Life Lessons: Risks and rewards
Richard Upshall, executive chairman of OES Oilfield Services Group, describes how life's many experiences have helped to kindle in him an entrepreneurial spirit that he has been able to apply to the oil and gas industry
Around 1983, at the tender age of 13, I started gardening for neighbours to supplement my pocket money and enable me to have the independence to do the things I wanted to do.
Within a couple of years, I was employing several of my school friends and business was brisk, especially during holidays. I paid them around £2.50 per hour and earned up to £5 an hour from each of them. This business model was to become the framework of one of my largest and most successful businesses, OES Oilfield Services, or – as it will become in known 2017, our 21st year of operation – OES Asset Integrity Management.
I had a decent childhood; I just wanted more from it, which is why I worked hard. I booked out nightclubs and then arranged events and sold tickets. I even ran the school play and made a profit, both for myself and the school – I’ve always been entrepreneurial.
I left the UK in 1991 to find my fortune. At the time, Dubai was sufferring an exodus of expats, so I seized the opportunity. After a few jobs that were non-starters, I ended up at Budget Rent a Car, running the four locations the company then had as supervisor, and later working as a sales person – I wasn’t very good at management, apparently!
Someone who leased a car from me offered me the opportunity to move to Byrne Equipment Rental, a plant hire company. That was how my interest in the oil and gas business solidified, and was my introduction to the upstream sector – renting generators to rigs alongside shipyards. To this day, Byrne still uses the logo I designed in 1992.
In 1993, I’d had a couple of years of hard work and wanted a break, so after resigning from Byrne, and with a pocket full of cash, I went backpacking to Australia for 10 months.
Over the next 15 years, I owned three sheep farms, a luxury camping business, a busy beach café, and a food distribution business, mostly based on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. All the while, I was still running OES and looking for more opportunities.
In the early 2000s, I coined the phrase “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want” and, by the mid-2000s, I was struggling with the cash-flow drain of my businesses, as many were not that successful and OES was still growing.
The upstream sector has been good to me; I have learned an awful lot about business using the “experience” approach, and perhaps the most important lesson is that cash is king.
The current downturn is the third I have been through, and is by far the hardest and longest. We’ve seen OES turnover halve.
In 1999, when oil prices hit below US $10 a barrel, we were all out hull-gauging fishing boats and servicing chainblocks. As a company, we hardly noticed 2008’s global financial crisis, and in the period from 2011 to 2013 we doubled in size.
The experience of late has shown how important it is to make hay while the sun shines, and save a little for a rainy day. We have achieved both and continue to invest and evolve as a business. OES has embraced RFID technology, cloud computing, and Big Data reporting systems with an Arcus software architecture that was developed in partnership with Askaris. Now OES has truly ‘come of age’.