Seizing the opportunity and mentoring young talent
We heard the name of the Aberdeen-based Project Director Derek Thoms mentioned before we approached him for an interview. A team player, a mentor to colleagues yet to make their mark, a professional that focuses equally on the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of delivering the best outcome.
Derek is an Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) modifications Director with responsibility for growing our brownfield modifications offering. A role that requires a person of many talents – a salesman, a fixer, a mediator, a middleman, someone who is versed in developing business – all of which Derek is embracing and relishing.
We talked to Derek about his role, his time at Petrofac, and his thoughts on the future of the industry and our place in it.
Derek, can you start by explaining what your role at Petrofac is?
Existing offshore and onshore sites require modifications and changes to run as optimally as possible. Our team does standalone projects that are defined, costed, and scheduled. My role is to ensure we got the right team in place to turn our client’s challenges into workable solutions, ensuring the projects provide real and tangible returns. Modifications can be wide ranging; it could be something as small as replacing a valve, or a whole new cantilevered module with heavy lift requirements and that’s what makes it so interesting.
While we take a second to google ‘cantilevered module’, can you tell us about what you particularly like about your job?
It is a very dynamic role and I get to engage with people and teams throughout the project delivery process – controls, planning, estimating, commercial, as well as engineers and designers. And externally with our clients. This makes for a very diverse range of people and is a part of the role which I really enjoy. It gives me good exposure to people and departments which enables me to understand and influence various interactions.
From a personal perspective, this is probably the first time in my career that I feel genuinely valued, and with my experience, I do not say that lightly. This is a company that makes you feel like you are a part of something good and it’s an exciting time be part of it.
That is what keeps you going, but what made you choose Petrofac and join the Company in 2019?
The analogy that made an impact on me, and stuck with me from that day on, was the one of a phoenix rising from the flames. In the past, Petrofac was renowned for doing EPC projects, but that focus had slipped in recent times. The challenge was in front of them – to build a quality team, deliver consistently and look to increase their market share. As soon as I joined, it was clear the team was very keen on building something as there was a strong collective feeling which, coupled with a good team dynamic made for a great operating environment.
What makes Petrofac stand out?
You will hear across this company that we are ‘a people business’, and I do feel that people are genuinely valued at Petrofac. I find it a very easy sell when I am interviewing for roles to tell candidates: ‘there will be opportunities to improve here, either in the team, across the services lines, or even in different geographies’. As a service business that is inextricably linked to its people – as the business grows, so do the individuals. People that join the company are very enthused with where they can get to. Opportunity, I believe, is the word that encapsulates it best.
"We need to change the perception that surrounds our industry. It is seen as an ageing industry with limited opportunities, but the truth could not be further away."
What career advice did you find particularly valuable that you pass on to your junior colleagues?
Always look to improve and think about where you want to go. We put a lot of effort into defining goals for both teams and individuals. But we can’t set benign goals. If someone comes to me and says their goal is to deliver a project on time and under budget – respectfully, that is not a goal, that is their job. If you want to progress, you must demonstrate a mindset that is focused on improvement. What additional learning, courses or initiatives are you looking at? An individual’s willingness and drive to improve will only have a positive effect on the work of the team.
Can you identify a highlight from your time at Petrofac so far?
Mentoring young talent is a key requirement of my role and an area that I regularly invest time into as it is so rewarding to see the benefits. A recent example saw us working with a couple of younger professionals who had been operating in too loose a role and were lacking direction. We reviewed their current situation, defined a medium-term plan, and assigned them to the most adequate environment. We gave them single clients to focus on and the impact was almost instantaneous, and their careers have taken off. They are enjoying their work and are flourishing in their roles. It is a real personal highlight to see what can happen when you put people in the right operating environment.
How does our industry, from the point of view of your role and your service line, compares to the one from a decade ago, and what do you think it will look like ten years from now?
With the investments we are making in digital, our work will become more predictive, we will be able to provide cost certainty, understand the potential impacts on the schedule, and the key risks, a lot earlier. Data will allow us to have a different approach. Will we still change the physical piece of equipment? Yes, we will. But how we get to that point will fundamentally change. But we need to be smart about it. We can’t adopt a digital approach that just mimics the manual way of doing things. That will, for me, be the biggest change.
In an industry that is undoubtedly changing, how do we get the bright minds of tomorrow to join us?
We need to change the perception that surrounds our industry. It is seen as an ageing industry with limited opportunities, but the truth could not be further away. There are currently two huge areas of transformation happening through Energy Transition and digitalisation. We see ourselves as an energy company and that will present a broad range of opportunities in the future. Coupled with that, new ways of delivering will reduce repeatability and make the work more dynamic and hopefully will entice young professionals to companies such as Petrofac.
Where can we find you when you are on the go, but not at work?
I love road cycling and regularly meet a group of friends on a Saturday morning doing various routes across the North East of Scotland. The café stop is a big part of the ride and I’ve probably had a scone in every tearoom within 50 miles of Aberdeen! Work can be very busy at times so getting out on the bike is a great release.