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Dan Hyland interviews Sean Buchan, Managing Partner at Ducatus Partners

Dan Hyland interviews Sean Buchan, Managing Partner at Ducatus Partners


For the benefit of our audience, if I can ask you first off to tell us a little bit about your company; your size, geographical presence and their capability and within the marketplace?

Okay, thank you Dan. So as you said we're an executive search business, leadership advisory business, working predominantly in the oil and gas market. However, over the last couple of years probably become more of an energy business with a growing presence and infrastructure. In terms of size and capability, we are physically present in Aberdeen, London and Houston. Current staff of about 25 which, during the course of 2018, we since have tripled headcount: a particularly busy year. We worked with about 56 clients last year, spread across oilfield services, EPC, midstream and EMP. That’s probably about 67 appointments at board and executive level. You know, separate to that we also did a large piece of project management for a client who moved into new territory in Alaska and we supported them in excess of 30 hires and building up a leadership team from scratch. So yeah, 2018 was a really interesting year for us and we were looking forward to what 2019 brings.

And in terms of the split between industries, what percentage of your business is focused on oil and gas and what percentage is focused in other areas?

We’re still probably in excess of 80 percent of our business in oil and gas; the actual demographics of that have probably evolved with our North American business doing an awful lot of midstream activity last year and some of the support activities that go towards, you know, the U.S. onshore, some of that be; water supply, power supply so lots of demand in that area.

Okay, and from our side of things, I'm sure from our audience it's been a very difficult four years for the industry, very little hiring for growth and a lot of companies I'm in survival mode. how has Ducatas seen the kind of evolution of hiring patterns change over the last 12 months and what do you predict for 2019?

Yeah that's a great question, certainly our key observation in 2018 versus perhaps 17 and 16, earlier phases for the kind of low oil price, lots of our activity in the earlier years, until said a lower price environment, was centered around turning around underperforming leadership teams, companies that were in financial difficulty, I guess the big change we've seen in 2018 is a return of strategic hiring. And that's been both in the EMP sector and in the oil field service sector. So actually companies trying to position for growth, adding in new service lines, trying to go to capability whether that’s around decommissioning or digitalization, are probably our single biggest factor that we saw at 2018. Which obviously there’s a lot of positivity around that type of hiring than there is around turning around businesses that are in distress, and certainly going into 19 we see more of that strategic hiring activity being prevalent and the continuation of our hiring activities outside of the UK whether that's mainland Europe Middle East or Asia Pacific.

Okay, and specifically what in kind of subsectors of the industry do you see the most demand recently and what areas do you feel that there's a shortfall in leadership experience and how does the industry address that?

So let me start with what sectors we’re most active in and I'll talk initially about the sort of Europe-Middle East-Africa business which allied, rather perhaps strangely because it's an area that's had some serious challenges over the last year or two. Probably our busiest sub sector at the moment is subsea and I think they're seeing the subsea market positioning itself for growth in 2020. It’s still, from a vessel utilisation point of view, is a really challenging market, however, companies with strong management teams starting to really position for work whether it be in the Middle East with some current activity we're doing around Saudi Arabia, companies trying to break into the RTA agreements there that's probably driven a lot of our work. Probably secondary fact that if you look what's happened in the UK CS the last few years on the EMP site the increasing importance of private equity backed companies and their ability to drive transactions through this can lower oil price environment, we've had some spin-off work from that that's been fantastic exciting to be involved in and, you know, they look to continue to be an important force in the UK and gas sector in 2019.

So despite the fact with that the subsea sector is probably one of the hardest hit at the beginning you're now seeing the resurgence in that market specifically the overseas part of the subsea market?

Yeah, and I wouldn't overstate it, some of our clients in the subsea market that are perhaps asset heavy, commercialised deals for the vessels in, you know, high or price environments are having a tough time. But there are parts of that market where there are quite robust companies with good visions for how they evolve their business to be relevant today whether that's around decommissioning activities, whether that's around building light well intervention capability, but certainly that part of the market for us whether or not we're a barometer for the wider subsea market I wouldn't like to say. I think you also asked me there about particular areas or genres where we've seen increased demand, you know that's certainly something some of its anecdotal and hasn't yet, I think, fed through into in the SME environment in a really increased actual hiring.

