Taqa – in Arabic, it means energy – burst on to the North Sea stage less that two years ago, and it was only launched in 2005 as a joint-stock company in Abu Dhabi and 51% owned by the government-owned Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA).
It is not to be confused with the Saudi industrialisation and energy services company of the same name, established in March, 2003, as the result of Saudi Arabia’s privatisation strategy.
The Abu Dhabi company has a simple and well publicised goal – to build a $60billion international business in petroleum, power generation and desalination, and it is led by the urbane Peter Barker-Homek, formerly of BP.
In two years flat, backed by sovereign wealth, Barker-Homek and his team have built a $23billion asset base, and wanted to achieve the $60billion target by 2012, though this has been put back to 2016 because of current world events.
The aim is to achieve $20billion of assets in North America; $20billion in Europe, and $20billion in the Middle East and India.
In the context of oil and gas, the objective is to achieve a portfolio balance comprising 40% upstream, 20% midstream and 40% downstream. And the start point has been in the North Sea, as detailed elsewhere in this Boardroom feature.
But how is Barker-Homek going to realise this audacious dream?
“I guess the way to begin is to look at the journey I was asked to take Taqa on, which was very much about building a global energy company. Also, with that, build a bridge between East and West.
“We’ve already seen some of the fruits and, on October 18, we will be the Edmonton Journal in Canada as one of the top 100 employers in all of Canada.
“When our Shell-Exxon deal closes, we’ll be the 15th top producer in the North Sea by the end of this year. Considering we had zero presence at year-end 2006, that’s pretty good.
“What does that say? It says something about the culture we started out … being a meritocracy; everyone has a voice in the company. We’re also a very flat organisation.”
But why make Taqa a meritocracy? Was it born out of past frustrations for Barker-Homek? It turns out not.
“What it draws on is my overall career experience, and probably fairly heavily on my Marine Corps training. One of the things they emphasise when you go through boot camp is that, whether you’re an infantryman or an officer, you all go through the exact same training and you learn to build trust and collaboration. To me, that’s very relevant when you’re trying to build a corporate team, an esprit and an identity.”
Of course Taqa has to make money. The $60billion ambition tells us that. But that’s not the be all and end all for Barker-Homek.
“I think it’s about a lot more … helping people pursue their life’s ambitions.
“And yet a lot of (Taqa) people have found some of the space that they are given disorientating. There are many who came in during the early days and who didn’t like to deal with the ambiguity of a company that’s emerging and growing and experiencing different corporate cultures that, in my mind, enrich.
“Another aspect is that we have a lot of debate. The one thing with a flat organisation is that it encourages consensus building and you have to restrict the number of times that you’re barking out orders because you’re wanting people to buy into what you’re trying to achieve.
“It takes longer and makes you work at, and think of, what you’re doing, and as a result, we’re developing a distinctive culture. At a company town hall, when asked about what we were trying to do with Taqa, I said, ‘We’re trying to create the performance culture of Exxon with the personality of Google’.”