Martin Kobiela, Operations Director Southeast Asia, InterMoor, Singapore
The operations director of InterMoor, heading up the expansion of the company’s Southeast Asia footprint, gives a unique and encouraging perspective on the remaining attractiveness of the shallow water market in Southeast Asia, and expands on how the company aims to maintain robust growth in an evolving upstream market.
There is plenty of optimism in Southeast Asia regarding the potential of deepwater reserves. How do you assess this potential, and how is Intermoor positioned to capitalize on this forecasted opportunity?
Globally, Intermoor has a strong track record of operating in deepwater and the team in Singapore has a vast amount of experience in this area. We are currently in the process of investing in a breadth of equipment which will allow us to venture into deepwater in South East Asia. This year, we have completed a couple of jobs in deepwater. For examples, in the Philippines we have operated in depths of around 500 meters, and in Malaysia we do work for Murphy in very deep water – although our US division oversees this project.
Currently, despite the enthusiasm surrounding South East Asia’s deepwater potential, there is not a huge amount of deepwater drilling activity taking place and the infrastructure in place is relatively fledgling. In addition, it is important to note that there are an array of costs and risks associated with deepwater, and it is therefore important that we assess the opportunities that arise with great care.
Today, 90 percent of our regional business remains in shallow water and in certain areas, this remains a robust and strong market. For instance, much of the development for FPSOs is still found in shallow water. Ultimately, if one globally analyses the countries that are producing from deepwater, there are not that many names that spring to mind.
Upon arrival in Singapore, how did you intend to expand the company’s footprint in the region?
First and foremost, we wanted to move the regional business away from its equipment supply focus, and develop it into an engineering and installation company, modelling what Intermoor has done in Rio, Houston and Aberdeen. In order to achieve this evolution, we had to build a solid foundation. Simply put, our strategy was to: win work, build our engineering capacity, undertake installation and build our presence and reputation in the regional market.
Considering we are a small team in Singapore, we have had to be selective in the scale and type of projects we target. Even when we call upon our sister companies in the UK and US, we only have limited resources because they also have a vast amount of work. Moreover, we do not take on projects that we are not familiar with as the risks are just too high. Our expertise is in moorings and if there are additional services required to supplement those moorings, we will cater for them. Yet, we will not take on a scope of work that does not have moorings attached to it.
Ultimately our tailored and focused strategy is proving to be the right one. Over the last couple of years, our turnover has grown from approximately US$6.5 mn to US$25 mn and that growth trajectory will continue into next year too.
What are the core services Intermoor provides clients with in South East Asia?
Our primary services revolve around moorings: design moorings, analysis of moorings, and the engineering, planning, supply and installation of those moorings. These services are applicable to drilling rigs, semi-submersible drilling rigs, tender assisted drilling barges and FPSO’s. There are two distinct markets we service: temporary moorings – which are for semi-submersible’ and assistant drilling barges, and permanent moorings, which are for FPSOs.
Can you tell us about the diversity of your regional client base?
Since 2012, we have had success in our primary target markets: China and Malaysia. Naturally, we were attracted to China because of the sheer size of the domestic market, and Malaysia is enticing as it is on our doorstep.
In China, our client base are the NOC’s – with two principle clients being CNOOC and COEC. In Malaysia, we work with Shell and SK Drilling.
We have earmarked a second tier of attractive emerging markets: Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines and Cambodia – a number of which we have projects in.
Considering the competition in the region, what makes Intermoor the partner of choice?
Intermoor has a wealth of unrivalled experience to draw upon. Naturally we have international and local competition, but in terms of the engineering knowledge we possess, our rivals lag behind. Although a number of our primary competitors may have a greater range and amount of equipment readily available, we tend to have specific, bespoke equipment that suits our business that we can rent out when necessary. Ultimately, our durable competitive advantage is based on our knowledge and expertise.
Intermoor is also a company synonymous with high standards of health and safety procedures. How are stringent health and safety processes valued in South East Asia?
The region is probably a decade behind where we are in Europe; yet, the regional environment and attitude is changing for the better. Pushed by international companies such as ourselves, there is a global force that is gradually instilling strong health and safety regulations into the industry. Indeed, western companies entering the region need to spearhead industry advancement and support local companies in their transitions towards superior HSE standards.
How have you managed working in a region which is diverse, vast and complex?
Working and spearheading a business in South East Asia is hard work. One has to be prepared to work hard here. Unlike in Europe, where you can coordinate and manage projects from one base, such as Aberdeen or Stavanger, here you cannot. If you want to penetrate and open new frontiers in South East Asia, you have to visit these countries regularly and as such, there is a lot of travel. For example, although I am based in Singapore, I probably spend 50 percent of my time outside of Singapore.
Furthermore, to expand a business successfully, one has to be acutely aware of the cultural, nuanced differences and customs of people in this region. I was fortunate in the sense that before moving to Singapore permanently, I had a lot of business exposure in this region through other projects and therefore adapting to this environment has been a relatively smooth transition.
Finally, the most important characteristic to uphold in this region is flexibility. Managers should not come here with fixed attitudes because the chances are you will have to change them pretty quickly!
How important are Intermoor’s activities in South East Asia in terms of revenue and business sustainability, to the company’s global growth strategy?
Assessing the global hydrocarbon hubs, the APAC region offers substantial growth potential for oil and gas companies across the value chain. Similar to the Gulf of Mexico, remaining hydrocarbon potential in the North Sea could be unleashed as technology develops, but it is a mature and steady market. Brazil is arguably a case of unfulfilled potential and looking to next year, there is little activity taking place. In addition, heading into 2014, West Africa is a market which is flat-lining.
In South East Asia, there is a real hunger for new energy supplies because the region – as it develops economically and demographically – is forecasted to experience unprecedented demand levels. Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar – to name just a few – are all countries which are far from being self-sufficient in energy and electricity. Nonetheless, these countries recognize the scale of the challenge and are extremely focused on the need to establish new energy supplies and infrastructure. Naturally, this creates growth opportunities for Intermoor and we are well positioned to capitalize on this growth potential.
What is the strategic purpose of having Intermoor’s regional hub in Singapore and not in neigbouring, less expensive states, such as Kuala Lumper?
Intermoor’s Singapore presence was already established before I arrived. Relative to neighboring competitors such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore’s Achilles heel is that the overheads are expensive. Furthermore, given the nature of our business, the lack of internal storage and office space, has presented the company with a real challenge. We have spent a considerable amount of capital and energy transferring equipment from one end of the country to the other.
Nonetheless, Singapore offers a strong platform to operate and grow a business from. Firstly, the industry network is mature, well established and arguably unrivalled. Indeed, many of our customers are located in Singapore. Secondly, the educational system is advanced, presenting the sector a stream of talent which has a diverse skill-set. Ultimately, the local and expat talent pool, is extensive and well qualified, which supplements Intermoor’s regional operations well.
How would Intermoor’s presence in South East Asia have evolved in three years’ time?
In addition to the Singapore hub, I believe we would have established hubs elsewhere. For instance, if we continue to win business in China, I believe we would have to establish a local hub there.
For sustainability purposes, I do not think we will grow as rapidly as we have done over the last couple of years; yet, clearly, we want to ensure the company continues to expand in terms of employees, revenue and profitability.