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Interview

Todd Martin – General Manager & Khozema Kaka – Development Manager, Ixom, Australia

Providing a decided advantage to the international oil and gas industry with their innovative solutions, newly-independent Ixom, an Australian headquartered company, is changing the dynamics of chemical handling and distribution for several leading clients, and expanding rapidly. General Manager Todd Martin (TM) and Development Manager Khozema Kaka (K) share the collaborative process that has led to Ixom’s game-changing innovations, and why their company has proudly been able to maintain a motivated, and enthusiastic team.

Separating from Orica, Ixom commenced as a standalone business in March 2015. What is the positioning of the newly-independent company today?

We are proud to hold ourselves as one of the few Australian firms throughout the period of the LNG boom to be innovative.

TM: Ixom separated from Orica in March, 2015 following nearly 24 months of preparation. The separation signalled new ownership and this has allowed for the creation of a new atmosphere throughout our organization. We had come out of Orica which presented itself as a pure-playing mining house, and we were a chemical company within that environment. While we were certainly a part of the Orica organization, we were not held as a strategic core component.

Now standing independent as Ixom, we have dedicated considerable reinvestment and conducted a lot of work on developing our new purpose and identity as an organization, including evaluating our strategic framework. We are pleased to share that our employees are passionately on board with our initiatives, underwriting our future business performance.

In terms of business performance, in the past 24 months our business has grown significantly, with a major portion of this coming from our oil and gas business. The market has changed markedly over the past several years. Evolving with major firms as their development projects come online, we are in a position now where we are a proud partner and supplier to many of the companies established in the Australian market. Our entire business model is predicated on delivering to the customers’ needs or solving the customers’ challenges, and in several cases we have exceeded our customers’ expectations in this regard.

K: We are proud to hold ourselves as one of the few Australian firms throughout the period of the LNG boom to be innovative. We have brought a new and innovative solution, known as IXOM Ultra Pure MEG, which will soon rapidly find its way to the global stage as it provides a decided advantage to all offshore Gas and LNG producers. MEG is widely used as a hydrate inhibitor, but the offering of IXOM Ultra Pure MEG allows for pipeline lifetimes to be extended, as the ultra-pure nature of our product means that corrosion & degradation rates are reduced.

At the beginning of the LNG boom we were merely a fledgling organization, but we closely listened to the needs of the market and innovated to meet these demands. Australia is a land of extremes of weather and distance, and as a result is truly a country that is built upon innovation: “off the sheep’s back”. The Australian approach to solving stubborn problems grows from understanding of market trends and hands-on experience. Ixom serves as a testament to this tradition, and all major global players have recognized us, acknowledging our ambition and our innovative capabilities.

LNG 18 was the occasion to showcase your UltraPure MEG offering. What is special about this offering and why are you confident in saying that this solution is “giving businesses an added edge in their gas operations?”

K: UltraPure MEG is a completely in house innovation, and our first client was Chevron in Australia on the Gorgon project. The innovation was extended from there and was used on the Chevron Wheatstone project as well. From this point forward, the offering has only gained momentum.

In developing this innovation, our existing team was expanded by recruiting industry experts. Our first objective was to understand what our customers’ challenges were, particularly in relation to hydrates. Armed with this understanding, we went about to develop a solution. A testing phase was necessary, which was phased from small scale to a larger scale to really prove the outcomes we were getting were concrete. We were then in a position to share our offering with the industry, and to deliver an outcome that was beyond the expectations of our customers. This certainly provided a prominent boost in confidence throughout the organization, leading us to our subsequent expanded delivery capability.

TM: From this point forward, we have signed further contracts, demonstrating the demand for our unique solution is expanding beyond our first client, Chevron, and is rapidly being adopted by other major players.

What have been some of the key challenges faced by Ixom, and how have you overcome them?

TM: The major challenge was that we were positioned in a new environment, one in which no one knew who our company was. Our strategy in this context was to let our performance for customers speak for itself. As future business was dependent upon exceeding customer expectations, we had full teams organized to understand how to best cater to our customers.

Over the course of several years we undertook extensive work to reach a point where we were able to demonstrate our capability to Chevron as our first client, during the time that we were the beneficiary of a public-company ownership, still under the umbrella of Orica. When the transition occurred, it was of little concern to Chevron maintaining its contract with Ixom, as we had secured their trust. We delivered for them. We are well in the process of creating a brand of our own which we are immensely proud of.

Do you have ambitions to expand the company globally?

TM: We do wish to go global, and the challenges currently are expanding outside of Australia. To get our brand and our reputation out there, we are doing some innovative things including some media-based work including short films and social media to best get our message widely dispersed.