And I also asked you about where you felt there was a shortfall in leadership across the industry and how the industry addresses that, I mean is that something that you've that you can tell us a little bit about that picked up on?

Yeah, I guess you've seen an increase in consolidation both in the EMP sector and in the oil field service Sector, with that the complexity of some of our clients’ business, in terms of the breadth of their service lines, the breadth of their geographies and the complexity their businesses increased, so when we've been asked to support some of those clients with hiring needs trying to find somebody that's got a really holistic view, a very broad area the market, has actually been quite challenging.

So what about leadership in some of these new areas that you alluded to earlier on, such as digitization decommissioning etc, the digitalization, cybersecurity is another one and certainly from our side of things, that are relatively new markets for the oil and gas industry where there appears to be a skills shortfall. Would you say that companies are now looking to your appointment people on their board to provide leadership in those areas?

I think if you're a major corporate, there's a reasonable chance that that's a discussion that's ongoing. You've seen Petrofac, Acca, StatOil ( or Equinor as they are now) all appointing chief digital officers’ over the last 12 to 18 months. I don't think that's yet really materialised into kind of non-executive appointments, it's something that is talked about in the industry but probably hasn't yet materialized into, you know, real action. So digitalization is there, I think you're more seeing clients building their capability; whether it's digitalisation, big data or sort of automation, that's probably quite common themes right now, and within our client base.

Okay, geographically as an international search firm, what have been the main differences, if any, with the hiring patterns across those areas and where will you see the specific hot spots over the next few years?

So again, going back to 2018, probably for our region, outside of the UK the key area of activity would have been in the Middle East, dominated by the requirements of Saudi Aramco but often with us pointing executives in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But often looking for that expertise and how to partner on the Saudi Aramco. I don't expect that to suddenly disappear, you know they remain one of the largest spenders in oil and gas infrastructure globally, or the largest spender on a gas infrastructure globally. Outside of that, we're still working with many Aberdeen companies but often not on UK requirements, so the Aberdeen companies that have been bold and gone overseas and you know internationalized their business. We're supporting companies right now that I had called it here in Asia Pacific the Middle East mainland Europe, so hopefully more of that.

Okay and over the last kind of 18 months or so Aberdeen, well the UK general, have seen an influx of kind of smaller more agile operator companies. More technologically savvy and taking advantage of a leaner and more flexible approach, have you seen any patterns emerge in the ways that they populate their boardrooms, and are there any lessons for the kind of larger and more traditional operator companies?

yeah I think the key observation there would be if you were to look at that EMP community, their board rooms are all industry executives. If you were to look at public companies obviously they have a far greater onus on governance, individuals with experience Capital Markets, there's no right or wrong answer I think clearly public companies’ governance is huge and probably underpins a lot of what they need at board level. Whereas what we see in that SME environment and that private equity environment, it's not just who's on the board it's the purpose of the board. They're highly performance orientated as opposed to just purely governance orientated.

Obviously something that’s fairly hot topic over the last few years, that kind of gender equality piece, and diversity area, are you noticing some of these companies, the new operators, that are embracing that or not so much? What's your experience on that side of things?

I don't think I'd pretend that there's an active focus in the private equity community on gender diversity, I think it's hiring the right people with the right skill set, regardless of what that may be. We've seen diversity in other areas, whether it be the demographic aborts, I mean the oil and gas industry still would be of all the industrial sectors the lowest represented by females at bod level. I think it's one percent of all public companies and so I would say the success of some of those private equity backed companies aren’t there board structure, it's the fact that they're far more performance orientated. They've got far more clear lines of sight of their investors and a really clear purpose around what they're trying to achieve and that's why they've probably been able to execute so much deal activity in the last 18 months.

Interesting, and finally, you know, what are Ducatus’ plans for the future and moving forward?

So, this year in Europe-Middle East-Africa, interesting, one of our key plans is more appointments for us, and we are trying to appoint two partners this year in the UK; one focused on the energy sector, probably upstream oil and gas, which again speaks to the fact that we think there's some sort of resurgence ongoing there and we also want to add in a UK based infrastructure partner to support some of the activities we're doing in North America. We think there's a great interplay between both the infrastructure investors and the infrastructure contracting community and there's a really nice overlap there with the energy market that we've been able to take advantage of.


Published: 13-03-2019

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