Rovop – capitalising on renewables and offshore oil

Stephen Gray of Rovop
Stephen Gray of Rovop

Since co-founding Rovop in 2011, managing director Steven Gray has driven forward what has become a rather neat, highly successful subsea specialist with feet planted in both the offshore oil and gas and maritime renewables camps.

Rovop was formed on three principles – to offer best-in-class equipment, uncompromising quality and delivery of service and “the most skilled operators” in the industry.

“A lot of companies offer services as ‘integrated’ subsea solutions but we felt there was a gap for an independent provider with a relentless focus on the industry’s need for high reliability and quality of service,” Gray told Energy.

“With major subsea projects operating a cost base that can easily run $500,000 to $1million a day, we offer a very simple proposition for our customers – using Rovop will reduce your risk and increase the efficiency of your project, saving time and cost.”

Within months of start-up, the Aberdeen firm was working on seven major offshore windfarm projects across Europe, and quickly earned a reputation that lived up to its business values.

Those early successes quickly led to the oil and gas market opening up and where the company has since built an award-winning track record of working on high-profile projects with the latest generation of remotely operated vehicles and avoiding dependence on temporary, agency personnel.

Gray recalls a time when he received a call at home one Friday night from an overseas windfarm developer experiencing a major problem: “They had stopped operations on its vessel, which were costing about £250,000 a day, because the ROV contractor had run into issues that they couldn’t solve.

“By 3am on the Sunday of that weekend, we had signed a contract with the customer and, within six hours, our ROVs and trucks were mobilised towards the vessel.”

Surely there are other ROV players out there that could have provided the same standard of service?

“There are other providers out there but it is all about quality of delivery using the right people and equipment,” said Gray.

“That is not an easy thing to get exactly right first time, but with ROVs on the critical path of many projects, it is vital for clients that we get it exactly right from the start.

“Our approach in using only the most advanced equipment, including the most sophisticated diagnostics and automated control systems with the best personnel and quality of service, has become self-sustaining.

“Now the best personnel in the industry are proud to work at Rovop. We are extremely fortunate to have the best team in the ROV industry and it is growing all the time.”

Track record and repeat business have been key factors in the firm’s rapid climb. Indeed, inside a year, Gray already found himself starting a trophy cabinet after winning the Scottish Green Energy award for Business Growth and being named Promising New Business at the Grampian Awards for Enterprise in 2012.

“We grew very quickly,” says Gray. “Through combining the most advanced technology with highly-experienced pilots and personnel, I believe we’ve established a service that is second-to-none and somewhat shown a step change in the market as to what operators can expect from their ROV service.

“The industry is starting to recognise that reliability including avoiding downtime in the field and reducing risk are higher up the check list when selecting an ROV provider. In the past, the focus was often on dayrates, which makes no sense when saving a couple of hundred pounds a day can cost vessel or rig downtime running to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Poor equipment and personnel have in the past cost operators dearly.”

Rovop’s swift entry into the market meant it had to quickly ramp up resources to meet increasing demand for its services. The company reacted accordingly by investing heavily yet steadily in its fleet and talent pool, which also saw the firm set up its own ROV Academy, incorporating a £250,000 simulator, as well as attain ISO 9001 accreditation for its integrated management system by DNV

Three years on, Rovop has become a major industry player with more than 100 staff . . . and more trophies bagged along the way; most recently Subsea UK’s coveted New Enterprise 2014 accolade.

Indeed, the company has been involved in more than half of the major offshore windfarms in North European waters; demonstrating clearly the value of being heritage oil and gas. It has done well on the oil and gas front too.

Most recently, the firm signed a contract deal at OTC in Houston with FMC Technologies Schilling Robotics to invest £17million in five new ROVs including two of the most advanced heavy-duty, work-class vehicles on the market – UHD-IIIs.

These are to be deployed on the Ceona Amazon – the flagship of subsea construction company Ceona with which Rovop has a five-year deal to supply hydraulic, work-class services on board its fleet of new, purpose-built deepwater pipe-lay and construction vessels.

This order brings the firm’s stable to 15 ROVs and investment to over £40m since the company was founded.

So what is Gray’s recipe for success besides gathering seasoned professionals into the Rovop team? Perhaps is breadth of experience in different sectors.

After all, he set out to become a lawyer but jumped ship twice.

Initially he was a solicitor with Dundas and Wilson but switched early in his career to banking by joining the Bank of Scotland and providing debt management and equity investment to businesses across Europe and the US, where he lived in New York for a number of years.

In 2008, he moved to Lloyds Development Capital as an investment director and established the Aberdeen office for the mid-market private equity investor UK firm.

But in 2011, Gray decided to go it alone after recognising the potential for an ROV specialist and – together with two partners, Scott Freeland and industry doyen, Mark Vorenkamp – Rovop was born in June that year.

“Our instincts for the industry need for an independent ROV company have proven right and it’s been an incredible and rewarding journey,” said Gray.

“The positive reaction from the market since we established Rovop has been exceptional and while we did not set out to win awards, it is a great endorsement of what the team has achieved.”

Questions and answers

Age: 41

Education: LLB (Hons), Dip LP, law – The University of Edinburgh; German and European law at the Universitat des Saarlandes

The 2/3 main roles in career and dates:

1997-2008: Director/vice president, integrated finance/oil & gas/energy, Bank of Scotland

2008-2011: Investment director, Lloyds Development Capital

2011 onwards: Co-founder and managing director of ROVOP

What has been the hardest decision you have made in business?

Parting company with an early business partner, a very hard thing to do but the right decision for the business.

Who do you admire in business? Or who has inspired you most in your career?

My business partner Mark Vorenkamp is an exceptional talent, he understands what it takes to succeed. Hard work and good judgement are the simple traits that I find compelling in business.

What do you regard as being your biggest success to date?

The quiet success in building a truly world-class infrastructure that supports our business is our biggest achievement. I hope we will see the benefit of that as we grow the business in the coming years.

What do you do to relax?

Ski, a lot. Ski racing has always been a passion for me and my kids do it now so I have an excuse to spend my weekends at Glenshee and my holidays in the Alps.

Where is your favourite holiday destination?

Austria for its combination of incredible scenery, excellent apres ski, cute villages and friendly service culture.

What is your favourite gadget?

My iPhone. If you stop for a moment and think what it can do, it is beyond things science fiction had imagined when I was growing up.

What charity do you support?

I have run a marathon for JDF, the diabetes charity.

If you were not in the job you are in, what job would you like?

Ski bum. It’s not really a job, but it’s what I’d do.

Where would you like to retire to?

I can’t really imagine retiring.