Computational mechanics specialist Prospect is in an expansionist mood with the expectation that its workforce will grow from 40 today to 140 by 2010.
Catalyst to expansion is the Aberdeen company’s takeover by Hallin Marine, which was announced on August 29.
Turnover in 2005 was £1.3million and expectation for the current year is about £4.1million and £10million two years from now.
The firm was set up in 1999 by Ivar Iversen, and, even three years ago, comprised just seven people. The ambition is to grow fairly evenly across Prospect’s four centres – Aberdeen, Derby, Houston and Stavanger – but also to take advantage of Hallin’s own international network, especially in Asia.
Although Iversen set the company up, these days he is, by personal choice, technical director, while Jonathan D’Arcy is managing director. This quietly passionate Norwegian expatriate is a mould-breaker. It shines through his conversation and his actions in terms of influence on the way the company has developed.
Iversen still has a Norwegian passport. He arrived in Aberdeen in 1985 for three weeks.
“I was sent up by Ove Arup & Partners from London to sort out a little job for Conoco in March, 1985, and was supposed to return in April.
“I just loved Aberdeen and have been here ever since.”
Prior to his arrival in Europe’s budding energy capital, Iversen had spent a couple of years in Germany working at the Max Planck Institute, returning to Britain in the early-1990s to work with Amec, building up his offshore oil&gas experience. But then he chucked that in favour of independence.
His timing was impeccably bad, with the global upstream industry just starting to crawl out of a recession that saw oil prices slump below $10 late-1998 before the recovery leading to today’s boom started.
Three years ago, in 2005, Prospect still had fewer than 10 people but was primed to take off, with D’Arcy by then at the helm. It had moved out of Iversen’s house to a good address on Aberdeen’s Carden Place, with space to grow.
When Energy first checked out Prospect in March, 2006, the staff count was 22, with the target of passing 50 in 2007 and achieving an “aspirational” optimum head count of about 100.
While the 2007 target was missed, that aspirational head count has risen significantly and is a direct result of growing ambition within the company.
And Iversen is clearly determined to realise that dream as a team effort.
“We have the watchword ‘realise’. Part of it is to realise the ambitions of our people, so we have gone from seven to 40 in about three years,” Iversen told Energy.
“We wanted to get away from the small company to the medium size that we are today.
“We have some very able people who have grown through that process. They’ve lots of experience and want to take something on by themselves. But for them to realise their ambitions we have to do something for them, and that’s what the next phase is about.
“We don’t have any shortage of work. Recruitment, retention and training are key. Finding the people isn’t the problem. The challenge for us is to integrate so many people and keep the culture while we grow.
“The target is 140 people by the end of 2010. We expect to spread them around the four offices that we’re in at the moment, and as we grow, we expect to have offices no bigger than 50-60 in any one location. That’s the size where everybody can know everyone else … even their respective partners at the Christmas party.”
Iversen says the reason for not going above 50-60 in an office is about ensuring effective communications and avoiding excessive dilution of the corporate culture.
Each office will be an independent unit able to operate autonomously in its geographic region, with its own blend of customers.
However, if there is a downturn in one or more regions, then offices with a surplus workload will feed that to the others. That’s the dream that Iversen wants to see realised.
“So we’re building in geographic robustness, sector robustness. We’re not going to be purely oil&gas. We’re already involved in renewables, already involved in nuclear; also in gas turbines. These are natural extensions to the sort of things that we do.”
When asked how Prospect’s culture would be conserved, Iversen said there were various ways to ensure that. “One is to gather around the brand. And we’ve made the brand reflect our culture … wall colours, cartoons, offices without any pictures of oilfield infrastructure. These reflect what we’re about, and that’s people.”
Training is another key aspect of the business – every Wednesday, 12 months a year, and it’s for everyone, as is the opportunity of midweek sport.
“Training is constant for us. We invest a fortune in it.
“I think the reason why people are still with us and why we have such a high retention rate is because of the culture. So if we can keep that going, it fuels itself.”
This is not an expansion that hinges on significant capital expenditure. It’s basically about the time it takes to integrate new people – and they have to be people of the right calibre.
“The first thing we look for in an interview is attitude. Our preference is to take engineers and train them to do the computational mechanics. We’re not looking for people who are experts in computational mechanics and try and make them engineers. It’s about people with a can-do attitude and then we add on the stuff that we do.”
Like other engineering consultancies, this is a bums-on-seats game, though Iversen and D’Arcy are keen to avoid the dayrates trap – although about 30% of Prospect’s turnover is derived this way.
“Our business model is to offer the client the project at lump sum. Then we go away and figure out what to invest in, maybe using what we already have. It encourages smart thinking,” Iversen added.