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Interview

with Pieter Koolen, Chairman, Tebodin Consultants & Engineers

04.03.2010 / Energyboardroom

Tebodin is by origin a Dutch company praised throughout the industry for having capitalized as very few others on the different development cycles that the Netherlands and Western Europe have gone through since the Second World War. What made this possible, especially in the area of oil and gas?

Indeed this year Tebodin celebrates its 65th anniversary with a remarkable history. The company was founded at the end of the Second World War, with the Marshall Plan as catalyst, being in charge of helping the Netherlands to restore its industrial capacity.

One of the things that are typical of Tebodin’s development is its capacity to anticipate important new developments in the world, build in-house expertise on it, and then team up as soon as possible with investors in these sectors.

A good example of this mindset is when the barriers between East and West disappeared in the 90s. Tebodin started to grow almost immediately a vast network of offices in Central and Eastern Europe, which currently is one of our most promising areas in the world. And today with the Gas Roundabout which has the Netherlands as epicenter, it won’t be any different!

In the 1960s important gas reserves were discovered in the Netherlands and Tebodin entered the upcoming Oil and Gas industry. Big fields started developing in the North of the Netherlands – and this is the starting point of our relationship with companies such as Gasunie and NAM. Nowadays we capitalize on these unique partnerships and on the knowledge built in the Netherlands all over the world.

During the 1970s and 1980s Tebodin strengthened its footprint in the Netherlands and also started business in the Persian Gulf Oil and Gas industry; gradually we managed to develop knowledge-hubs in certain areas of the world where we can offer expertise to our international Oil & Gas clients.

Looking at today’s demand in the world especially in the next twenty to thirty years, energy demand will be by far the biggest challenge ahead of us. This is the reason why Tebodin continues to strongly position itself in the energy market.

Tebodin is particularly strong in the Oil & Gas sector; on average 40% of our global revenues come from this sector. We employ about 3,000 people worldwide with a considerable part of our employees involved in the Oil & Gas industry and we expect this sector to be even more important in the decades ahead of us.

As a company that tries to foresee structural market changes, Tebodin had to adapt to a fast changing energy industry in the last five to ten years. Now that the market seems to be more stable, where do you see Tebodin heading towards?

The energy scarcity debate has been one of the main topics in the global arena in the last six or seven years, with the particularity that oil and gas reserves are found in places increasingly far from the main consumer market.

For instance, if you look at the map of Europe you will see a lot of gas east of Europe and the main consumers are in the West. Furthermore you also see the same in the North-South axis; there are abundant reserves of gas in Norway – which is then transported southward to the UK and the continent. Last but not least, there is also a lot of gas in the South of the continent, on North African shores.

If you take a close look at all the investments that are being planned and will be made in the years ahead you will see large investments in the pipeline transportation infrastructure partially onshore and partially offshore, with well known projects such as the Nord Stream.

These trends offer great opportunities for Tebodin, a company deeply involved in the transportation of gas through pipelines and also in underground gas storage. Besides, since for both transportation and storage of gas you need compression to store it in and decompression to withdraw it, Tebodin over the years also quickly developed a unique expertise in this specific field nicely completing our transportation and storage portfolio.

How successful has Tebodin been in exploring this expertise in international markets?

Tebodin is present for many years in the international Oil and Gas industry with a wide footprint in the sector. The company grew together with many of its main historical clients and thanks to that we managed to establish a broad international knowledge-base especially in gas.

For instance, we recently decided to open an office in Tripoli, Libya thanks to the fact that there are important resources available. They have a potential that goes much beyond LNG and their gas is already flowing through pipelines to Italy. And from Italy it has to flow further north into the rest of the European gas grid. Last year we also scored our first Oil & Gas project in India where we opened an office two years ago.

One of Tebodin’s principles is that through our different knowledge hubs worldwide we try to bring people together to team up and enrich the knowledge they gain within each project so that Tebodin is in a position to act as a professional counterpart for clients.

What Tebodin tries to develop with its clients is a fruitful relationship that generates new projects – hence naturally we are interested in maintaining a long-term relationship with them. But the fact is that we can only maintain these relationships if our knowledge is at the highest level. This is why Tebodin is so keen on maintaining itself at the forefront of innovation.

As a leading and promising field of innovation, underground gas storage projects are booming in the Netherlands as Germany and Central Europe. How active is Tebodin in this field and which are the most important projects and services that you provide to your clients in this sector?

