George Yule has been three years in the job of CEO at Dominion Gas in Aberdeen, taking the company through considerable change.
The bowing out of founder Gareth Jones after nearly 20 years of hard slog, near $150 oil, $40 oil, two acquisitions and a recession guaranteed that. Not that Yule, once a footballer but, for a fair few years working in the oil&gas supply chain, is afraid of hard work, because he plain isn’t.
His plan is, however, simple – to metamorphose Dominion from being a UK-based industry cylinder gas company to an international oilfield services player that has at the heart of its business three main product streams – industrial gases, liquids and chemicals.
It started out as a cylinder gas company under Jones. The business comprised selling gases to a blend of diving and industrial clients and the gases were contained in cylinders that generated rental income. It was largely UK North Sea focused, though the firm had established in Singapore and made commitments to set up in Norway.
Dominion is a lot different today.
“We’ve changed from being a gas firm with one site in Aberdeen to an oilfield services company currently with seven sites spread between West Africa, Azerbaijan, Singapore and Norway,” says Yule.
“The main objective when I joined was to get Gareth out at his request. I was brought in to take over the reins from him, to prepare the company for disposal. But, in addition to that, facilitate the build of our Norwegian sites on the basis of commitments made by Gareth.
“It has been an eventful three years, buoyed up by a very upbeat industry for most of that, which certainly gave us the extra impetus to take Dominion into new areas such as West Africa and the Caspian.
“The main thing is that we’re trying to move from being an Aberdeen company trading internationally to an international company headquartered in Aberdeen. That’s a big step, not an overnight thing. We’re chipping away at it, with lots of energy and ambition.
“We’re very ambitious, but equally conscious that we don’t want to overstretch by taking on or appearing to take on the world. We’re independent, employing 90 worldwide, and we have board of six.
“We believe we have a good business. Our clients appear to believe that, too.”
But how did Dominion people take to all the changes? Listen to Yule and it seems they grasped the opportunity.
Prior to his taking over, the routine had become to put gases into containers, analyse and package, track the assets and transport to clients. Yule rapidly saw that the same could be done with liquids and chemicals. The same distribution principles apply, and the requirements for quality and ability to track are the same, too.
“Engagement of our people was relatively straightforward because we didn’t impose what we set out to do,” says Yule.
“We kept them in the loop of what we were trying to do across the company.
“We’ve strengthened the company, increased the head count from 30 three years ago to today’s 90, but there’s a very simple Scottish trait here and it is that you actually care about people. For me, I think some of that comes from my earlier sporting days.
“I brought a lot of the football team mentality into Dominion. We have competition for places, we win as a team and lose as a team. We enjoy success; if we fail we look at why we failed and then try harder.
“We’re a team that’s moved from the first division to the premiership in the eyes of some people. Now we need to make sure that we consolidate our position in the premiership and aspire to go out and win that, too.
“That means we will need to bring in additional resources … equipment, new sites, more products, and to complement the people that we have.
“One of the most important aspects from my previous life is keeping my eye on the ball and I’m delighted to say that, during this expansion, we haven’t dropped even one client.
“Even though we’ve made acquisitions and broadened the business, we deliberately did not take our eye off the ball with our core gas business. I think the last two years especially have seen a very buoyant oil industry. That has meant more projects, and where there are more projects, generally more gas is needed.
“So we’ve grown the gas business. However, whereas three years ago the gas business accounted for 60% of our business, the other 40% being rental income, today we have a more equitable split between gas, rental, liquid and, to a lesser extent, chemicals.”
That was achieved via the acquisition of Argon Isotanks in November, 2008. Argon specialised liquid, cryogenic, chemical and acid tank services. Prior to that, the firm acquired Global Gas Suppliers, which was Dominion’s independent competitor in Aberdeen.
The net result is that turnover has grown from £5million when Yule walked into Dominion’s offices for the first time to an expected £26million this year.
The balance of trade is shifting, too. Currently, the business is about 50% NW Europe versus rest of world. That represents a 30% swing over the last three years in favour of overseas. Three years from now, Yule expects it will be 70% overseas, but with Dominion still headquartered in Aberdeen.
So what impact is the credit crunch having on Dominion’s plans?
“Like they do, this recession will pass. My take, having been through something not too dissimilar nine years ago, at least in oilfield terms, is that while we may emerge a bit bruised, we will be intact. This is about keeping a perspective. My message to our people here at Dominion is let’s not waste a good recession. Let’s find opportunities to position ourselves for when this recession does end, because it will.”
Yule, who was named the 32nd Grampian Industrialist of the Year in Aberdeen on March 6, admits to a “few scuffs and scrapes” along the way, but that no one owes Dominion a living.
“We have to go out there on January 1 each year and earn our keep.
“The oil&gas industry … it’s very challenging, exciting, frustrating at times. Sometimes, track record and service quality count for nothing in times such as we’re living through now. All that matters to some people is bottom-line price.
“All the other things that clients may have been telling you about quality and caring relationships have gone by the board.
“It’s a rough old game and people forget what they tried to preach.
“Using a football analogy: if you’re on the field of play … engaging with clients … you will have a chance to influence the game in some way further down the line.
“If you’re on the bench and you’re not used, then you’ve no opportunity.
“So my message to Dominion’s people is simple … don’t look on this as a bad time. Go seek opportunities because there isn’t a client out there who isn’t going to take a call if you’re saying you can help them with cost reduction or adding value.
“I’m absolutely certain that Dominion’s USP is not the cheapest price. That’s not what we want to be about. But we need to cut our cloth to suit some clients … we need to be an oilfield chameleon.”