Our History and Heritage

In 1976, Petroplan’s co-founders, John Reeder and Graham Pyle, met as engineers on a large project in Canvey Island, UK for the Occidental Petroleum Company. During some project downtime they deliberated the need for more expertise in the market for project controls.

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 North Sea 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 by weathe.

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!

First project

The business did not take on its first commercial project until March 1977, for the engineering contractor firm Matthew Hall Group (later acquired by AMEC Foster Wheeler in the 1990s).

However, it soon became clear that the overriding demand from clients was for the talented people required for project controls, across many engineering disciplines.

John and Graham were still contractors themselves during the business set-up phase and their network of contacts made them well-placed to find the talent the oil and gas industry needed.

Contractor recruitment business

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, while there, he 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.

Becoming international

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 still 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, later became a  Board Director of Petroplan, leading the operational and contractor management side of the business.

She has recently semi-retired and moved to an NED role. For her, and her well trained global team, the care with which contractors’ well-being and placements are managed is still personal, but the technology to process and administer is now 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.

In 1981, Pauline Horton joined the team to also support contractor management and mobilisation.  As time moved on, she also became a Main Board Director, and moved into a focal Client Relationship role.  Over 30 years, Jos and Pauline have moved contractors across many global locations from the North Sea to Algeria to Iraq and Europe.

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 2000's 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.

A new direction was heralded in 2012 with the business placing more emphasis on talent acquisition for clients. Petroplan already had over 30 years of recruitment experience which was built on networks formed before the inception of LinkedIn and job boards.

At this juncture more recruiters and operational support services were put in place to also attract candidates for permanent positions in the energy industry, to expand our reach beyond the active contractor network.

In 2014, to grow our international capability, a new London office was created and this, and Houston now represent Petroplan’s main centres of excellence.

Looking ahead, we remain true to our principles

There have been many changes since 1976 – to business processes, technology, the Energy industry as a whole – but throughout it all Petroplan is governed by two fundamental constants.

Firstly, guided by the strength, wisdom and knowledge of the above mentioned four individuals who are all still main Board Directors today, our utter commitment to the care of our clients and contractors remains our solid foundation.

Secondly, we have a Board who truly understand the Energy industry and are not fazed by the ever-moving political and environmental pressures placed upon it. As oil price and demand for other sources of energy has flexed, along with the motivations of employers and individuals, so too has the Petroplan Group.  

The heart of what we do – providing exceptional talent solutions to the energy industry – is the same today as it was at the beginning.

We know that delivering on our commitments for those that depend on our business is essential.

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