Ross Gibson – Regional Operations Director Gulf & North Africa, Amec Foster Wheeler
Ross Gibson, Regional Operations Director for the Gulf and North Africa at Amec Foster Wheeler, discusses the company’s growth in the region despite current market challenges as well as how they are leveraging their global expertise to deliver solutions to their clients. He also outlines the importance of strong client relationships and long-term commitment to Amec Foster Wheeler’s continued success.
You have been in your current role as Regional Operations Director for the Gulf and North Africa for 4 years. What have been some of the highlights and challenges during that time for you?
We have grown from a workforce of 70 in the UAE five years ago to over 600 today, while in Kuwait we have grown from 300 to nearly 900 people.
There have been challenges recently in the industry, yet over the past five to ten years we have seen steady growth in the region, particularly in Kuwait and the UAE. For example, we have grown from a workforce of 70 in the UAE five years ago to over 600 today, while in Kuwait we have grown from 300 to nearly 900 people. This is significant growth, and I believe that there are many opportunities for continued growth in the future.
Globally, the Middle East is the main region where there is room for investment. It is true that there is more competition and we are seeing a lot of pricing pressures, which has been a challenge. However, we are seeing opportunities for diversification of services as well. Primarily, we are a project management consultancy within the region, but we are developing a significant engineering presence and mature asset production optimization solutions capability, and this will help us consolidate our position in the region.
The 2014 merger of AMEC and Foster Wheeler was designed to create synergies between your geographies as well as your business segments. How has this merger benefited your operations here in the Gulf and North Africa?
The merger has been received very well by clients, particularly here in the UAE. Foster Wheeler truly has an amazing reputation, and the merger allowed the company to combine our expertise in the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors. AMEC was more focused on the upstream sector within the Middle East and Foster Wheeler was more active in mid and downstream sector, so the merger enabled us to access capabilities that we previously did not have access to. As a result, we are doing much more downstream work within the region – a timely advantage given the recent oil price crash.
The synergies in complementary capabilities, expertise and geographic footprint created by the merger were also evident in the fact that the integration process was relatively simple. The Middle Eastern businesses, for instance, were largely integrated within the first six months. AMEC was not operating in Saudi Arabia while Foster Wheeler had a fantastic reputation there, especially for their work out of Reading in front-end design, particularly for large refinery and petrochemical plants. We can now leverage on our larger footprint in the region, which is great for growth.
Amec Foster Wheeler does have a very comprehensive portfolio particularly with the post-merger downstream capabilities. What particular areas and geographies do you see driving the most growth in the future?
As a result of the fall in oil prices, we have seen a reduction in capital expenditure (CAPEX) from our customers, which is understandable. However, operating expenditures have increased – there are billions of dollars’ worth of assets in the region and they still need to be operated and have their integrity maintained during this downturn. These are significant investments, and companies constrained by the number of employees they are able to spread across these assets require support, which is where we come in. We see significant opportunities in the ongoing support of these assets over the next two or three decades.
We are currently seeing significant investments in the downstream industry, notably in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia: large FEEDs in Saudi Arabia as well as a new large petrochemical complex in Kuwait. We see significant opportunities in Saudi Arabia, both in terms of growing our upstream offshore work as well as expanding into mining in the region, having recently completed a feasibility study for a Saudi gold project. Iraq is a strategically important market; we recently received a three-year framework agreement to provide engineering services to support BP Iraq at the Rumaila oil field. There are plans to grow further in Oman, building upon the FEED work executed by us for the Duqm refinery. We see room for growth in Qatar and are currently heavily involved in offshore work in the UAE, particularly with the Zakum Development Company (ZADCO) and Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (ADMA-OPCO).
Lastly, there are great opportunities for us in Africa, where I believe that commodities and minerals will rebound before oil and gas, creating many opportunities in the mining sector.
How does Amec Foster Wheeler differentiate themselves from your competitors in the region?
In terms of differentiating ourselves, two things are key: customer trust and cost efficiency. We are fortunate to have cultivated a number of long-term relationships in the region, and have been involved in many of the region’s megaprojects, giving us an intricate understanding of their complexities and requirements. We have a well-established engineering execution center in India, enabling us to offer technically competitive, low-cost solutions globally. Finally, our size and scale in the region enable us to deliver work wherever the client needs us.
With regards to cost-competitiveness, we as an industry need to change the way we are compensated for the services that we offer: we need to move away from selling man hours and instead focus on solutions. Amec Foster Wheeler is able to differentiate itself by having the ability to utilize and call upon wide-ranging global skill sets to provide smart solutions. You cannot afford to have every skill and competency sitting in one single office; you need to be able to draw on competencies from across the organization. This is what we are doing for a number of the projects we are executing and opportunities that we are pursuing. For example, for our recent work with the Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company (TAKREER), we called upon pre-feed expertise out of our Reading office, Vancouver for marine engineering expertise, and local delivery in our Abu Dhabi office.
There has not been a lot of innovation in the industry over the past ten or fifteen years, especially when it comes to surface facilities. With the market in the state that it is in, we need to get smarter as an industry, and we at Amec Foster Wheeler need to stay smarter than our competitors and focus on being an innovative solution-provider.
Finally, this region has significant local content rules and this complements our business approach as Amec Foster Wheeler aims to invest long-term in our geomarkets. Our aim is to set up a sustainable business. To do this, you must have a significant portion of your team as national employees and utilize the local supply chain. We have done this in several locations, through a significant training and development program. In fact, we recently had a graduate development group pass through the Abu Dhabi office. It is this long-term thinking and commitment that is ultimately vital to success.
Personally, what do you find most rewarding about your job in this region?
I enjoy the challenge and privilege of working for Amec Foster Wheeler. In terms of goals for the future, I want to see our continued growth, an increased presence in Saudi Arabia and diversification of service offerings to our existing and new customers across all market sectors. We will work to retain the trust of our customers as long-term partners, for instance, our relationship with Kuwait Oil Company (KOC), with whom we have worked for over 15 years, while developing new relationships.
What I find most rewarding about this region, as an engineer, are the massive investments in the UAE, and the immense drive of the leaders’ to achieve their visions. The mega projects are extremely impressive. Where else in the world, besides the Middle East, can you work on a project as we are with ZADCO, that will eventually produce nearly one million barrels a day?
The Middle East is investing in the future, and we see a great future for Amec Foster Wheeler in the region as well.