It is about a year since John Heiton decided to put his banking days behind him and head up newly formed Offshore Containers Holdings (OCH), of Aberdeen.
Most people would have seen it as a timely move, given the turmoil the banks have endured recently, but Mr Heiton, 32, has different reasons for taking his career in a new direction.
“I didn’t want to end up as a 25 to 30-year banker,” he said, adding that any extension to the five years he spent in that sector could have led to him always being known in professional circles for his banking credentials rather than his accountancy experience.
He was head of structured finance with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) Group in Aberdeen last year when it provided acquisition and working-capital facilities in support of a deal involving the sale of Aberdeen firm Containental Offshore to investors led by London-based private-equity firms Lansdowne Capital and Claver Capital.
The £10.5million acquisition, which saw managing director David Nightingale and director Peter Coy investing undisclosed sums back into the business and staying on at the firm, was trumpeted as providing a strong and secure financial base for Containental to further expand its fleet of high-specification containers and cargo-carrying units for the offshore oil and gas industry.
It was hoped the deal would also help the company, based in Pitmedden Road Industrial Estate, Dyce, to develop overseas and extend its product range into related offshore oil and gas services and equipment.
Lansdowne and Claver aimed to use their acquisition as a vehicle to develop a leading worldwide rental business, focused on the needs of topside activities in the oil service sector.
London-based Offshore Containers was subsequently snapped up for an undisclosed sum to form part of the new and enlarged firm OCH.
Mr Heiton then left RBS to head up the new oil service group as chief executive, with him also becoming a director at its two operating subsidiaries. Explaining the switch, he said: “Having formed a strong relationship with the investors, I was approached in the summer of 2008 to ask if I would like to join the company to lead the growth of the business.
“I therefore left banking and finance shortly before the collapse of Lehmans and the full onset of the credit crunch.”
Mr Heiton – the son of a chartered accountant – grew up at Inverurie and attended Robert Gordon’s College, in Aberdeen, before completing degree studies in electronics and electrical engineering at Edinburgh University. His career background is primarily in the financial services industry, however, with five years in accountancy in auditing, insolvency and corporate-finance roles followed by five years in acquisition and structured-finance corporate banking.
He did his accountancy training with RSM Robson Rhodes in Leeds, returning north to Aberdeen and a job as a commercial-banking manager at Barclays in 2003.
After a three-year spell at Barclays, where he became an associate director in its leveraged-finance division, he joined RBS.
During his time at RBS he specialised in oil services and worked on funding packages for several high-profile businesses. These included Abbot Group, Ashtead Technology Rentals, ATR Group, Dominion Gas, Downhole Products, Duffy and McGovern, Energy Cranes, Reservoir Group, Senergy, Triton Group and Viking Moorings.
Mr Heiton, who lives in Aberdeen’s west end with his partner, Jennifer, said: “This experience provided me with an enormous insight into each of their different strategies, business models and management teams as well as the valuation of the businesses by investor groups.
“Particularly relevant was my involvement with Duffy and McGovern (now HB Rentals), where we provided an innovative financing package to fund the growth of the business.
“It was the market leader in offshore accommodation and engineering cabin rentals; an area we are involved in today through our recently acquired division Vertec Engineering.”
Aberdeen-based offshore service firm Sovereign Oilfield Group revealed in May it had sold Vertec – minus its Cooltime Engineering Services subsidiary – plus the cabin-rental fleet of Labtech Services to OCH to raise £5.45million.
OCH kept on all 70 staff that were affected by the acquisitions, including Vertec managing director David Soper, taking its workforce to 85.
The group has lofty ambitions, with more acquisitions and overseas offices planned in the quest for a greater slice of the worldwide market for offshore containers.
Mr Heiton said: “We intend to be among the global leaders in each of our chosen fields.
“To achieve this we will expand the group geographically into new regions and extend our offering to a wider set of services and products, although remaining focused on the topside segment of the oil services sector.
“Initial steps on the geographic expansion are significant investment in new fleets in Canada and the Netherlands, alongside additions to the UK and US fleets.”
New offices and appointments in other regions would be announced imminently as part of the expansion drive, he said, adding: “This vision will be facilitated through targeted acquisitions to build scale in specific markets and to remove capacity, alongside organic expansion.”
The group’s Containental Offshore division is focused on the rental and sale of offshore containers in the UK continental shelf and has a fleet of 2,700 cargo-carrying units.
The Offshore Containers unit of the division is involved in the sale of offshore containers on a more global basis, while the recent acquisition of Vertec has allowed the group to diversify into the design and construction of service cabins and control rooms.
Mr Heiton’s role is largely focused on group strategy, finance and acquisitions, with most operational matters being handled by individual management teams at each subsidiary.
He said: “Areas I have spearheaded since my arrival have been investment in new fleet, equipment and premises, along with a revised group branding.
“I have also led the development of improved risk management in relation to our currency exposures as significantly more than 50% of our revenue is from outside the UK, although our core operations and expenditure are in Aberdeen.”
Overseas business accounts for about 60% of group turnover, with North Sea and Gulf of Mexico markets suffering most in the economic downturn.
Mr Heiton said: “Our company and industry is a bellwether for the health of the oil and gas industry.
“While our overall revenues are continuing to increase, this has been driven by our overseas operations.
“More mature regions including the UK North Sea and Gulf of Mexico have been generally flat to a small decline in the last few months.
“The impact is less significant in our rental operations, which are connected primarily with offshore production and operational expenditure spend, and is more marked in equipment sales.
“We do not expect this to materially change in the next 12 months, given the state of the global economy and the depressed demand for oil products, but in the longer term, we expect to see a recovery in offshore activity.
“In the interim, our focus is on positioning ourselves in other overseas regions for this upturn at the same time as maintaining high-quality service standards for our existing customers.”