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Troy Brice, Director & Regional General Manager, Asia Pacific, Swire Oilfield Services, Singapore

12.12.2013 / Energyboardroom

Director and regional general manager Troy Brice gives his perspective on the benefits and challenges of leading a rapidly growing offshore service business in a region as vast, diverse and exciting as Asia Pacific.

According to the IEA, offshore investment in South East Asia is anticipated to double over the next five years. How is Swire Oilfield Services positioned to capitalise on this forecasted growth?

In a word: strongly. As part of our business plan, we run conduct an annual market assessment and revenue driver report. This template updates our annual plan which feeds into our five and 20 year plans. It also gives us a statistical insight into where the company is strong and where we need to strengthen. For instance, on the human resources front, we will build organisational designs for the different regions, assessing the various skill-sets required to facilitate growth in those regions. We have initiated some high structured professional development programs such as INSEAD and also operate a Swire School Program that supports our junior staff into leadership development schemes. We also utilise the John Swire and Sons management training programmes in the region for our middle managers. Additionally, technical training is a high focus for us, and we strive to provide particular training that is pertinent to our business and industry.

In other areas, we aim to craft a geographical footprint in a highly controlled, structured way, in advance of the growth of those particular markets we plan to enter. For instance: we established a base in Myanmar this year, after servicing that market from Singapore since 2010. Now we have a tangible, geographical presence there, we can do more for local companies, in addition to the services provided to larger players such as: PTT, Daewoo and Hyundai, who have been a cornerstone of our SEA customer base since 2010.

Since arriving at Swire Oilfield Services in late 2010, what was your blueprint growth strategy and how has the company expanded into the region?

 South East Asia is a collection of micro-markets, each market is acutely different which engenders different risks and challenges. Our initial approach was a holistic strategy to the region, shaped by controlled growth and targeted investment in particular areas that we felt would augment our footprint in the region quickly. The next step, was to hire the right people, with the right skill set and language capability, helping to project the company forwards. Finally, it was crucial to seek and forge relationships with the right business partners that would support and service us to the standard we expect.

We have achieved robust and strong results. Year on year growth has doubled in South East Asia. Across Asia Pacific, we have grown by 89 percent and we are positioning ourselves to deliver a similar return next year. As a result, we are building trust and carving a strong regional reputation based on our merits and ability to deliver. We have gone from a 100 percent spot sales, to now 70 percent long term contract sales – a glowing testament to our progression in the region.

Our five year plan is particularly strong as the development platform is in place: our geographical coverage, business model focus and organization structure are all where we want them. In January, we will be opening up a Middle East company that will report through to our Singapore HQ. In the next 18 months we will be opening up additional bases in Sri Lanka,  (already established via African Hub), Vietnam and Cambodia. Looking further ahead, our 20 year plan is a comforting vision as the investment strategy is backed by the Swire Group.

What have been the challenges the company has faced in the region?

It is a fragmented and highly unregulated market. Though we have the IMO and we are beholden to our own high standards, we only have a certain standard of equipment that we are prepared to put our name to. While the majority of our competitors do not work to that benchmark, it provides a cheaper cost base but enlarges the risks involved, which has contributed to the high fatality and injury rate with uncertified equipment in Asia.

Fortunately, there is now a steady shift towards certified, high standard equipment in the region’s offshore installation industry, which is good for us and the sector generally. The fact the company received the 1000 LTI Free Days award, which covers our vast activities across the Asia Pacific region, attests to our stringent approach to safety and training. It is an achievement the whole Swire family business can be proud of.

What further competitive advantages does Swire Oilfields hold in this region over its international and local competitors ?

In addition to our unrivalled approach and track record to HSE, we can honestly say we provide the best in class equipment to service the offshore industry. Moreover, we have a reputation for doing what we say we are going to do, which breeds trust between us and our clients. Because we have raised the industry benchmark of quality service, we are influencing our global and regional competitors to raise their game. Ultimately, instilling that quality into the market manifests a healthy competition in our industry.

Can you expand on the services Swire Oilfield offers the O&G industry?

