Life Lessons: Emotional rollercoaster

Mike Allen, CEO of Reactive Downhole Tools talks about his Middle East experience, honesty and trust in the oilfield, and what it takes to build a business to become a well-known supplier of downhole technologies

Mike Allen, CEO of Reactive Downhole Tools.
Mike Allen, CEO of Reactive Downhole Tools.

I’m originally from the British Midlands but, when I was 10, my family moved to Kuwait. The heartland of blue-collar industrial Britain and the oil-rich Middle East are polar opposites but, after spending my formative years there, I fell in love with the region. It quickly became the place I called home. Of my 47 years, 30 of those have been spent in the GCC.

There have been many highlights throughout my career. Of course I’m particularly proud of the creation and subsequent success of Reactive Downhole Tools, which we’ve grown from a two-man show in Aberdeen into a global supplier of swellable isolation tools and lower-completion systems, with offices in almost every continent.

People often ask how working in a small company compares to being with one of the ‘big guys’ and my reply is not the easy answer everyone expects. Rewards are greater, for sure, but so are the risks. When you are building a small company, you ride a real emotional rollercoaster, rushing from ‘wow what a great month’ to ‘how will we cover our bills this month?’

In bigger service companies there is always something or somebody to hide behind, but when you create your own business there aren’t any hiding places; all of your weaknesses can be seen. But so too can your strengths. Some people thrive in a small company environment but equally some cannot survive without the safety net provided by being part of a huge multinational corporation.

Understanding your niche is vital in order to thrive. A huge part of our continued success is the relationships we have with our clients. I believe that connections are built on honesty and trust and this is what Reactive is built upon.

It’s a key lesson I’ve taken from my time in the Middle East, where sincere relationships are paramount. It’s because of this approach we’re getting some real traction in the region; the Middle East is our biggest focus and we are working on some exciting future developments in this region.

In today’s economic environment, the overriding factor is value for money, and we’re all being challenged to do more with less. That really is the forte of swell packers when compared to mechanical open hole isolation, however.

Losing experienced people from our industry, as has been happening in abundance lately, is dangerous. Knowledge counts for little without the ability to call upon experience. We need to learn from each other, and lessons from the past have to be highlighted to help us move forwards.

Similarly, there is a real lack of new blood entering the sector. I hope we can turn this around before it’s too late. There’s still so much opportunity, and that needs to be communicated more.

Downturns in the oil business are cyclical and formulaic: the price of oil drops, and operators push the service industry for cost reductions. Service companies oblige, leaving all but the strongest struggling to keep their heads above water.

Think about this: when the price of oil rises again, how many operators will be as quick to allow the service sector to increase its prices too? We already know the answer, therefore maintaining the efficiencies we’re currently implementing – regardless of the oil price – is a lesson that should have been learned by now.

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Oil & Gas Middle East - September 2020

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