The Petroplan Story so Far …
John Reeder and Graham Pyle met as engineers on a project in Canvey Island for the Occidental Petroleum Company. During some down time on this project they discussed the need for more expertise in the market for project controls. This was 1976.
Their original business idea was to provide consultancy rather than people. The backdrop was that the demand for these skills and knowledge was growing in the North Sea. Many of the methods being implemented utilised technology which had been tested in the U.S. and Black and Caspian Sea regions, but was largely untried in the North Sea, a region which posed very different challenges. The environment was harsher and the structures used would have to withstand higher waves and winds. Already some semi-submersibles and jack ups had been knocked down in the North Sea. The deepening economic crisis in the UK meant that there was enormous pressure on the industry to get gas and – later – oil flowing. For the oil and gas operators, there were great profits to be made.
With John and Graham’s background in planning and control they created their first brochure which outlined their services. Petroplan Control Systems Ltd was registered on the 2nd July 1976, to provide ‘Project Controls for the Petrochemicals Industries.’
The key services were: planning, estimating, cost control, reports and statistics, material control and computer services … but you could choose the non-computerised route if the cost advantage wasn’t compelling!
The business did not take on its first commercial project until March 1977, for an engineering contractor firm Matthew Hall Group (later acquired by AMEC Foster Wheeler in the 1990s). John and Graham were still contractors themselves during the business set-up phase; however, it became clear that the overriding demand from clients was for the talented people required for project controls, across many engineering disciplines. John and Graham’s network of contacts made them well-placed to find the talent the oil and gas industry needed.
Politically in the late 1970s and 1980s, much was changing in the oil and gas industry. British Petroleum was privatised in 1976, and in 1979 it acquired Britoil. Britoil’s role as part regulator and part oil company gave the UK government a large stake in the growing North Sea developments. John continued to work some of the time on projects as a contractor, such as on the Fulmar platform in the North Sea, to allow an evolution of the business and actually started to place contractors on this project. By the end of 1977, Petroplan had 30 contractors on its payroll, leaving John and Graham free to focus on growing what had become their contractor recruitment business.
Overseas business for Petroplan began in the late 1970s, working with organisations such as Union Oil in the Netherlands, and Maersk and Danbor in Denmark, alongside other well-known international operators Shell, Texaco and Chevron. Petroplan’s founders describe these projects as a time of great margins -higher than 20% in the contract recruitment market – and where deals were sealed with a handshake rather than lengthy contractual documents. However, some things haven’t changed, such as attempts to predict the exact timing of ‘peak oil’. In the year Petroplan started (1976), Jimmy Carter talked about oil running out by 2011, and this debate also rumbles on. Today’s exploration and extraction technology has made the longevity of this sector much more viable and can support many generations of oil and gas careers yet to come.
Building for Further Success
By 1979, the business required further investment in administration, and Jocelyn Thomerson joined to provide general accounts support and organisation for the back-office activity. Jos is now a Director at Petroplan and heads up the Contractor Management Mobilisation team. The care with which contractors’ well-being and placements are managed is still personal, but the technology to process and administer is very different.
Petroplan was headquartered in London at various West End offices in the early years, decked out with such items as telex machines, with long ribbons reaching great lengths during busy periods, and Philips word processors to professionally produce typed CVs. The production of CVs was quite a task in the 1980s, as contractors moved from project to project and their documents needed to be kept up-to-date; adding in new jobs at the top of the document meant reproducing the documents from scratch each time. The ‘database’ consisted of a carefully crafted filing system and great relationships with talented contractors. The telex machine was replaced by a fax machine – but no one misses those ribbons!
In 1981, Pauline Horton joined the team. She is Petroplan’s Client Relationship Director now, having also started out providing support to contractors and managing their mobilisation. Over 30 years, Pauline and Jos have moved contractors across many locations from the North Sea to Algeria.
Moving with the Industry
During the 1980s and 1990s, Petroplan broadened its contractor base from its original focus of planning and cost engineers, to technical staff across the full spectrum of disciplines such as materials control, supply chain and project management to mechanical, electrical and commissioning engineers.
