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Interview

with Peter Hamer, Director of Operations, DNV South Africa

21.02.2012 / Energyboardroom

To start off on a more personal note, we have seen that you have and interesting background, having been absorbed in seafaring life from boyhood. Tragedy struck after your first 30 days at sea as at the age of 16, you were already lying unconscious in a hold off Nigeria. One might wonder, what kept you going back to sea?
I was 13 years old when I entered the Royal Navy School. If you start at 13 and your only education is seamanship, you have no choice but to go back! Also, there was nothing to be afraid of ,even the event itself was a great experience. I was recently discussing this with a Nigerian
friend of mine, who works for ExxonMobil, how this experience gave me a sense of being connected to Nigeria. I was there at a young age, hurt, vulnerable, but supported by the Nigerian people and culture. Queues of people stood outside my bed to come tell me, in line with Nigerian tradition, “I am sorry for your trouble.” It gave me a very different perspective on a place that is often viewed as a very difficult country.
The sense of the collective is very strong in Africa. “Unbuntu”, a Zulu word, explains it perfectly and freely translates as “I am, because we are”. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki used this word when he was talking about African renaissance. The fact that Africans talk about their brothers when talking about citizens of another African state is an expression of this feeling of collectiveness.

Having started your maritime career very early, you eventually spent 10 years at sea. Why are we finding you here on land, running the DNV operations?
After spending 10 years deep sea, I was based in Hong Kong as the mate and captain of a square rigger with fifty trainees. It took us into places such as Japan, China and the Philippines .After four years, I went back to university at the age of 30 in order to complete an engineering degree. It was after university when I was very lucky to land a job with DNV.

When we read about your early days with DNV, we saw the name Ole Møller appearing a few times… Was he an important role model for you?
Yes he was. Ole Møller taught me the importance of integrity and doing the right thing – one of the great strengths of DNV. People do not always know that we are an autonomous group with no shareholders, which makes a difference in the way we approach business. Our Objectives are to safeguard Life, Property and the Environment and that is an attractive model for most of us in the company.
It also enables us to focus on the long term, which is absolutely essential in Africa. When we speak of national competence development in Nigeria for example, the world should not expect to see clear results in one or two years. Instead, we are looking at a ten year window to identify, nurture and retain good people.
I started working with our first African DNV colleague in 1999. We sent him out for two years to develop skills and competences in the UK and Norway. As a result, he has been leading our Ghanaian operations since 2002, and the group became a team of 5 and is still growing.

As from your return to Africa in 1998, you led DNV’s growth throughout the Sub-Saharan region. Some of the bigger projects in those days must have been the setting up of the Ghanaian and Nigerian operations. What was the vision behind this move back then?
I was asked this same question by the company, as we do not simply open offices overnight. Generally speaking, the main reason to set up these operations was to be closer to our clients but an important factor for choosing Ghana was the Ghanaian colleague I mentioned. While his personal competences are very strong, the country itself also had a friendly business environmentand the educational system is of high quality. When we are looking for new staff we see a substantial and increasing number of Ghanaians move around the world and returning to Ghana, which is exactly what we like within DNV: people with a world view creating local impact.
The Ghana office was already successful early on, which made it relatively easy to copy its model in Nigeria. At the end of the day, the success of DNV in these countries all comes down to the selection of the right people. We adhere to a strict recruitment policy and look closely at the fundamental reasons for a candidate to join DNV. If the motivation is strong enough, we know they will stay. This allows us to then invest heavily in personal development,. Today, for instance, an African DNV employee has joined a colleague in Singapore in the final stages of a Offshore project destined for Ghana. He gets to meet the clients, be involved in the commissioning, learn about the unit, and so on.
The clients see that DNV Africa has a pro-active way of working and a strong focus on building long-term relationships. As soon as they feel that we have control over what we do here in Africa, they see their risk profile decrease.

Conversely, are there still some clients that remain hesitant to enter the African markets?
Certainly. When I opened up DNV Nigeria, my CEO took me by the arm quite firmly and told me that we should be acting as a role model. We spoke about DNV’s exposure to typical risks in West Africa, such as corruption. One of our roles is to act as an example, to show that companies can operate safely in Nigeria and other African markets.