K: Our key target markets include offshore gas and LNG markets, as well as markets where there are new subsea developments. A third target market would encompass projects categorized as deep-water operations. One aspect for which our innovations are particularly well suited is the transition towards exploiting deep water reserves. In this situation, the benefits from our solutions are a perfect fit.

Another key component of our offering has been directed towards components of the supply chain related to handling ethylene refrigerant gasses, particularly for the ConocoPhillips Cascade process. We have engaged in something quite unique in the Gladstone LNG Queensland Curtis Island project where we were able to deliver a solution where no other provider was stepping up to the challenge. Ethylene is a very dangerous gas, and what we were able to do was find an isolated port and an entire supply chain that took the gas completely away from major population centers, reducing the risk profile dramatically for the commissioning client.

TM: One of the key elements in which we have immense pride at Ixom is the understanding of steps needed to minimise risk. Our approach for the GLNG project was to establish a site where the necessary infrastructure was present to enable the import of a hazardous gas. We then made a significant investment in terms of manual handling equipment, storage equipment, as well as the risk infrastructure required to handle the product safely. We were deliberate in our commitment to work in collaboration with both regulators and the client to make sure that all activities were conducted in an efficient manner.

K: As one of Australia’s premier chemical companies, we have a solid reputation dealing with chemicals. We have built trust in our ability to deliver potentially very dangerous chemicals in a safe manner, in very environmentally sensitive areas.

TM: In terms of engagement, we collaborate closely with safety purveyors to work through a risk assessment process. We describe the risks that we observe as well as how to mitigate them. This naturally builds confidence in our abilities, and in part this is how to take a company global: we work with large global companies, provide a fantastic outcome, build their confidence, and establish dedicated clients.

Ixom is a highly innovative company. What are the next steps in the company’s strategic ambitions?

TM: In terms of innovation, our primary objective is to derive where innovation can provide value. Clearly innovation can be done for innovation’s sake, however at Ixom we are committed to understanding the customer’s needs and looking for opportunities to solve their challenges and provide better outcomes through innovation.

A lot of our work revolves around reconnaissance, where we strive to engage in dialogue with our customers to develop better understanding. From this, we strive to develop ways in which we can do things better. When we derive an opportunity where we foresee potential for a better outcome, this is where we will invest our time and our resources.

What do you assess as your customers’ needs?

K: A mutual understanding is important when we assess our customers’ needs, and to use Chevron as an example, we were quite intimate over the past few years as we worked to determine solutions to their challenges. Chevron expressed their needs quite clearly to us as they did not have any solutions of their own at the time, yet they desired a particular outcome. In this regard, we had to go and invent a new product to provide this outcome. Our process entailed first understanding what they wanted, then deriving why they wanted it, and finally setting up a team and the necessary infrastructure to be able to execute our solution.

TM: Our first priority is to understand our customer’s business, and subsequently garner a deep understanding of their process. In terms of understanding this process, we can then assess where we can add value. Specifically with the development of pure MEG, Chevron was very clear in what they wanted, and at the time nothing of its kind was available on the market. Having a clear objective in front of us, we took the key requirements and developed a solution. If we are always waiting for a customer to tell us about their process, we become beholden to them. In this regard, it is very important for our team to understand their processes and have the ability to look for both bottlenecks and opportunities so that our ability to provide quality solutions and value is much enhanced. This is why we have gone out into the market and hired employees that already have this experience, establishing us ahead of the curve.

There is definitely a sense of energy throughout the company. What makes you optimistic that the company will thrive in the coming years?

TM: A primary aspect is because the company is ours. When working in a situation for a large corporate entity, you are one person within a huge workforce. In this company, we are able to elicit ownership of the workforce that reflects a greater sense of commitment and responsibility to our company’s mission and objectives. It is about empowering people to take their ideas forward, and this is the catalyst for the excitement throughout our organization.

K: Very rarely in one’s professional career does one have the chance to fashion what the world can do. We have the ability to do this at Ixom because the environment has been curated by us. This is rare to find when working in a large company where we have been able to find the sweet spot between respect for process and procedure, and the freedom to explore new ideas and ways of solving problems.

What excites you about working with Ixom?

K: The ability to come to work and create something out of nothing, and be immersed in an atmosphere that encourages innovation, is a wonderful experience. To be supported to be effective is also very gratifying. To create something unique, have the capability in your team to execute it, and have the encouragement and support from management are all factors that make coming to work exceedingly enjoyable.

TM: We are in an environment now where we have license to be creative. We are all disciplined and we understand risk and commercial reality, yet right now we are not encumbered by boundaries. To be part of an organization where we can freely think outside of the box and everything is essentially green-field and the only limitation is one’s self is a very exciting environment in which to work. My responsibility to upkeep this environment, to make sure that our team is able to thrive is very rewarding.

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