TRUE SUSTAINABILITY

Oman 2018 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alex Clark, CEO of Special Technical Services (STS), on the importance of long-term investment, choosing the right partners, and how to best train Omani nationals.

Alex Clark
BIOGRAPHY
Alex Clark has over 25 years of experience in the oil and gas, petrochemical, heavy industrial, and mechanical engineering construction industries with particular expertise in executive and general management. He is currently the CEO of Special Technical Services (STS), prior to which he was STS Group General Manager. He has a degree in civil engineering from the University of Sydney and a Master's in engineering management from the university of New South Wales.

How are low oil prices affecting contracting groups such as STS in the energy and industrial sectors in Oman?

There is still a large amount of major project investment in Oman, which is a good sign. Major projects bring a lot of business to the whole market; BP Kazan and Duqm are good examples of this, but there are many more. Many of these projects do have quite a bit of external financing, but are still being executed in Oman. This is an area that is good for us because we have a fabrication and manufacturing element to our business, in addition to a certain amount of construction. With every major project there is a new process unit added to the portfolio, and that means more business for us. New processes require more shutdown and turnaround services, and we are currently the major player in large process unit turnaround and maintenance. Our clients in this area include Orpic, Oman Methanol, Salalah Methanol, Oman LNG, and Equate (Kuwait), among others. We commenced our shutdown business back in 2007 when there was a single refinery in Oman, and the expansion of refining capabilities in the country has been an important part of our business ever since. Notwithstanding, STS is very much an oilfield-focused company; the largest portion of our revenue comes from oilfield services both in Oman and the GCC. Even in a low oil price environment, there is a certain amount of investment that needs to happen in order for the country to continue producing.

Do you have any plans to participate in more joint ventures moving forward?

Definitely. We are currently engaged in three, with a South African, Dutch, and American partner each. These joint ventures (JVs) demonstrate our capacity to work with international firms in a profitable and effective way. Each of our international partners offers strategic and complementary services.

You recently celebrated 7 million safe hours of operations at one of your plants. To what do you attribute this success?

There are two answers to this question: commitment and culture. We have 8,000 people on our payroll who everyday work in high-risk areas with great potential for serious accidents. When working in hydrocarbon facilities, safety is paramount.

What role does your graduate development program mean for the company and the Omani economy?

It is extraordinarily significant for us. We have a large number of graduates going through it. This program involves being deployed in the field where they can get real experience of the work we do on a daily basis. This is a major investment in the market by STS, and as time goes on the Omani private sector will need to employ more nationals than it currently does. This program prepares Omani graduates for that challenge. For us, we get Omanis moving through the hierarchy of our organization, which will hopefully lead to Omanis holding senior leadership roles in the future. What could be better than having someone who started at the shop floor working their way to the top? Meanwhile, we have invested in a purpose-built training facility in Nizwa, which is certified by CISRS. We train young Omanis in a great variety of skills that are necessary in our industry. STS is a 100% Omani-owned company, and we are invested in ensuring that young Omanis have a bright future at our company and in the wider market we serve.

Do you have any other plans for expanding outside the GCC?

We do. As far as Oman goes, it is our home. STS started in Oman in 1980, working with PDO. We have worked with PDO ever since getting our start, and we have serviced the entire market. It's a wonderful country and it has a tremendous future. Oman will always be our base, but we see value in business and geographical diversification. True value lies in sustainability.