Tebodin is involved in a number of underground gas storage projects where we work with many clients doing studies, engineering activities and permitting. This is a field where Tebodin feels very comfortable with a sound understanding of the techniques involved; and we know how to manage such projects as not only engineers but also as EPC contractors. For instance, we are realizing the Heiligerlee nitrogen buffer project with Gasunie and we constructed the underground gas storage project with NUON in the Dutch-German border on an EPC basis; in a joint-venture with Fabricom.

To work on an EPC basis enables us to improve our performances on schedule and short deliverable time. We facilitate the delivery of projects within budget, time and with proper quality.

Besides North-Western Europe Tebodin also has a strong position in Central Europe, where the demand for gas storage is growing considerably. It’s thanks to the unique expertise that we have historically built with our partners in the Netherlands that we are now capable of taking part in these projects.

Our partnership with NAM in the Netherlands where we work together to revitalize depleting fields and get the last cubic meters out at competitive costs has also expanded our horizons in this area.

What we value very much in working with these companies is that our people are constantly gaining expertise and learning new and valuable techniques that can then be used elsewhere.

What are the main challenges you have to overcome to take advantage of the expertise built over the last 65 years especially in developing countries with bigger cultural and institutional differences?

The main challenge we find in developing markets is to find enough skilled local human resources. However, that’s something we try to take care within our own organization with what we call ‘the Tebodin Academy’, our training institute. In order to have a long-term presence in a foreign market you need a high level of local expertise, and for that we have many training programs, so as to reach targets and meet levels of professionalism the market requires.

Sharing information within the Tebodin network is also important to develop local expertise. How do we do that? For instance, Tebodin wants to be active in Central Europe in countries like Poland and Romania in the field of transportation pipelines. Hence, our people from these countries come to one of our knowledge-hubs on the field in the Netherlands; they team up with their Dutch colleagues on projects and export the knowledge developed here to their local market; building an international network of knowledge inside Tebodin that also flows the other way around.

This is a challenge in both developed and developing markets. How Tebodin responds to the increased competition among companies in attracting and retaining the most talented workforce?

It’s extremely important that you position your company in such a way that people who seek a career say ‘if I work for them I do the challenging and relevant jobs”. That’s how you have to promote your company. When you work at Tebodin, even as junior in the business, we try to give you an accelerated growth path. This means that we give you training; that you will have a coach in the job that will make you become a specialist as soon as possible; and that you also can stretch your assignments.

Keep in mind that Tebodin is not an consultancy and engineering company that will pursue multi-billion Euro projects. We are especially capable in the fields of midsized and smaller projects. So young engineers who start to work for Tebodin have early in their career a broader scope of projects – they are part of a team but they are also in charge of the larger scope of projects formulation. One of the basic principles of Tebodin is to capitalize on the shared knowledge that we develop in-house and with clients.

In many international fairs such as the OTC Dutch companies tend to group themselves under the same roof, creating a general idea of the qualities and advantages of the Dutch Expertise and the ‘BV’ brand. In the same line, national government and companies all support projects such as the European Gas Roundabout. How feasible and solid is this sole ‘Dutch’ identity and how can Dutch companies benefit from projects such as the gas roundabout?

There are very strong points on which BV Netherlands capitalize. For instance, when you look at the map that shows the pipelines grid the only thing that you can conclude is that the main European ‘motorways’ are passing through or near the Netherlands.

The logic that follows is the same of a motorway that passes close to a village – once it is there the mayor will want a connection to it. With the Netherlands and the European gas grid, the same happens. That is why so many interesting pipeline projects are taking place here. And once you have the connections done and the gas flow is already in place you will also need a ‘parking place’, so there is a market for gas storage in the Netherlands.

This is typically where Tebodin comes in. For instance we do a lot of projects for Gasunie, especially in the Gas Roundabout project, as they are its main promoter. We engineer big gas compression stations; we do part of the engineering for the transportation grid and all types of technical studies related to it.

As a final message, what are your main ambitions for Tebodin in the next five to fifteen years?

40% of our revenues come from the oil & gas business; so even though Tebodin has ambitions in other sectors as well we defined in our strategic plans to further capitalize on our unique knowledge base in the gas field to attend the huge demand of gas in the coming five to fifteen years.

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