“THINK global, act local” – that was the motto of Percy Barnevik, who once led the Swedish-Swiss engineering group, ABB.
It seems to be the philosophy of the Wood Group, too.
“Take our business in Venezuela,” says Langlands.
“We’ve got about 1,300 people there and I think we have only two or three UK expats among them. The rest of the team is Venezuelan. You will see much the same in many of the other areas that we operate in.”
It’s a laudable approach, but how then do Langlands and Sir Ian hold the group together? What’s the glue?
“We run the business in a relatively decentralised way, and we think that’s been a significant strength. We attract high-quality management; we give them a reasonable degree of autonomy for them to work in and deliver the results within an agreed framework and strategy, and we think that’s a good model. High-calibre management like to work in that kind of environment … culture,” says Langlands.
“Wood Group has grown rapidly. There were 2,000 employees when I joined 17 years ago; there are about 24,000 now. We’ve worked very hard to steadily build the management team over the last 10 years. We’ve added extra management capacity in order that we could take advantage of growth opportunities as we go.
“The glue is that we transfer a lot of people around the world. For instance, we’ve operated in Colombia for 10 years … very successfully. Colombia has been a great pool where we can grow good young management … it’s a very well educated workforce there.
“If we roll that forward to today, we’ve got a number of young Colombians managing Wood Group operations around the world. We have a Colombian running our activities in Algeria, one managing in Trinidad, another leading our efforts in Malaysia and we have another working in the UAE on the gas-turbine side.
“These people absolutely feel part of the Wood Group and just as much a part of the company as the guy who’s been with us for 10 years in Aberdeen.”
Turning to wider people issues, Langlands points out that Wood Group is using all the main tools at its disposal, both at home and overseas. This includes beefing up graduate recruitment significantly and making much more use of apprentice schools – particularly on the gas turbines side.
“Obviously, we opened the Glasgow office two-and-a-half years ago to address the particularly acute engineering shortage. About two-thirds of them work on North Sea projects and the other third support international projects.
“We really do feel we’re an international group. That’s how we feel and think. If you look at our 24,000 employees, 75-80% of them are based overseas. You must have an international mentality, not a UK one, to succeed.”