Phil Lenox, Director, Aqualis, Asia-Pacific
Mr Phil Lenox, Asia-Pacific director for Aqualis Offshore, describes the emergence of the company, a new and exciting player providing offshore, marine and engineering consultancy services.
The experience and skills of this company are driving it forward across its broad service base, and Mr Lenox comments on the attributes that the business holds close in order to deliver consistent, high quality work.
Despite being such a young company, the business has already gained notable contracts including monitoring jack-up rig construction at the Keppel shipyards. How has the company achieved such a notable degree of market penetration in such a short time?
All of Aqualis’s founding directors have a long heritage in the offshore sector. The company therefore, is able to build on the past relationships of its senior staff, their expertise and familiarity with the sector. There was a gap opening in the market for a high quality consultancy consisting primarily of highly experienced personnel as Aqualis emerged and our business has been able to readily capitalise on this opportunity.
One of the key reasons these services are in such demand is the quality of our human resources throughout the company. Our staff often have a personal connection to other talented individuals in the sector, and this personal connection has allowed the business to select the best. This in turn becomes a particularly attractive quality for further potential clients.
As word has spread about Aqualis’s fresh offering which is globally spread but locally focused clients have been eager to utilise our services. Beyond simply the depth of experience, the breadth of the company’s understanding is highly applicable as well. The specialist skills each of our staff retain and offer to clients means the business has a very rounded offering. The business continues to develop this high quality blend of resources.
How has Singapore, as a hub allowed you to leverage your international experience and skills into Asia Pacific?
Strategically, Singapore is a good place to be because it is so central to the offshore business in Asia. Speaking to clients in other countries in the region, they are very interested to establish whether we will be opening offices in those countries- Malaysia, China or the like. For them, providing services from Singapore is of interest, but obviously clients prefer greater proximity to where their service originates.
In Asia, there is a very much ‘face-to-face’ type of culture; correspondence via email is clearly less favoured. Even though most places are very accessible from Singapore by air, travel still takes time. Having a secondary office in, for example, Kuala Lumpur means that clients can meet staff half an hour after a phone call.
So far in this region we have responded to this challenge by opening an office in Shanghai, along with various offices in the other regions.
What are your principal growth drivers and what is your strategy to exploit niches where you are particularly strong?
As a group, Aqualis is focusing on its current strengths in each of the countries where it is present. Our staff have specialist knowledge and so this means that delivery is tailored to these abilities in each country. It is a balance in each region between what the staff and resources operating in a country can achieve and what the local demand is for assorted services. These go hand in hand, as our staff are directed to areas where their particular skill is most useful. That said, we operate closely as a group and so can offer our global range of services wherever the demand.
I was posted to Singapore as my background is transport and installation (T&I). I had previously worked for a large installation contractor on North Sea heavy lift projects. This line of business was developing in Singapore and I therefore relocated here.
A great deal of T&I business is run from Singapore, hence my presence still and our growing department of specialist engineers and master mariners. With these skill sets and past experience Aqualis is also now listed by a number of insurers to provide marine warranty services.
The business in Singapore has other lines of expertise including a strong presence in dynamic positioning services (DP). At this moment, they are working with clients such as Shell, for example. Shell were aware of the talents of the individual staff who came to make up Aqualis, which is why they sought out the company’s services.
Rig moving is something that has grown opportunistically. Aqualis’s Middle East office is central to our rig moving efforts. They have seen opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, including the rig moving market in India, so have posted staff to this region and around them the business is building another cell of experienced staff here.
Lastly, a large aspect of our Asian business concerns construction monitoring. We have a project in the Singapore Keppel FELS shipyard, overseeing one jack-up and three further contracts in China, overseeing jack-up construction there. These are in Nantong and we are confident the expertise we are demonstrating here will lead to successive contracts.
This business is growing very well and a number of contracts have been obtained via our reputation spreading by word of mouth- in particular the quality we provide almost markets itself.
Working alongside shipyards as a third party review body, how do you ensure your relationship is constructive, adding value to the project?
There are two sorts of orders for jack-up rigs, those from drilling companies and those from investors. The former tend to have their own people and experts working on site monitoring construction.
Investors can order a rig from a yard and they would receive it complete and in accordance with specifications as all constructions are supervised by the classification society. However, to ensure peak value is delivered to a client and that the premium product is delivered Aqualis will oversee construction. Particularly for rigs bought as an investment, where the intention is to sell them on, the buyer will want to know who oversaw its construction process.
Investors for this reason, need services like those we provide guaranteeing the equipment is built, installed, painted and prepared properly to ensure the value of their asset. Our strong reputation too, adds further value to their selling power.
You have mentioned frequently, the human resources that drive Aqualis forward- what is it about the company that is so attractive to staff?
The offshore business is actually quite small; many staff coming to us are likely to be familiar faces. With a small, good company full of potential, people want to be part of that. It is clear that Aqualis will be successful and will continue to grow. We are still quite small so employees have a significant deal of responsibility for the success of their area of operations as well. Aqualis encourages staff to have some ownership of the business by offering the opportunity to buy shares.
How has your own previous experience helped you forward Aqualis’s interests?
I spent several years in a larger, established offshore consultancy which operated a similar business model, with staff sharing ownership of the company. When the company was sold the staff became just employees in a much bigger corporation and the culture changed noticeably.
I believe that consultancy businesses are generally more engaged when they are a smaller, more agile unit. The work is then hands on and the team operates in a very cohesive manner. Aqualis strives to establish this responsive type of business; from a client’s perspective, I feel that the smaller business model, focused on delivering excellence in a particular band of services offers greater value.
Do you have any key examples of projects you wish to tell us about; any particular highlights that you think Aqualis will be able to build on?
The Singapore office has been buoyed by construction monitoring projects- the business entered this market from the beginning. Consultancy is not typically large turnover type work- it is day to day, bread and butter operations. For this reason, obtaining these large single projects supervising jack-up rigs adds premium services to our business’ revenue stream.
Aqualis was fortunate to receive these projects so early on, and the reputation built on our early supervision projects has seen more work come our way. Again, the personnel that Aqualis retains are the reason this robust reputation has been built.
T&I projects are also high value projects which require a very competitive offering to secure. Large contracts for T&I projects are only offered intermittently; running ones’ business on this source of income can result in a relatively ‘feast and famine’ situation.
In this way, our consultancy services have presented our business with a steady revenue stream yet our highly skilled staff are also capable of accessing these higher value projects.
One example, where our business was able to provide services of particular value was in China. This was a topside floatover installation that ran into difficulty last year. Following an unsuccessful installation the topside had to be returned to shore. There was significant damage to the jacket and topside. We were engaged to carry out an independent investigation and produce a report. This report was well received and some of our recommendations were taken on board for the re-installation. The underwriter placed our company’s name on the approved list of marine warranty providers and we were subsequently awarded the marine warranty contract.