Our core business for the last few decades has been cargo carrying units. For instance, any material that needs to be delivered offshore – fuel, food, mud equipment etc – is constantly lifted from one structure to another, which involves a number of touch points. The diverse array of cargo carrying units needed to securely transfer various materials, are often complex in both design and structure. We cater for this fundamental service. Since July, we have emerged as the largest cargo carrying supplier in the SEA and as the market leader across Asia Pacific.

A further core service that we provide are plug and play modular systems: providing unrivalled offshore, flexible workspace solutions to an industry which is dynamic and constantly evolving. We offer a full range of offshore modular systems, from standard designs to tailored modules.

Onshore we offer water transfer and water treatment in the shale gas environment. This service has attained incredible growth rates. Currently, this is predominantly a US focused business but part the strategic plan is to introduce this business division to other parts of the globe over the next couple of years.

Swire Oilfield Services officially opened its new regional headquarters, for Asia Pacific in 2012. Why did the company choose Singapore as the hub regional HQ, over regional rivals?

Singapore had a myriad of drivers for me. Firstly, I knew I could centralize a number of corporate functions to support the number of operating companies that report to the headquarters here, with a high skilled, technical and productive workforce. Secondly, Singapore provides an operating environment which is highly conducive to business and financial transactions, which supplements our growth intentions. Another contributing factor in choosing to locate our regional HQ in Singapore, was the fact Swire –through various capacities – has a longstanding presence in Singapore. In addition, I wanted an easy travel point for the team that acted as a springboard to cover and coordinate all our operations in the region. Finally, Singapore is a great time zone location to manage the breadth of the entire Asia Pacific region.

Ultimately, Singapore is of particularly important to us as a telecommunications safe haven. Some of the functions we have centralized regionally from our operating bases, are IT and our server and data managing point. Additionally, our local procurement and financial management directives all stem from the Singapore office. Furthermore, Singapore is the regional center that supports our manufacturing supply points across Asia and is the distribution hub for equipment and asset transfers between operating companies. For the next few decades, Singapore will be the heart of our APAC operations.

How do you cope with managing people of different backgrounds and cultures?

One needs to understand and respect the religious and cultural nuances at play in this region. For me, managing the diversity is not a challenge, it is an exciting aspect of my role. I rely on good people and on people who I can trust to implement the values the company abides by. We seek people from all backgrounds who want to grow in the company professionally and personally and in offering a robust development platform is partly why the Swire Oilfield Services has a very low staff turnover. I would not be anywhere else, in any other industry, or with any other company.

After eight years working in the Australian Army, what attracted you to forging a career in the natural resources industry?

When I was growing up, the primary growth industry in Western Australia was mining, followed – to a lesser degree – by oil and gas. Being closely associated to this growth area, I catered for a plan B, should I either be injured or choose not to remain in the army. In addition, the skill-set I built in the army, facilitated a relatively easy transfer of skills to the natural resources industry. For instance, it is all about coordinating fixed and mobile assets, managing capital and leading a broad range of labor resources.

Shell Coal was my first employer in the natural resources arena, which led towards a more commercial and marketing role with the company. After, I worked in the diamond trade with Rio Tinto, prior to establishing a more regional, logistical role in the US and Europe. In 2007, leveraging my logistics experience, I became a senior manager on the Gorgon LNG Project in Australia.

What was it specifically about Swire Oilfield Services that enticed you to the company in 2010?

This was a unique opportunity. Not only did I find the breadth of the company’s businesses fascinating, I found the culture of the company special. Moreover there was an opportunity to run a P&L and spearhead a regional role in an industry which had and continues to possess, huge potential across the value chain.

How would Swire Oilfields Services in Asia have evolved in three years’ time?

Next year, we are adding 11 people to our Singapore office, doubling our equipment fleet and have targeted 70 percent growth. By 2016, we will have a much larger office here, and will probably have quadrupled the size of our equipment fleet. We will still be the market leader for products and services. Our geographical presence would have extended physically to Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Sri Lanka and the Middle East. I would also like to see more support structures from the hub including a deeper engineering team and deeper HSEQ team, to support the operating companies in the region.

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