with Neeraj Gupta, CFO / Admin Head, Mitchell Drilling India Private Ltd
Mitchell Drilling India is part of the larger, international Mitchell Group. What role does MDI have within this larger group?
Mitchell Drilling established its operations in India in 2003, and has developed a long way since then. The company’s aim was to bring in the best technologies available to the CBM sector in India, because India is an upcoming country. Today Mitchell Group is the partner of choice in the global CBM industry, and enjoys a very good reputation, particularly in India. Wherever other drillers fail, customers know that they can call Mitchell, and they will deliver.
What is the importance of India for the group today?
Today, Mitchell Group is also doing business in China, the USA, Mozambique and Botswana, and we are also exploring other business opportunities in Indonesia and Bangladesh. A lot of focus is being given to India by our top management. The country is one of the group’s longer-term projects, and this is apparent through the way we communicate and fact that today, the team in India is comprised of over 100 people. There is a strong focus on the country – and it is justified: as India is a rapidly developing country and in need of new energy supplies. Business here is going to grow.
Mitchell has a lot of experience in CBM projects around the world, firstly in Australia but also in other countries. What would you say are the unique challenges that Mitchell Group is facing here in India?
Input costs are rising everywhere, and the same is also happening in India. Every day our clients are asking us to be more competitive, and more and more players are coming to the market every day. Mitchell’s biggest challenge is to bring in new technology to the country, to upgrade existing systems, and to bring down input costs as much as possible.
You arrived as CFO in August 2008. What did you set as your main objectives when you arrived at Mitchell Group?
At the time I joined the company, Mitchell had just sold its Australian business to Lucas, and decided that they would focus on their international business. Since then, we have come a long way. Our reputation as a service provider has grown up many fold. Whenever people float their tenders, they specifically request Mitchell to place a bid and want us to participate in their projects.
Mitchell has been in this business for the last forty years and for all this time they have been following the best HSE practices, and the same is now being replicated all over the world. When I joined, all the processes were already in place: I have tried to ensure that they are further developed and implemented as applicable.
The business had been running in India for a few years before you arrived: how had it progressed in those five years, and how did it change once you were appointed?
There used to be a Country Head at the time of my joining Mitchell but this position was abolished in August 2009. The Brisbane office slowly put in more participation and today plays a major role in developing its business in India.. My role is to ensure all statutory compliances as per Indian rules and regulations and timely submission of management reports. I also need to make sure that all the processes are in place, as well as providing administrative and sales support whenever it is required.
How would you describe the current attitude in India towards unconventional gas?
The government is promoting CBM in a big way. Even some state governments are also floating tenders for UCG. So I estimate that CBM and UCG will have bright futures in India.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for developing this industry in India?
Technology and skilled people are the two areas where we need to concentrate. Mitchell has always looked for the best technology worldwide, and has tried to source or develop it and bring it to India. Mitchell always looks for the best talent whenever they hire people. As a result, they have the best people at their project sites around the world. This mix of technology and people ensures that all of Mitchell’s projects are completed in time as per the client specifications.
How easy is it to recruit the right people here in India to work on projects?
In comparison to Australia, India has not been yet developed a high level of skill relating to CBM projects. We have many expats leading our projects, in India and elsewhere around the world. Some are from Australia, some are from Indonesia, and some are from the US. This recruitment is done from the Brisbane office and they do a strategic balancing act of skilled ex-pats with motivated locals, that are ripe for training on the job.
Do you feel as though in the long term you have a responsibility to build an Indian talent base?
That we are doing. Normally, expats that are recruited for projects work at the supervisor level. Below this are many drillers, who are all Indians, and those are being trained on-site and that is how Mitchell is trying to impart its skills within the Indian population.
Schlumberger has just signed an agreement to drill India’s first shale gas well with ONGC. It is clear now that the service industry is taking a much closer look at unconventional gas and your competitors are realising that this is an area where they need to focus. As the competition increases here in India, what strategies are you going to adopt to make sure that Mitchell stays that partner of choice?
CEO Nathan Mitchell joined this business in 1990. Prior to that the company was run by his parents. Nathan knows this business intimately and he travels a lot to find the best available technologies from around the world. Apart from this, he has an excellent team comprising of various technocrats and professionals who are continuously working to improve the current technologies, embracing the new ones which are efficient and cost effective and through this stays one step ahead of the competition.
You have some fantastic partners here in India, including Reliance Industries and Greater Eastern Energy. What are your aims in terms of growing that business here?
UCG is another area where we are trying to focus. Mr Raj Puri (Ex- Country Head of BP India), and recently joined Mitchell to Head the Group’s UCG projects worldwide. UCG is another growth area that Mitchell will capitalise on along with CBM.
What would you like to achieve at Mitchell over the next few years here in India?
We want to continue to bring in the latest cost-effective technology, and to deliver in difficult situations. There are many cases in India where the terrain makes it very difficult to drill. So far, we have been successful wherever our client has asked us to drill on a particular site. We want to continue with that reputation of performance, and strengthen it further.