Robin Watson is pleased to have recently learned of the “safety moment” espoused by the 1980s American rock legends who were famous for elaborate stage sets and dangerous pyrotechnics.
He recounts how the band produced a long list of contractual requirements to ensure everyone’s safety each time they played a different stadium.
But another required “rider” was that a bowl of candied M&Ms be put in the band’s dressing room – with the brown ones removed.
If the band found the bowl still had the offending brown sweeties, they had good cause to think the organisers hadn’t read through the list of requirements.
“If they found the brown M&Ms, they’d have grounds to say they had never read the contract – which led them to ask what other corners have been cut?
“But I’m afraid I was more of an AC/DC man,” adds Mr Watson with a laugh.
It has been a year since Mr Watson took over the reins of the PSN business after Bob Keiller took over the top job at the combined FTSE-250 company.
PSN is now the larger part of the business’s operations, making up over half of the firm’s turnover and employing 29,000 worldwide.
Since he took charge, the group has been making acquisitions and investing in a range of companies acquired in recent years, particularly in the US, where it is growing its exposure to the booming shale gas market.
He points to the firm’s recent agreement to buy up Elkhorn Holdings, a Wyoming-based construction services firm in the US shale market.
The deal, once it passes US anti-trust scrutiny, will make PSN’s US business as large as it is in the UK.
But the UK is still a main focus for the business, Mr Watson insists.
Last year, the PSN division broadened its capabilities by acquiring the firm that paints the Forth Rail Bridge.
Mr Watson said the deal – thought to be worth about £30million – was good value, mainly because the family-owned Pyeroy Group was not in the frothy oil and gas sector. But the skills the fabric-maintenance firm was able to bring to the table were directly transferable to PSN’s oil and gas services business.
Mr Watson said: “We decided not to pay a premium on a firm that was already established in oil and gas.
“We also thought we could do it a bit better. The Pyeroy model of painting once and painting it right really appealed to what we had seen in the supply chain here.”
He said the company had now been awarded a contract with Shell through its Pyeroy division.
The recent acquisition will also be a key tool as decommissioning North Sea assets starts taking place in earnest.
“There is quite a lot of fabric maintenance, the descaling and clean-up you do on an installation before you decommission it,” Mr Watson said. “So we think it is quite a clever play for us in that respect – it positions us a bit differently in the decommissioning market.”
Mr Wilson was raised on Mull and started his career in the Merchant Navy. In his 30s, he became platform manager on the Beryl Alpha platform for Mobil.
He then spent about eight years at Petrofac, and joined Wood Group just weeks before its historic tie-up with PSN.
The fact he was a new kid on the block made his succession to the role easier.
“I didn’t come from either heritage,” he said. “That has allowed me to be open and not be precious. If it is good, it is good. I don’t mind where it comes from.”
In the last 12 months, he says his achievement has been to relax the firm’s centralised structure, to “de-layer”, and allow each of five regional managing directors to manage their operations more closely.
“This is a three-to-four-year transformation for the business,” he said. “We have been growing and doing some consolidation, but we created 2,500 new jobs this year.
“Growth is flowing – this year we (PSN) are up 28%-plus in earnings.”
But is Mr Keiller, who led the buyout of PSN from Halliburton in a bold £257million deal in 2006, really able to give up control?
Mr Watson answers easily. “We are similarly different. It works really well, actually.
“I’ve never been content with being as good as PSN or as good as Wood Group.
“We want to be better than either of the constituent parts.”
Robin Watson: Q&A
Who helped you get where you are today?
My parents, my wife, my kids and a variety of business people whom I respect have all helped me. I am particularly inspired by successful Scots, such as Alex Ferguson and Sean Connery too.
What do you still hope to achieve in business?
Continuous improvement. It’s not one thing; it’s always improving on everything from safety performance and the way we do business to how we engage with the communities we operate in and the growth we deliver.
If you were in power in government, what would you change?
I would introduce simple and meaningful values. I believe in meritocracy and that government should stand for something. In the UK, for example, I find it abhorrent that lenders are allowed to charge extreme interest to clients and that government don’t make a stand for citizens on issues like this.
What are you reading, listening or glued to on TV?
I am reading a couple of books just now. The Lewis trilogy by Peter May and the latest James Bond novel, Solo (the first James Bond novel I have ever read!) by William Boyd, as I loved his earlier novel, Any Human Heart (which is a must read!). On the telly, we are Downton Abbey fans, but dilute this with some darker dramas such as Luther and Homeland.
If you were a character in a TV series or movie, who would you be?
As a movie character, George Bailey, the James Stewart character in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life.He is an all-time hero of mine.
What do you drive and dream of driving?
I drive an Audi Q7 and have a real love of the Aston Martin cars . . . the very best of British and an iconic masterpiece.
What would your children or partner say about you?
I have a wife, Lorraine, sons Euan, 15, and Kieran, 12, and a daughter Rebecca, 8, and I hope they’d say I am decent, funny, approachable and supportive. You could ask them, but maybe best to go with this wish list from me.
Which charity do you support and why?
I support Marie Curie and Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland. I support them because we lost my wife Lorraine’s mum to cancer and Marie Curie were just a great support to us, and I lost my father to a stroke a couple of years ago.