There are not too many people who would turn their back on a highly paid contractor role with an oil and gas operator to launch a new business from a converted chicken shed.
Aberdeen entrepreneur Graeme Harper had done just that – and he’s loving it.
Harper launched North Sea Power Solutions in the converted farm building on the outskirts of Aberdeen last year. In its first 12 months, the company, which provides electrical services to the oil and gas industry worldwide, exceeded revenue in excess of £1million.
With a refreshingly straightforward approach to business, Harper believes that even in the current downturn, there are opportunities to succeed. It just requires flexibility and a willingness to graft.
If that means having to deal with negotiate a lease on a new building one day, spend thousands of pounds of his own money to renovate it, or head offshore to complete an installation on a platform the next day, that all fits in with Harper’s ethos of keeping costs low and offering a flexible, nimble business that is helping North Sea operators keep a handle on costs.
Harper admits that it is not easy for small businesses to get on the all important approved vendors lists that oil and gas operators require before doing business. Harper admits this was a key element in the company’s development to date.
“We’e having been picking up a lot of business that I’m sure we would not have been able to pick up before the oil crash. We’ve definitely benefited from operators having a much greater focus on costs and dealing with directly with companies like ours. In the past we would have only been to get the kind of work we have now through the umbrella of a Tier 1 service company.”
Having worked for two major oil and gas companies as electrical support engineer, latterly with responsibility for an entire North Sea platform, Harper knows the oil and gas business from the inside.
Launching North Sea Power Solutions in 2015, as the downturn began to really kick in, was a calculated risk, rather than a leap of faith. His approach was to take the jobs others may not have bid for – contracts in Colombia and Yemen were, he admits, challenging but rewarding and allowed the company to grow.
The company will host industry body Oil and Gas UK’s electrical forum this week – bringing to together specialists to discuss partial discharge in monitoring switch gear and also robot inspection in main generators.
“Diversification is also important. Our core business is oil and gas, but we are about to move into the renewables sector. We have also recently agreed a service agreement with a Scottish housebuilder for electrical services,” said Harper.
“It’s bad time for oil and, but it’s also a good time for growing companies. There are lot of very good people looking for work and that will help us as we grow. We’re already looking to hire two more people and there will be more in the future, I’m sure.”
Out of a workforce nine – Harper found seven of them after they were let go during the downturn.
“They are all experienced and highly capable people who know the business, which is great for us. I was looking for people who can see the job through from procurement to installation and they’re are all capable of doing that.”
Harper’s next challenge is to grow North Sea Power’s mechanical division, which is likely to be located in another agricultural building, and double turnover to £2million.
“My wife sometimes asks why I gave up a highly paid job working with reasonable hours and now I’m working twice as long. But I’m not the desk job – we’re building something here for ourselves and that’s worth a lot more.
“I’ve always believed that you can only learn to walk by doing it and that’s what we are doing. It’s hard work, but that’s what brings the rewards.”