Words inscribed on the boardroom table at the offices of Senergy in Aberdeen offer an insight into one of the passions of the energy service firm’s boss.
As the company’s directors sit down to discuss plans for the future, they do so in the presence of one of the most famous lines penned by Scotland’s national bard, Rabbie Burns.
When Burns came up with “O wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us” it was in response to noticing a head louse roaming back and forth across a women’s bonnet in church one day.
But those immortal words in Burns’s Ode to a Louse are a source of inspiration for Senergy chief executive James McCallum.
The phrase is a useful guiding principle in most areas of life, according to Mr McCallum, 48, whose career in well engineering and construction and wider business-management roles spans more than 25 years.
He has been there right from the start at Senergy, which was created in January 2005 from the merger of subsurface and field-development consultancy Reservoir Management and well- construction and project-management firm Xcavo.
Senergy delivers consultancy and operational services to more than 100 energy-sector firms worldwide. It has expanded rapidly in a short time and now employs about 300 specialist consultants
Last year, it acquired Banchory-based consultant Production Geoscience (PGL) for an undisclosed sum and two other key buyouts – Floyd and Associates and Isis Energy – have followed in this year.
PGL, which operated from offices at Banchory, London and Stavanger, now operates as PGL Senergy and employs more than 70 staff and associates at its North Deeside Road headquarters.
Alford-based Floyd became Senergy Floyds following its acquisition, also for an undisclosed sum, in January.
The move added 25 employees to Senergy’s 200-strong workforce.
A further 30 people joined Senergy through the buyout in March – again for an undisclosed sum – of marine geotechnical and offshore technology consultant Isis, which operated from offices at Inverurie and Bath.
Senergy subsequently closed the Inverurie site and transferred the workers to Alford, where the new Isis Senergy subsidiary now shares its head offices with Senergy Floyds.
Together, Senergy Floyds and Senergy Isis form the backbone of the group’s survey and geo-engineering division.
Senergy’s operations are now organised into five divisions, the others being oil and gas, alternative energy, investments and technology.
The group has UK offices in Aberdeen, Alford, Banchory, Guildford and London.
Overseas, Senergy operates from offices in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Perth in Australia and Stavanger in Norway.
Mr McCallum said the group was in an aggressive expansion phase, looking to grow both organically and through acquisitions.
Senergy also aims to build up its business in the green energy market, with geothermal, wind power and carbon-capture and storage being priorities.
Mr McCallum said: “The momentum for alternative energy is picking up as we go forward, although the fossil-fuel side of the business is still dominant.
“It is a long way off yet, but we would ultimately like to get to a 50-50 balance between traditional and alternative energies.”
Mr McCallum said the next expansion move – a “small acquisition” – was not far off, while there are also plans to sell a stake of up to 15% in the group to private-equity investors.
It is hoped an injection of cash from outside the firm will spur Senergy on to further international expansion.
The company earns a majority of its revenue from the North Sea, but the balance is expected to shift to business overseas as it continues its growth in markets abroad.
Mr McCallum and other senior figures at Senergy own about 70% of the business, with the rest of the equity being shared among employees.
The shareholders could see the value of their stakes soar if the group achieves its target of doubling or even trebling annual turnover in just three years.
In March, Senergy said its annual turnover had risen from £25million to more than £50million in the past year.
Despite the rapid expansion, Mr McCallum aims to ensure the group never loses sight of the important things in life, which is where Burns’s words of wisdom come in.
Seeing his father, who had a career in petrochemical-industry construction, being made redundant and going through the same experience himself left an indelible impression on Senergy’s boss.
“It made me very sensitised to issues around families and individuals and, while it was not pleasant, it gave me a good grounding experience,” said Mr McCallum, adding: “I will never forget what it did to my dad.”
Mr McCallum’s own career started with a job as a drilling engineer after he graduated from Aston University in Birmingham with a degree in mechanical engineering and drama.
The unusual combination of subjects reflected an interest in the stage and he could easily have ended up working as an actor. After graduating he was invited to join Birmingham Repertory Theatre, but declined.
Opportunities in the oil and gas industry were too good to refuse, so he instead joined the British National Oil Corporation (BNOC) and came to Aberdeen.
Mr McCallum, from South Queensferry, near Edinburgh, spent much of his youth overseas, and credits his drama studies for giving him the confidence he needed to do well in his chosen career. He moved to Glasgow to join an international division set up by BNOC, but lost his job after Britoil took over the company and scrapped the operation.
“It was a difficult time for the engineering sector and the oil and gas industry was going through a downturn,” said Mr McCallum, who turned his back on the energy business to spend a year touring as a professional actor.
It was not long, however, before fortunes picked up again in oil and gas, and Mr McCallum rejoined the industry and went to work overseas for Premier Oil.
He had spells in Thailand and Pakistan during his time at the company.
It was on his return to the UK, when he wanted to “test” whether he wanted to remain a British expat, that he met his wife, Gemma.
She was on a postgraduate course at Aberdeen University after completing a degree in art history at Sheffield University. The couple now live at Crail, in Fife, and have three young children: James-Lachlan, 8, Findlay-Broch, 6, and Rhiona-Mhor, 2.
Mr McCallum said the daily commute to and from Aberdeen was no hardship and still got him home in time to read bedtime stories for the children.
Drawing from Mrs McCallum’s artistic talents, the couple have put a considerable amount of energy into the restoration of a home that was just a ruin when they bought it 12 years ago.
Mr McCallum spent 10 years running a project-management subsidiary of offshore service company Global Marine, now ADTI.
The merger of Global Marine and Santa Fe brought about big changes, however, and Mr McCallum took himself off to Brussels for a couple of years to develop an understanding of Europe’s green agenda in an advisory role for the UK Government.
He returned to Scotland in 2004 and was managing director of Xcavo prior to the creation of Senergy.
Mr McCallum has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as a Burns Night speaker and spends one week a year travelling the world reciting the bard’s poetry.