“I SAID I’d come for two, but it’s been three-and-a-half years. I’ve done my time,” says Pridden, who intends to stay at the helm until a suitable successor is found.
“The hardest thing you can do as a CEO is to know when to get out of the job. I think I created the agenda … created the organisation; I think we’ve set up a number of initiatives and now these have got to be delivered.
“It’s very important that I step aside and allow someone else to pick up the reins … someone with a different energy and drive.”
Pridden insists that he has not been pushed, even though and the Subsea UK board have not always seen eye to eye.
“You can’t set about creating something new in what is quite a crowded marketplace, and in terms of some of the things we’re trying to do, without causing friction.”
Pridden says the Subsea UK board started out with a clear, set agenda over the four areas that it wanted to see addressed – networking, export agenda, technology commercialisation and alternative subsea technologies such as marine renewables.
“Where I think I probably came in and did something different to what the original board had been thinking was that I opted for what we talk about as being the big agenda … linking the development of new technology with R&D and academia, development of a skills academy, development of a major testing facility; putting all that together as well as encouraging the owners of small companies.
“I have tried to bring it along as one all encomappsing initiative. Of course, whether my approach works or fails … time will tell.”
Pridden acknowledges that his successor could take a different tack; on the other hand, he has been invited to join the Subsea UK board so will still have an influence.
“Of the key initiatives … networking, export, technology commercialisation and alternatives, I think we know where we’re going with that … major events, a great community around north-east Scotland, north-east England, though we still have issues in south-east England.
“I’m still keen on skills. This is still the major issue for me and we’re now partnering with OPITO, also working with Oil & Gas UK. I hope that, in partnership, we’ll go out and try to deliver a subsea skills agenda as part of the bigger agenda that’s being talked about.
“I think there’s a lot of progress now and not purely with OPITO. There’s another initiative that I’m hoping will start to come to fruition in the next two or three months. It’s still just there, but I do think we’re really moving ahead on the skills side.”
“But technology commercialisation is just too hard a nut to crack on our own, so we’re now working with ITF to try to deliver what I call the 20-20 subsea vision for technology and what we need in this country in 2020.
“There is a clear approach and process established for both skills and technology commercialisation. I’d like to see that continue. Equally, if it’s not working … it didn’t work for the first two years with my initial approach so I changed it last year … then whoever comes in and takes my position should change it again.”
But the alternatives part of the agenda is struggling, especially marine renewables. This isn’t because of a lack of interest, rather the subsea establishment in, for example, Aberdeen is overheating because of burgeoning oil&gas opportunities, especially deepwater.
“I’m also passionate about marine renewables and have a direct interest, but there’s no point in imposing that on the subsea sector in Aberdeen when the people we deal with daily lack resources to meet their own oil&gas needs.”
Pridden warns that Aberdeen must grasp the marine nettle, else others will reap the future rewards.
“You can see what Newcastle is doing. And it’s growing all the time in the north-east of England.
“I think you have a larger workforce in the north-east of England to tap into opportunities. I’m being controversial … I think there’s also an entrepreneurial spirit there that is absent in Aberdeen.
“Aberdeen’s been arguing about it for the last five years. Scottish Enterprise Grampian and Scottish Enterprise have been slow to waken. ”
Back to the oil&gas core, Pridden feels strongly about technology and company ownership and that far too little is genuinely British.
“I’ve been saying for the last three years that we have to redevelop our technology base in this country.
“What Norway is achieving, what Brazil is achieving, and Deepstar in the US is now achieving, is something else.
“We need a concerted effort to develop new technology for subsea, hence the 2020 Vision launched last year.”
That said, Pridden argues that Britain’s track record of late is poor and agrees that substantial state commitment, like Brazil, like Norway, even like the US, is needed.
“We get no support from Government to develop subsea – or at least very little.
“The Government suggests because we’re the fat cats of the energy industry, we should do it ourselves.
“The only way we’re going to anchor subsea jobs and the technologies in this country is by having British-owned technology produced by people in this country with intimate knowledge of those technologies.”