Aker Solutions And Its Growing Chiswick Connection
The oil company's London Operations Director is Chiswick resident Mike Smith
Mike Smith of Aker Solutions considers himself a lucky man.
"How many people get to see the start of an entire engineering company from scratch to finish in their local area?" he asks, as he glances at the enormous building in Chiswick Park which will accommodate 1,700 employees by 2015.
Aker Solutions, part of the Norwegian oil giant Aker, will be the biggest employer in Chiswick Business Park by 2015 and Chiswick man Mike, as Operations Director for London, was instrumental in the enormous operation to set up locally.
“Eighteen months ago when we set up in Chiswick Park, there were two of us getting the project up and running and we didn’t hire the third person until July 18th 2011. Now there are approximately 300-400 working in the office. The new building is on track and at full capacity, will house an extra 1,300 people. I feel privileged to have been here from the start."
The high-quality jobs on offer by 2015 include specialist engineers, project managers, administrative personnel and up to 200 customer representatives. The company provides oilfield products, systems and services for customers in the oil and gas industry worldwide. In the new expanded office, Aker Solutions will also focus on subsea exploration, drilling technologies and well intervention services.
The Norwegian company's decision to expand its global engineering hub in Chiswick Park was taken as a result of growth in oil and gas markets which is driving demand for its technologies and services and is also testament its growing links with the UK. British companies have invested £13 billion in Norwegian oil and gas in the past five years and the country now meets more than a quarter of the UK’s entire energy needs.
Aker Solutions employs 25,000 people worldwide, over 3,000 in the UK (2,700 in Aberdeen where it is one of Scotland's largest employers), and has an annual revenue of around £4 billion.
Aker Solutions expects to grow its turnover by 9-15 per cent per annum from 2011 to 2015 and this projected growth prompted it to agree a lease on the entire 220,000 square foot space in what is known as Building Six in Chiswick Park. The arrival of the company means not only a jobs boost but a spin-off to the local economy in Chiswick.
The completion of Building 6 will take the level of built office space in the Park to 1.5 million sq ft and will make it home to over 8000 employees from companies such as Discovery, Starbucks, Paramount and Swarovski. The Aker Solutions fit-out project is very fast track, with the occupation being phased over the next 18 months. What can newcomers to the company expect to find?
According to Mike, the interior will be very employee-centred, with plenty of space, light and flexibility to move workspaces around if necessary. The current office in Building 11 exudes an air of calm, with clean Scandinavian interiors, including the cafeteria.
Mike has lived in Chiswick for thirty years and is delighted that the company is now a quick drive from the Grove Park home which he shares with wife Christine, an artist. Their son James is currently away studying at university. The couple are well known in the community at Christ Church, Turnham Green and Mike has spent many years involved in sporting activities, including football and cricket in Chiswick House grounds.
When the idea was first mooted for a London base for Aker Solutions, a wide-ranging search was conducted “everywhere from Victoria all the way to Stockley Park". But Chiswick Park, with its worker-friendly environment, space, light, and the proximity of public transport won the day. The Chiswick operation will “internationalise” the company, he believes and may include senior people deciding to move from Norway to W4, a transition that he believes they will be happy to make.
"Chiswick is a marvellous area to live in. We have so many wonderful things on our doorstep," he comments. "In fact I often see our younger employees staying on quite late, enjoying a drink or a coffee in Chiswick Park. They like the place so much, it's difficult to persuade them to go home."
The company takes its corporate social responsibility seriously. Its chosen charity is the London Air Ambulance, and Aker Solutions have also been encouraged by MP Mary Macleod to become involved with the Apprenticeship Fair. Last year it was one of the sponsors of the Hounslow Volunteer Awards.
The parent company Aker employs 25,000 people worldwide, over 3,000 in the UK ( 2,700 in Aberdeen where it is one of Scotland's largest employers), and has an annual revenue of around £4 billion.
Mike, who studied engineering at Imperial College London has seen many changes in the industry throughout his career.
"The average age of the engineering industry is actually 55, and our average age is 42. We work closely with top universities including UCL and Imperial College to find graduates. And we like to give young people opportunities at a younger age to take on more responsibilities than they would get in other companies.
"Years ago about 90 per cent of those with an engineering degree would move to the City. Now that avenue has lost some of its attraction and we are seeing at least 50% of graduates coming directly back to the industry.
“When I look at London, I see that its still the oil and gas centre of the universe- all the big companies are here, but the public don’t really realise that. It's a very important centre for the industry."
With much discussion on the future viability of offshore oil and gas from the North Sea, Mike believes the future use of subsea technology, which is being pioneered by Aker Solutions, is the key to solving the oil and gas challenges. This uses ground-breaking new technology to develop and operate in deep water, 2-3ks down on the seabed. Subsea wells can be monitored and managed remotely through a complex series of hydraulic and electrical connections between the surface and the seabed.
"An advantage is that it will also extend the life of oilfields in terms of allowing companies to extract more gas from a field as it declines over time, and is more cost effective," he says.
April 8, 2013