February 2017

Turning the frown upside down at Expo

The 2017 Subsea Expo felt quieter than the previous years - a clear sign of the market's continued struggles. And yet, some discussions left the delegates feeling "quietly positive"... MDL CEO Derek Smith reviews this year's show.

If you could put a sound on tough economic times, it might as well be the quiet of an exhibition hall…

This was our sixth year running at Subsea Expo, so we have seen the event through bullish and bear times for the oil industry.

Although branded “Europe’s largest subsea exhibition”, this year’s show certainly felt smaller than any of those previous years. Not only did it feel like there were fewer visitors to the stand - heck, even the suppliers didn’t bother me as much! - but the gaps between the stands were bigger than required for the amount of traffic that flowed through them.

There were none of the “heavy-weights” present - our traditional clients, whom we’ve grown to associate with this show. And, sadly, many familiar faces popping by didn’t carry a company name on their badge any more…

I can also honestly say that most of our neighbouring stands were glad when 2 o’clock stroke on Friday - that’s when we finally switched the TV off, and that way put an end to our vivid showreel, featuring an equally jumpy soundtrack.

We came to Expo fired up with some positive news, eager to share them with the crowds: new additions to the equipment fleet; new appointments to our global team; new overseas jobs won; and new markets into which we were looking to introduce our forward-thinking technology.

Although I’ve painted a gloomy picture of this year’s show, we never actually lost our positivity - in fact, it was probably reinforced in the course of that week.

Despite all the cut-backs and redundancies, we have felt the appetite for innovation and collaboration is still very much alive in this industry; and the markets that we once thought were outside of our reach are now reaching out to us for ideas on how to make their operations more efficient.

Even the discussions we had on our stand with our competitors gave us an insight into the direction in which the industry is heading - and confirmed my belief we’re on the right path, and taking the right steps.

To inject even more positivity into the event (apart from pumping up the volume on the TV), we added a fundraising element to our presence at the show - and ran a collection for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

It followed a networking event we had organised on the first night of the Expo - and I think we were all surprised by the plentiful turnout on that cold and wet Wednesday evening, in the middle of a recession.

The event involved people from different branches of the oil and gas machine: EPIC contractors, suppliers, accountants, bankers - even real estate. Apart from exchanging their own views and ideas, they also heard from the guest speaker - Press & Journal’s departing Energy editor Jeremy Cresswell, whose own background in fishing made him that much more understanding of what MDL is bringing to the subsea table.

As he recounted the story of the two previous downturns, a pattern emerged… and once he recapped the recent major news on global developments I think everyone in the room believed there are better times on the horizon - but it might be a lengthy process yet, and we need to work hard now to get there.

Maybe that quiet optimism encouraged our guests to reach into their pockets to support the Lifeboat. Thanks to theirs, and our other Expo visitors’ contributions, we raised a total of £1500 - on behalf of the Lifeboat thank you all for taking part.

And, to finish off on a high note, I do believe that a bit of positivity and goodwill can really help us get through this tough period. I’m certainly keen to see next year’s Expo bursting with people eager to do business again.

Derek Smith, CEO