Key projects Petroplan’s contractors oversaw:
- The Tyra gas platforms in Denmark with the Danbar Drilling Company
- Floating schemes within the Ivanhoe North Sea oil fields, with Amerada Hess
- Multiple projects with Shell in the Netherlands
- Projects in the U.S. with Kerr McGee (now part of the Andarko Petroleum Corporation)
- BP projects in Norway
- Projects for Marathon Oil Corporation on refinery turnaround and tanker refits in the U.S. and in the North Sea Brae oilfields
- Work was also undertaken with Lasmo Oil and Agip UK (both now part of the Eni Group) on the Tiffany, Toni and Thelma fields – known as the T Block – to provide conceptual design teams and subsequently design, construction, installation and commissioning personnel
- Work in Saudi Arabia with a large national operator
- Project teams mobilised to Pakistan on behalf of Amec Foster Wheeler
- Kazakhstan exploration projects with consortia that included the government, supermajors and Agip UK, off the coast of the Northeast Caspian Sea
- BP projects within Azerbaijan including pipeline developments
- Nexen projects in the North Sea Buzzard oil field
Investing in the Future
The 2000s saw strategic expansion with offices being opened beyond the headquarters in England from 2005. This started with Aberdeen, and was followed by Calgary, Houston, Dubai, Cape Town, Oman and most recently Mozambique. In 2014, to grow our international capability, a London office was created and now represents Petroplan’s largest recruitment centre of excellence.
A new direction was heralded in 2012 with the business placing more resources in its outbound recruitment organisation. Petroplan already had over 30 years of recruitment experience which was built on networks formed before the inception of Linked In and job boards. At this juncture more recruiters and support services were put in place to also attract candidates for permanent positions in the energy industry to expand the organisation’s reach beyond the active contractor network.
Over the past 40 years, the one constant has been change. As the energy industry adapts to political and environmental pressures, the oil price and demand for other sources of energy sees the nature of the workforce, their locations and motivations of employers and candidates alike flex. The most recent challenge has been the drop in the oil price from mid-2014. The business may have altered in terms of technology, infrastructure and marketing to meet the efficiencies required to operate and attract talent in this market, but the commitment to the care of our clients and contractors remains unchanged. From the contractor perspective, this means ensuring the wellbeing of contractors, as well as rapid payment and a focus on health and safety compliance. From the client perspective, this means providing clients with work-ready, qualified and trusted teams.
Lessons from Business
It sounds corny, but in recruitment it really is all about the people. It’s imperative to get to know your clients and potential business partners. There are now more formal tools such as competency models and employer branding guidelines, but personally understanding the dynamics of the culture and personalities will help you find the best fit candidates.
Delivering on your commitments for those that depend on your business is essential. Especially, if your business is responsible for paying contractors on time; the processes in your organisation must be focussed on not only timely payments but great cash collection from your clients. Many great businesses get caught out by cashflow problems.
Make sure you are rewarded for your services. Many organisations make reasonable demands on the time of your team. However, if this amounts to more than project-related administration, ensure your goodwill is not always at your own cost.
Petroplan specialises in the recruitment of highly skilled professionals to work within the oil, gas and energy industry. Operational across six continents, our service is tailored to specific regional requirements and enhanced by the expertise of our teams on the ground, who speak the local language and understand and foresee the unique challenges that may arise within a particular territory.
Many of our clients and candidates have partnered with Petroplan for well over a decade. We believe this speaks volumes about our service delivery, as does the fact that we are regularly engaged in sole or preferred supplier agreements and the scope of services required by new clients tends to consistently increase the longer they work with us.
Our recruitment consultants receive detailed industry training when they join Petroplan – so our recruitment services are underpinned by an extraordinary level of technical knowledge. We speak the language of the industry and genuinely understand the requirements of our clients and our candidates.
Petroplan’s scope of expertise encompasses upstream, midstream and downstream, greenfield and brownfield, early oil production, full field development and expansion projects. We provide industry professionals for onshore and offshore projects – conventional and unconventional – working with a wide range of owner/operators, consultancies and EPC companies.
We’ve underpinned this multi-discipline approach with the formation of dedicated recruitment teams focused on specific disciplines, including Subsurface, Subsea and Marine, and Drilling, Wells and Completions.
Petroplan’s knowledge of the industry and local conditions, together with a highly personalised approach enables us to connect the best talent with some of the world’s leading energy companies.
Lastly, it’s an adventure. Enjoy it!
Recruitment built just for you
We are not an ordinary recruitment business. We are a people business.
Your well being is central to our ethos.
Visit our Contact page to find your local Petroplan office.