Steve Connolly, COO, Cape, Singapore
Steve Connolly, COO for Cape, describes the company’s new ambition and desire for the market in Southeast Asia. Capitalizing on strong project experience historically in this region, Cape is now further developing client relationships and seeks to establish itself as one of the premium service providers in the region.
You moved to Singapore in January 2014; what was the mission you were tasked with on arrival?
I was appointed to the COO role, based in Singapore, in order to focus on both the day-to-day management of the business and to drive forward the implementation of Cape’s Operational Excellence programme throughout the Group. Cape’s three regions had previously operated fairly autonomously, a key part of my role is to create a more collaborative environment where we share both best practices and resources.
Singapore and Southeast Asia offer some wonderful opportunities for Cape. In the UK, Cape are market leader in a mature market. However, the further east one moves, and specifically in the Far East, Cape’s coverage is not as broad; this brings great opportunity as we refocus on this region.
In terms of the business here in Singapore, we have sought to bring a more cohesive and focused approach to operations. This has involved some quite drastic but necessary changes and required a change in company culture within the business. This has already had a significant impact, and along with a new, more integrated management structure has resulted in a really positive improvement in the culture and attitudes of the staff in the business; our business is all about people, and importantly the right people.
In addition, greater connectivity across Cape’s global footprint has been achieved, and the company is certainly seeing the benefits of leveraging some of these relations internationally.
How is your base here in Singapore allowing you to achieve growth in the city itself, and across the wider APAC region?
The company has refocused strategically on this region. There has been a greater emphasis placed on looking to the future, rather than the “here and now.” Rather than a “project-to-project” view, which can cause significant fluctuations in manpower and revenue, the business is now looking to the future and looking to become a more balanced business with both construction and maintenance projects.
Geographically the business is managed as one APAC region, giving greater visibility and creating improved efficiencies and collaboration across the region. We have brought some the best people in the industry together here to drive forward this growth; we haven’t come here to fail.
In addition to myself, the group business development director and the group safety director have also relocated to Singapore, along with Operations Director Mike Dismore and also Pauline Tan, our business development manager, allowing us to focus on key opportunities for the company. The influx of some excellent staff from elsewhere in the industry is particularly encouraging as this represents the confidence in Cape’s future and their belief in our journey.
What is the contribution of Singapore to the company’s growth at the moment; what is it likely to contribute in the near future?
Singapore has historically been a very strong project business for Cape. In line with the Group strategy to create a balanced business, the emphasis now is on long-term sustainable earnings with likeminded organizations utilizing our experience and relationships across the wider organization.
What are some of the more exciting projects you have to hand at the moment?
In Singapore, and wider within Southeast Asia we are targeting some interesting projects and term maintenance arrangements which will re-establish and maximize our position in the market. Across Southeast Asia there is a wealth of opportunities to target, whilst in Australia we are mobilizing to deliver the Wheatstone project.
This is one of the biggest projects the organization has ever undertaken and we have brought in a world class team to deliver in what will be a challenging environment. Staff have come from the across the group; we have selected the best and most experienced personnel to deliver this project something that in a previously siloed business would have been difficult to achieve.
In 2014, you acquired Motherwell Bridge, a company from Scotland specializing in storage and containment tanks; with Singapore being such a hub for gas products, has this given you any additional capabilities relevant here?
Yes absolutely, the acquisition has expanded the range of critical services we can now offer and we are assessing a number of opportunities at the moment in the region. The storage facilities in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are significant, and the blend of Motherwell Bridges tank management experience, Cape Environmental Services Tank cleaning technology and also the traditional Cape Core trades of Access, Insulation and Coatings are a fantastic and unique combined offering.
Motherwell Bridge is a world-class organization with a world-class brand. Interestingly, with some customers Motherwell Bridge have a more established brand than Cape, which is something that the wider organisation can leverage from going forward.
Tom Kers, Partner at KBC Advanced Technologies stated that the downstream industry in Asia is still in a relatively early stage of development. What does Cape offer to speed the region along the learning curve in terms of expertise, safety and quality in this respect?
Expertise in delivery through Operational Excellence. This is where we can bring group wide expertise and innovation to bear, particularly in terms of SHEQ management, technical support, systems and process implementation, contracting mechanisms and philosophies, personnel competency and ultimately service delivery, these are all key areas to mitigate risk and improve production uptime, predictability and certainty which is key to our customers.
What are the main challenges to consolidating your business operations?
Custom and practice and cultural variation. I positioned myself here because Singapore and the surrounding regions in particular required some attention whilst presenting great opportunity. Cape outperforms its peers on almost every metric, the maintenance cycle here in Singapore means that we have to be patient; notwithstanding that we are very selective about who we contract with, seeking to ensure we fully understand our client to enable us to develop longer term relations with likeminded blue-chip organisations.
How do your international business wings support one another?
The COO role was only initiated in January. Prior to this, the three regions in Cape (UK, Europe & CIS, Middle East and North Africa and Asia Pacific) all operated independently from one another.
Since the inception of the COO role, the clearest benefit is the more cohesive working patterns we are developing utilising assets across the footprint, whether that be human assets or capital equipment, and also customer relationships. This greater collaboration is seeing significant cooperation between Qatar, Australia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong the UK and Kazakhstan and is evidenced by the maintenance contract award in Hong Kong which was announced earlier this year.
Importantly this integrated approach also reflects in the reinforcement of the values of the organisation which are consistent and understood across the business. Consistency of approach really does make a big difference, without underestimating the challenge of delivering it brings.
With years of experience under your belt, how do the client relationships you maintain here in Asia compare and contrast with those in the UK and the Caspian Sea for instance?
It is interesting because on my arrival I thought there would be more cohesive interaction with big global organisations exactly in the manner that we are striving to deliver. However, it is less easy to leverage a relationship made in the UK from here – most of our Singapore connections are built here between our Singaporean staff. We have great people in our business who have solid connections across this market and we are already benefitting from the fruits of their labours.
Where do you wish to see Cape in five years’ time in South East Asia?
I would wish to see Cape as the number one support service supplier in the region. There is nothing you can’t achieve without focus, effort, drive, hunger and a little bit of luck, and I truly believe we now have the team in place to perform. There are some fantastic customers in south east Asia with some very attractive contracts to place, and we are perfectly placed to deliver for them
As I said, we haven’t come here to fail.