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Getting to know CEO Paddy Collins

Name:  Paddy Collins

Age: 53

What is your business called? Aubin Group

Where is it based? Ellon, Aberdeenshire

 

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Aubin supplies chemicals and chemical and engineering related services to the oil and gas industry.  We provide made-to-measure solutions to tackle operational challenges across subsea, well services, pipeline and integrity areas.  We have an unusual combination of chemists, scientists, material technologists and engineers who work together on a routine basis to create solutions which add value to our customers’ businesses, solve problems and result in reduced costs and increased opportunities.

 

To whom does it sell?

We predominantly sell to the oil and gas industry and see renewables as a potential growth area in the future.  Although we are based in the North East of Scotland more than half of our business is in the Middle East.  We supply our products and services to countries around the Arabian Gulf including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Oman and other countries further afield.  We have set up a subsidiary in the Middle East to manage this and as well as making materials in Scotland, we also produce materials out there.

 

What is its turnover?

Turnover is almost at £10million.

 

How many employees?

In the last 18 months we have grown rapidly from 17 to 45 employees.

 

When was it formed?  1986.

 

Why did you take the plunge?

I was around 40 years old and had come to the point that I was tired working for other people and felt I could have a happier life working for myself and making my own decisions.  From a very young age I wanted to own my own company and it felt like it was now or never.  I imagined myself sitting in an old folks' home wishing I’d done it and decided to take control to avoid feeling any regrets in later life.  I first set up my own company and was operating it from office space within Aubin where I got to know the company’s founder well.  He wanted to retire and made me an offer to come on board as managing director.  I merged my company into Aubin and acquired half of the equity.

 

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I studied chemistry at university and after graduating went straight into the oil and gas industry.  I had worked in a variety of technical, commercial and management roles.

 

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I started my own business by developing technology from my spare bedroom.  After a couple of years I reached the point that I needed to hire someone.  Instead the opportunity arose to merge the business into Aubin which meant we had increased resources and the ability to accelerate and grow.  By this point my own company was doing fairly well and I had been working as a contractor.  I used the money I had saved to merge with Aubin.

 

What was your biggest break?

In 2012 it was obvious we needed to gain more finance for Aubin to grow.  I secured investment from the Business Growth Fund (BGF) and received £2.5million in 2013 to develop and commercialise new technology.  This gave us the confidence and the capability to take the business forward.  Some of the products we developed as a result of the funding are now coming to market and the reception from the industry has been excellent.

 

What was your worst moment?

The first year of running my own business was very difficult indeed.  My wife wasn’t working and we had three young sons all at school age.  The money coming into the household was significantly less than the money going out.  I was reaching the stage that I didn’t know what to do and things weren’t going as well as I had hoped.  Then I got a call from an old colleague who asked me if I could do some service work to help them out with a problem.

 

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I am an ideas person and I love seeing an idea become a reality.  One of the most satisfying parts of the last couple of years has been the opportunity to hire people fresh into the industry to give them a start in their career and a base for them to go forward.  That happened to me and it was rewarding to be able to do that for others.

Although we sell products, services and chemicals, what we really do is sell expertise and knowledge.   We have hired a mixture of bright young sparks and experienced industry veterans.  To get bright, fresh ideas you need young graduates coming in with different perspectives.  If you can then counter balance that with experience and mentoring you get a winning combination.  We are always keen to hire people with different skills to encourage diversity and debate.  We are very serious about what we do but always take great pleasure in our work.  We encourage people to get up and talk to one another and learn what’s going on, great ideas are often found in unusual places.

 

What do you least enjoy?

As we are a global business I have done a reasonable amount of travelling but I am six foot six and can find aeroplanes pretty uncomfortable.  We have ambitions for expansion into North and South America and South East Asia so it’s something I need to learn to love.

 

What is your biggest bugbear?

My biggest bug-bear is when simple things are taken and made complicated or unnecessarily bureaucratic.    One of my concerns is that the oil and gas sector can be very conservative when it comes to innovation.  Companies will queue to be second to try new technology.  This makes a product’s route to market very expensive. If we are to reap the maximum rewards from the North Sea, we not only have to do things better but also do better things which includes taking advantage of new solutions.

 

What are your ambitions for the firm?

I think we have some fantastic products which have global potential.  We have huge ambitions for our subsea buoyancy technology which is currently in development.  Our systems, called DeepBuoy and LiquiBuoy have just enjoyed successful operational trials and we are now looking to trial them in a North Sea operating environment.  We also see opportunity for massive growth for our pipelines, integrity and well services divisions in the North Sea and beyond.  We are very active in the Middle East and have learned a lot of lessons in doing business there.  We think we can take those lessons to other parts of the world including South East Asia and North and South America.  I want to globalise the technology we are developing here in the North East of Scotland, every time a product begins its life at Aubin I like to take an international perspective and think about its scalability.  Some of the products we have in development have got great potential for making things simpler and cheaper and allowing the impossible to become possible.  They can help the industry reach its goals with less effort and decreased costs.  These benefits present a big opportunity for us to grow.  I want to see some of the developing technology take a big market share in the field.

 

What are your top three priorities?

Asides from safety, which is always a top priority:

 

1)      To grow the company whilst retaining our culture.  We have some fantastic people and our attitude is that everyone works so everyone succeeds.  As we expand I want to keep this alive and if we can do this the organisation will flourish.

2)      To get our new technologies qualified and in widespread use in the North Sea.

3)      To take Aubin global.

 

 

What single thing would most help? 

Having more customers who are willing to take a chance on new technology.  The reaction to advancements in technology has been interesting to observe over the years.  There is often an aversion to being first and companies will queue for second place.  As a consequence it is difficult to get new technology into the market.  Therefore the costs associated with a product's route to market are often very high.  If these barriers prevent the development of smart technology to access the more difficult fields in the North Sea this will have a negative impact on the wider economy by reducing the volume of oil and gas that can be recovered.

 

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

The Wood Review is a very useful start.  I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of the recommendations in Sir Ian’s report as are many others in the industry.  If we can realise these recommendations it will mean big incentives for companies like ours to grow and develop and export our products and services.

 

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

It’s the people who are the most important part of any business, even one like Aubin which seems very technical.  You must treat everyone with respect no matter what their role is within the organisation.  I always knew this but it has also been emphasised to me throughout my career.

 

How do you relax?

I’m not particularly good at relaxing!  I try to read as much as I can.  I also like to go for walks with my wife in the countryside.  We have lovely beaches and countryside scenery in the North East of Scotland to take advantage of.  I recently dusted off my old bicycle and have done a bit of cycling too.