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Laying the foundations for more local content

Interview - January 21, 2014
One of the key priorities for the Nigerian government is increasing local content in the oil and gas sector. Imperative to this goal is providing training to Nigerians to bridge the technical gap and prepare them for work in the industry. Charged with this task is Prime Atlantic, which provides training to aspiring technicians using the highest international standards. The company’s managing director Mr Ayo Otuyalo speaks to Wordfolio about the world-class training services that Prime Atlantic provides and how it is contributing to the growth of local content in Nigeria
Established in 2005, Prime Atlantic, Ltd. (PAL) is a Nigerian-owned company with interests and ownership in 5 subsidiary companies. Part of its vision is the development of the Nigerian oil and gas (O&G) industry. What was the reason behind the company’s structure?
One of the things we realized in the Nigerian O&G industry is that, for local content to be successful, we need to allow Nigerians to do the job (a major gap that we recognized within the industry). There was the technical gap (or the gap in operations and maintenance or O&M for O&G facilities). Our partnership with Cegelec, which led to the training of about 319 Nigerian operators for international oil companies (IOCs), to handle O&G installations. Cegelec won the bid. This training program is one of the benchmark achievements for Nigerian content, and is internationally certified by the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization (OPITO).

We are the only company in Nigeria today to offer this sort of world-class training for technicians. Anywhere there is an official ceremony or program in the industry, they always refer to the training program that we have developed. 3 IOCs are currently involved in our training program. It was truly a success story. This has allowed us to create a niche for ourselves through this program. 
We also recognized a gap in safety, survival and emergency response training (SSERT) so we came up with a program for it. Like our program for O&M, this, also follows international standards crucial for certification.    
Your training facility is among the largest in West Africa. 
If you are to combine our 2 training centers today, PAL is probably the industry’s largest in Africa. 
When you first started, the training centers functioned at full capacity. This has slightly decreased during recent times. In terms of the entire industry’s training requirements, only 60% would fit in the facility. How is this being addressed?
When you talk about the past couple of years of O&M training, the slight decrease was only because there were no projects in the pipeline, and there was no point in training more operators to handle the facilities. Last year saw an increase in training activities. That is why we are running at almost full capacity to handle O&M training. As for SSERT, it is driven by a regulation which stipulates that no one is allowed to go offshore to any O&G installation without going through our program.           
We understand that PAL is licensed by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) to offer this program. 
We offer two different services. First, you have the mandatory safety training (for people who have to go offshore). DPR started a database initiative that gathers information about the number of offshore workers that we have in the country. It is currently being done at the North Sea. We won the bid with a company called Collabro. At the moment, we are at the data gathering stage. We have gone to IOCs to visit their operations and capture images. We hope to significantly add to the body of information that we have within the year—enough to provide DPR with the necessary industry statistics. 
In terms of national content, how do indigenous companies like PAL compete globally while being instruments of social change within the country?
Local content does not mean local standards. It means being able to provide world-class products and services in a local environment.  Despite being a local company, PAL prides itself for being able to operate using high international standards. Our partnerships with our foreign counterparts ensure that we follow strict standards for good corporate governance. It is all about best practices. That gives us an edge.   
Looking at PAL’s joint ventures (JVs) and projects, it has established a strong footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa. Does the company have further plans for JVs?
We have about 2 or 3 JVs in the pipeline. They are confidential for now. We hope to have all these JVs fully operational by the third quarter of next year. This means, we are expecting 7 to 8 JVs by the end of 2014.  
How will these JVs affect PAL’s global brand?
The two companies that we are working with right now are American companies. This adds to our current line-up of collaboration with the Danish, British, Swiss and French. This will give us a more robust spread in terms of our global footprint, and will no doubt help us with our brand. In the near future, we foresee collaborative efforts with Asian companies.  
On a more personal note, before joining the O&G industry, your background was in pharmacy. You eventually joined Honeywell Group’s business development arm and worked as the Executive PA to the Chairman. You left in April 2005 to join PAL 3 months later. How has that journey taken you to where you are today? 
My core strength as a pharmacist was basically marketing. Apart from the technical component of pharmaceuticals, I started out selling medicines. It utilizes the same skillsets for business development. When I joined Honeywell, I joined the O&G Division, in the downstream sector, selling chemicals, lubricants and fuels. It was a new company then. I fostered a strong passion and drive to build a business with my colleagues in the company. 
Business is all about people. My job in Honeywell served as a platform for me to create meaningful connections and a strong professional network. It was through these contacts that I learned more about the industry and how to operate in the sector. Having spent 8 years in the sector, I have an understanding of how the system works.  
Where do you want to be 5 to 10 years from now?
One of my key objectives for the future is in-country capacity. By building the country’s capacity, we employ more people, and through this employment, they can express their own skill sets—be whatever they strive to be. As for the companies that are currently being developed, I hope that in the next couple of years we can foster a spirit of entrepreneurships. CEOs can emerge from within the system and take ownership of their own businesses.   
What have you learned through the course of your career?
Nothing is impossible. I learned this from Honeywell when my boss instilled the “Yes, I can” culture. We have been trained to believe that we can accomplish whatever we set our minds to achieve. Learn to fight for your principles and your vision. Do not take no for an answer. 
Most of what I have achieved required a lot of fight in me. It is tempting to throw in the towel when faced with obstacles. One thing you never want to do is let a business collapse and lay off staff. That is why we always work hard to make sure that whatever we have set out to do works out well. I work with a team. I look at things as an entrepreneur. There are people who look at the numbers. We go through a process of due diligence and come up with business plans. We look at all the pros and cons.
I have taken a cue from the great boxing champion: Muhammad Ali has been a source of inspiration. I have watched all of his fights. I remember when he fought against Foreman. Against all odds, he proved the world wrong.  Ali stayed hungry. Foreman was training in an air-conditioned room while Ali trained in the sun, acclimating himself to the real conditions of the fight. I think that was the highest point of his career because he proved the whole world wrong. Like Ali, businessmen have to understand the language of the environment and the audience. In the case of my profession, we have to speak the language of the O&G industry, which is strongly grounded on high standards. That is the language of the Nigerian O&G industry today.