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Interview

Tommy Laursen – Managing Director, Ramboll Oil & Gas, Middle East, UAE

Tommy Laursen, the Managing Director for Ramboll Oil & Gas in the Middle East, discusses his efforts to establish and build the brand of Ramboll within the UAE, the company’s broader operations in the region as well as what he sees to be the greatest opportunities for growth moving forward. He also discusses how the company, by offering a full suite of services, is able to best serve their clients.

Given that one of your responsibilities during your nine-year tenure at Ramboll was to establish the company’s hub here in the UAE, what have been some of the key milestones over the course of the last few years?

“In terms of revenue, the region represents around 12 to 15 percent of Ramboll’s global revenues, based simply on the revenue created locally.”

It has been a long journey, as it really takes time to anchor the name of Ramboll within the country. Previously, Ramboll had not been well known, so we had to develop the brand name. One main milestone for me was receiving our pre-qualification with ADNOC, as then we saw an acceptance that there was a new player in the market.

The strength of what Ramboll can accomplish here is not simply just oil and gas, but rather a combination of our services across many areas, including environmental services, buildings, marine services and a variety of others. The combination of Ramboll having these services, and coupling them into a project with ADNOC as an investor, is one of our key strengths. Being able to do this has truly been one of our major highlights in the UAE. Additionally, last year we started receiving frame agreements with the key players in the market, again, another acknowledgement that we are a key player. People always discuss the need for critical mass, meaning that you have to show the capacity and capabilities to accomplish projects. This is challenging to do prior to actually securing projects, however, this is something we have accomplished, and we have reached a level of critical mass within the country.

Looking more broadly at the geographies that you oversee from the UAE, what is the current footprint of Ramboll within the region?

I am responsible for the Middle East area, and our two prominent markets are Qatar and the UAE. Additionally, we are present in Saudi Arabia and Oman as well, and several Asian countries, and we serve as a hub for looking into Africa and further into Asia. Apart from that, we have been conducting a lot of studies in the Arab countries, including a major study for the World Bank focused on the distribution of gas and power in the region.

Outside of these areas, of course India is a huge market, as is China, and we have been supportive of some wind turbine projects in the country, and we are also looking more into the gas to power sector, particularly in India as well as Morocco. We are looking into several opportunities, and one of the main services that we see growing in the future is going to be gas to power, and we will work to make that more attractive to our clients as well.

In terms of Ramboll’s global portfolio, how important of a role does this region play in terms of both revenue as well as potential for future growth?

In terms of revenue, the region represents around 12 to 15 percent of Ramboll’s global revenues, based simply on the revenue created locally. However, if you look that we service operations in Copenhagen from the Middle East, I see this number being closer to 15-20 percent of the global revenues, and this number is steadily growing. As a company, we are not here for the money, but rather we are here to bring engineering to mankind. We want to inspire and make sustainable solutions, and this is one of the key markets to drive this growth, and then expand from here.

Have you seen any trends in recent years in terms of the types of services that you are providing for your clients?

We have seen a much stronger focus on being more environmentally friendly, and more and more this is not just talk, but we are seeing actions being taken in terms of flare reduction, industrial water treatment and others, and this trend is growing. We are seeing a transformation to utilize gas further as well, and this is a positive trend in the industry, and through these efforts we are definitely helping reduce the carbon footprint.

Could you expand further on your services in the gas to power sector, as this is something particularly interesting given the UAE’s recent focus on re-evaluating their energy mix?

Determining the right energy mix for the future is very complex, and decision-makers have to balance many factors. Not only must the energy system be technically and economically feasible, it should also pay regards to climate and environmental concerns, as well as secure a reliable and safe energy supply.

Last, but not least, to be a successful mix, the much-needed energy should be made affordable for citizens in the country, balancing short- and long-term interests. Gas-to-power is one vehicle to drive the transformation to a more sustainable energy mix: Gas is the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon. Gas emits substantially less air pollutants than coal, and can help achieve climate goals.

We have a long track record of working on gas to power projects and studies. We have very skilled senior staff who have extensive experience in this field, and know both the political realities and stakeholder realities, and are able to ensure that there is and will be a sensible return of investment.

With a solid background in oil, gas and renewables, Ramboll’s experts have a thorough understanding of the challenges facing governments and decision-makers in choosing the most sustainable solution. Based on our extensive operational and strategic insights, we have assisted many clients in the complex task of designing a coherent and optimised system of interconnectors, pipelines, compressor stations, metering and storage facilities.

