Later this month, ITF’s CEO for six years, Neil Poxon, heads for pastures new . . . in the US where he is to run and grow a young oilfield service company. It’s a mid-life opportunity he simply does not want to miss.
When appointed to the top job at the Industry Technology Facilitator in 2006, Poxon quite possibly raised eyebrows. For sure he was very different to his predecessors and has lived up to the initial impression that he would transform ITF.
This begs the question as to whether ITF had been achieving the objectives set 12 years ago when it was born out of the late 1990s oil and gas industry crisis, controversially displacing its predecessor, the CMPT (Centre for Marine & Petroleum Technology). Apparently not.
The core of not-for-profit ITF’s original mandate was to foster the rapid delivery of new, relevant technologies to the offshore industry.
ITF was created to make a difference; to fast-track technology development. That was key.
“In my opinion, shared by others, a lot of good work had been done under prior leadership since 2000,” said Poxon. “However, the foundation built was not sufficiently robust and member requirements in terms of deliverables changed quite rapidly and there was no reaction to that from the organisation.
“Though momentum was built in the first couple of years, it was lost quite quickly and, by the time I came on board, ITF was regarded as sleepy hollow, not delivering, a very close and confidential organisation . . . a niche club.”
The board told me this was a turnaround situation and how would I achieve that. And when I joined ITF they told me they weren’t sure that it was going to survive the next six months. This was summer 2006.
The Poxon view was that it was necessary to refocus ITF as a performance-led organisation that was industry-led and facilitating effectively, the delivery of relevant technological solutions to the industry.
So what values and skills might he bring to the ITF table? Were they appropriate? Clearly the board did as Poxon had got the job.
“I knew a little about ITF. I thought I could do this, but I probably only understood half the challenge at the time I took the job on,” he told Energy.
The basic mission of facilitating the development and introduction of new technologies to the marketplace in a relatively short time as required by the organisation’s membership remained firmly in place.
“In my eyes the remit has always been to continue the R&D line from early stage through to commercialisation and implementation. But the organisation was not focused on implementation at the time I took over.
“One of the first things I did was to discuss implementation at a board meeting and to define what that meant. Then we completely overhauled internal processes to enable focus on implementation. That required huge change, including cultural and board recognition of its importance.”
Poxon said there was a critical need to change the nature of the relationship with companies seeking funding for projects; gentile had to give way to outright purpose and ensuring tangible outcomes.
It was also important to change the membership structure from being a club for operators to an organisation that embraced service companies too, and making the number of implemented projects each year the number one KPI (key performance indicator).
Onus was placed on the developer and projects steering group to make them responsible for all decisions relating to exploitation, commercialisation and implementation.
“And we went one step further, which is our current JIP contract introduced in 2006. It says that if the steering group does not implement and agree a plan for the foregoing within one year of the project arriving on their desk, and the developer does not do it anyway, then the developer is in breach of contract.
“In other words, the contract is geared such that the steering group has to make a decision on exploitation, commercialisation and implementation and then agree a plan. And if they don’t then the developer has to do it anyway. And if he doesn’t then he’s in breach of contract.
“This is key. The whole focus is on a route to market. At the end of the day, ITF is not 100% responsible for implementation; it’s our members who employ the technology.
“But what we can do and try really hard to do is make sure the process used provides the best possible chance and focus on commercialisation and implementation, and that’s the bit that we can do.”
When he joined, ITF had no right to attend steering group meetings, Poxon changed that. And there were many other changes.
“The perception of ITF has altered completely as a result,” he said.
Arguably the second most important other change is the integration of ITF into a network of peer organisations around the world and making it globally impartial. But has it worked? Poxon says it has. It is certainly the largest of its kind providing oil and gas funding for technology and the only one without national/regional ties.
“It is working; a huge amount of momentum has been established. It has highlighted to me just how much this is about people,” he said.
“At the time we set out to do it, there were individuals within these organisations, particularly DeepStar of the US who were keen on collaboration. One of the important things was to avoid duplication as a lot of the member companies are the same.
“After two years of working with DeepStar in particular, its leadership changed and with it the relationship. But then it opened up again and the relationship re-established.
“So is this network of peer organisations working? Yes, I think it is and it is growing.”
The strongest relationships are with Canadian counterparts including Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador, DEMO of Norway and CITEF of France. However, the Brazilians have turned out to be “quite a challenge” and is work in progress.
The foregoing is a flavour. We simply don’t have the luxury of space to tell the whole story of ITF under Neil Poxon and you will hold your various opinions as to how successful the organisation has been these six years past.
However, the organisation is very much alive, probably more dynamic than ever and the time has come for a new leader. That hunt is under way.
Questions & answers
Education: Chemical Process Engineering with Fuel Technology – Sheffield University. Graduated in 1988 with 2:1 B.Eng with Honours
Main career roles:
District manager – 1990-1997: Middle East at Baker Performance Chemicals Inc.
1997-2000: Regional manager – Middle East at Champion Arabia Ltd
2000-2006: General manager – Eastern hemisphere at CETCO Oilfield Services
2006-date: MD, Industry Technology Facilitator
What has been the hardest decision you have made in business?
Making the commitment to invest in global expansion – people infrastructure, agents and all that goes with it. The cost of moving people overseas and of setting up the operation is huge and the impact on family (ies) involved if it goes wrong is huge
Quitting a leadership role, where I have grown a successful company, culture and team from just myself (or performed a turnaround), to take up the same challenge all over again
Who has inspired you most in your career?
What do you regard as being your greatest success to date?
Turnaround of ITF, influence in the international oil and gas R&D community and influencing gov’t strategy
What do you do to relax?
Gym, cycling, cinema, spending time with wife and four kids
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Far East – Koh Samui (Thailand), Boracay (Philippines)
What charity do you support?
Monthly – cancer research + others in various different ways
If you were not in the job you are in, what job would you like?
Politics (as a result of my exposure to politics through my position in ITF) – I will miss this element of my new role
Where would you like to retire to?
South of England