The offshore supply chain is peppered with lots of small companies that, at first glance, seem unremarkable. They quietly get on with their job and rarely, if ever, make the headlines. Moreover, they are invariably privately owned.
They are innately conservative and are determined to stand on their own two feet, rejecting attempts by banks and private-equity outfits to pump money into them to accelerate growth or force them into arranged marriages, or other ploys that do not necessarily have the long-term health of the business at heart.
It happens that such firms are possibly the best equipped of all to ride the financial storm that threatens to derail so many others with P/E and bank money propping them up – or worse, if they are stock-exchange listed.
One such company is Electro-Flow Controls of Aberdeen and Houston. It was set up by its managing director, John Wheeler, in 1988 and he was joined relatively early on by Ted Littlechild, who is sales and marketing director.
They are clearly proud of their conservatism and pointed out to Energy that, over the past few years, the business has grown very rapidly, albeit this is a position they had to wait for patiently over a rather long time before the business really took off.
Wheeler said: “We’ve been growing very fast over the last three to four years. The retrofit market has expanded considerably and we’re doing a lot of work overseas, especially in the Middle East, Brazil and out of our Houston office.”
Littlechild: “We’ve been growing 40% per annum over the last three to four years. Our technical strength has been doubling year on year. Go back three/four years and we were 18-20 people; we’re now 55 and heading for 60.
“Turnover leapt, especially in 2006. This coincided with our securing a large subsea BOP (blowout preventer) controls package and our then getting virtually the entire instrumentation refit on the same rig … including instrumentation for drilling, shutdown systems, video systems, bulk tank storage, and so on.
“Over the present financial year, we’ll pull around $15-16million between the UK and US. For the year ahead, the forecast is for around $20million. Obviously, the (dollar-pound) exchange rate will have an impact.”
Wheeler and Littlechild candidly admitted to Energy that, in the early years of Electro-Flow Controls, the focus was “on survival”. They kept a “low profile for 14 or so years”.
Wheeler: “We’ve always sought to consolidate the business along the way. We’ve been very cautious.
“Take the export market that now accounts for 70% of turnover. We didn’t start that until we had a solid foundation in the UK from which to work … in other words, until we felt we could support the initial financial penalty of going into exports.
“The primary relationships are with American drilling contractors. However, we have made significant progress in places like Brazil with indigenous rig owners.”