That being said, 2006 was another year of change for you. You were sent to the Middle East, a region entirely unknown to you. The operations reached a record turnover in 2008, totaling nearly USD 50 million. What did you take away from this journey?
From a professional point of view, the Middle East hosts an intense cluster of clients but is also a region where we face a lot of competition. Relationship-building is of key importance in such an environment, and by that I mean truly understanding your client’s business in order to come up with effective solutions. Elevating customer engagement was key to this success and represents a competence my colleagues certainly excelled in.

To what extent have you been able to take this Middle Eastern experience and apply it to the way you now manage DNV’s African operations?
Whilst DNV Africa is still relatively small, exposure to customer engagement experiences has turned us into a stronger team. With more customer orientation, the team takes a lot of pride in their job as they actively think of new solutions together with the clients.
For instance, we have recently started to provide expert pipeline competence. This is a newservice offering for DNV Africa. While it may have seemed risky at first, developing these local skills led to significant work in Ghana, where we currently support a number of West African Gas pipeline projects. Relational experiences have played a key role in these developments, helping us really understand the challenges. Through a combined effort with our client, we managed to come up with improved solutions.
It is also fascinating to see what such additional competences can do to the team. We have competent engineers who are eager to join the new pipeline activities, while we in turn are pleased to facilitate such career shifts. We see the benefit of people that are deeply embedded in DNV and know the company network and culture.

Worldwide energy demand is set to increase by more than 50% by 2030 and pipeline infrastructure to grow by 7% per year through 2020. How do these global estimates compare to the situation here in Africa and how does it reflect to the new competence that you have built?
DNV’s pipeline competence is well recognized globally. Worldwide we have our different competence centers. We have our DNV centers in Norway, London, Shanghai and Singapore and DNV Africa is not trying to replicate these centers rather we aim to be a gateway organization. We have enough connectivity and competence on the ground to identify our clients’ challenges and then we find solutions in the worldwide DNV network .
One of the things that DNV Group CEO Henrik Madsen has done over the past two years is to reinforce DNV’s strong reputation for innovation. He has done so by releasing the necessary funds and time to provide young people with the opportunity to work on innovative projects. This has for example led to a completely innovative design for a VLCC tanker.
Mr Madsen also recognized the opportunity for DNV to innovate in the pipeline sector, and I am proud of the fact that our African pipeline expert is part of this working group. The group came up with a concept called X-Stream, which focuses on deep water challenges and solutions. The technology has been released as a concept and again shows DNV’s leading rle in innovation.

When we met DNV country manager Raul Rocha in Mexico, his vision for DNV was for the company to play a role in re-inventing the Mexican oil and gas industry. Do you see a similar role for DNV with regards to sub Saharan oil and gas?
The oil and gas industry is constantly reinventing itself and the deepwater and Pre-Salt challenges in Africa need innovative thinking for sure.DNV Africa’s goal is to be a gateway intothe wider knowledge-based organization. This enables us to bring many good solutions to the challenges that Africa has to deal with. In Mozambique for example, we are able to assist in tackling some of the significant challenges in their deep water and LNG projects.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is another line of projects that has been receiving increasing attention. DNV was even the host to President Zuma, King Harald and the Norwegian minister of Oil and Gas to discuss the issue. Can you elaborate on the expertise the company has built in this regard?
That we were invited to host such high profile visitors, reflects the fact DNV is recognized for our independence, autonomy,integrity and a deep knowledge of Risk across oil and gas, renewable energy, and climate issues. Norway is very proud of the DNV brand and clearly, this was a very proud moment for us.

On a final note, what do you envision for the sub-Saharan operations in the coming five years?
Over the coming years, we will continue to broaden our skill base, develop competencies and further strengthen our role as a gateway organization. We will also grow our capacity, even though the main focus will be on building competences to ensure that our team can always engage with clients at the right level and connect them to the wider DNV solutions.
For example, we have training programs in Angola on a range of relevant topics, one example being BOPs. The industry has changed its thinking on how we manage BOPs since the Deepwater Horizon accident.DNV was asked by the US Government to be involved in the incident investigation and we continue to promote new ideas on how these risks are managedToday, the industry looks more carefully at BOP’s and this includes a bigger emphasis on engagement from third parties. This requires people with real skills that can add tremendous value. We will have people with these skills on the ground in Africa in the future!

Do you have a final message for the readers of OGFJ and the South African stakeholders that will receive this report?
The world recognizes that Africa is not just a place to take resources from but a real emerging market. The advice is: come in early and safely, manage your risk and invest in people, and Africa will be good for you.

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