We know that the solution differs from country to country, and there is no simple one-fits-all formula to the energy challenge.

In terms of expanding further in the region, could you discuss the company’s work in both Kazakhstan and Oman, and what role you see those geographies playing for the company moving forward?

Normally, what we do from the oil and gas perspective is follow the client, and this was the case in Kazakhstan as well where we conducted studies for Maersk. This was not a long-term project, but rather us supporting a client during the initial phases.

With regards to Oman, I have always enjoyed the business culture of the country, it is a relaxed environment and companies are very driven by their heritage. I have always believed that, given the DNA of Ramboll, there were many opportunities to be taken advantage of in Oman. We are in the early stages of getting registered in the country, but I can also see that the competition is less fierce. They are focused not whether they are getting the lowest price, but rather whether they are getting the best price, and this is a different mindset than in other countries in the region. Of course, the opportunities for financial gain are not as large in Oman, and there are cash flow issues, but I really feel that the chemistry in the market goes very well with the services that we provide. There is such a great sense of drive among the people, you see the local people working at all levels of organizations, and it is great to see a country develop itself into a high-tech market, and it is great to feel that you can really add something to this development.

Given the cost pressures in the market, for example what you have described as a cautious attitude from ADNOC, how do you differentiate yourself to still be able to attract clients and partnerships, and what new services do you plan on adding to your portfolio?

We cannot compete with the huge-volume products, and that is not our goal. Rather, we believe that we can create value in specialized services, including water treatment, gas to power, or digitalization, just to name a few.

With regards to digitalization, we are very focused on how, given our extensive experience, we can transform that into a more reliable business in the region, as there is still a lot of room for advancement in this regard within the region. At Ramboll, we have been focused on this globally, and are focused on bringing these efforts to the region as well. If you get used to a higher oil price, meaning a shorter return on your investment, why work to develop new technologies? Now that the oil prices have dropped, it has required people to think outside of their comfort zone, to develop non-traditional ways of thinking. To do this, we need to know how to operate in the future, and what will be required to be a reliable company moving forward. Digitalization will combine a lot of services and areas, and we need to work to highlight the benefits of this. I am sure that, moving forward, countries in this region will be frontrunners in digitalization, and we believe that we will play a part in that future.

One of the pillars of Ramboll globally is promoting local expertise with global experience. How has this manifested itself within your region?

We have offered many times to our clients to have them sit in our facilities and actually do projects together, and I am seeing more and more of this taking place, especially with the new generations of locals, you can see they are more interested in working in private companies. We encourage them to come to companies such as Ramboll, because to have a background in engineering consulting really helps you in your future business search. The youth are more and more encouraged to pursue this, and what we are trying to do is set up teams within our organizations that bring in talent from local organizations, for example we are doing just this with QP in Qatar. That is model I think that you will see more and more in the future, including here in the UAE, and I think that is an important part of being a global company: helping to develop the local content where you operate.

We have heard from many in the industry that there is a greater sense of optimism currently than has been seen recently. Have you seen evidence of this as well?

When you are prequalified or part of a frame agreement, before it is tendered they will set up an expression of interest, gauging your interest in the project. This is the first sign that there will be some movement on a project, and we have seen a definite increase in this in the past few months. We see a willingness to restart, and that is predominately on the concept FEED level, as that is the first project before you would move ahead, and we are encouraged by these movements and that the market is slowly re-establishing itself at a new level, and where we now experience an increase in tender activities, causing a positive impact on our order pipeline in all markets!

What changes do you think need to occur at an industry level in the coming years in order to once again see high levels growth in the region?

I think that the markets have to reach a level where they trust that this will be the oil price for the future, whether that be USD 40, 50 or 60 per barrel, it needs to be stabilized. Additionally, we need to focus on where the real needs for investment are, not on what would simply be nice to have. Once this has happened, you must trust your strategy and not be fragile when there is market volatility. We are seeing this development, for example with OPEC, where there is an increasing acceptance of the current prices. Governments as well are making new state budgets, visions and strategies reflecting this reality. This shows you how much the industry has learned due to this crisis. Moving forward, you need to ensure that you have a steady and secure business, that is what is going to drive this market.

Perhaps on a more personal note, what about this industry and region motives you to come into the office every day?

The exciting mega projects have always been here in the region, and they will come back, there are still huge possibilities here. I have an entrepreneurial drive that really motivates me to capitalize on these opportunities, I love to grow a business and really see a development, and that is possible here!

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