means you’ll have to develop local applications that suit the protocols and procedures of the specific end user. Partly through our partner network and partly within the company, there will be investments in app development.
To integrate data, you need to develop IO Boxes, which are protocol boxes. Challenges we foresee are related to the safety and security of the data communication. With every data solutions, there are concerns on establishing security. So, we are working on a hardware-based intrinsically safe satellite communications solution, which is an add-on to the current solution and not a new satellite communication. And we will be investing in smarter sensors and cameras as well.
From a managerial perspective, how will you go about aligning and integrating your own set of leadership values with the company’s longstanding institution of culture, principles, and people?
The reason we wanted to acquire this company is that the base principles and the base culture are very much aligned with ours. There is a desire and eagerness to improve every day and to deliver as promised. For us, to realize our ambition for the company will involve steps. First, we will be working on aligning the internal processes and improving or intensifying sales, both capacity and establishing real partnerships with our customers. Step two will be expanding our global network and our product portfolio. Step three is establishing a Top Side experience of innovation center.
Where would you like to take the company in the next five years?
In five years, we will be a totally different company, although our values will be the same. We will have local branches in Houston, Southeast Asia and the Emirates. We will be a solution provider—establishing integral solutions, which I call the operations control center. We will thus enable our clients to distribute these insights over their whole fleet and find a global optimum instead of a local optimum. With this, we will have all the segments of the solution; the sensors, the data-gathering & analysis and the communication within a single integrated solution.