Exclusive: Sir Ian Wood – The work left to do

On his wall is a list.

It has a handpicked selection of projects on it with a percentage next to each one.

It’s how Sir Ian Wood, the man who made his fortune in the North Sea, decides how to spend his most precious commodity – his time.

“I’ve got seven reasonable-sized projects right now and they have got sub-projects and I look ahead six months and decide what I think the allocation of time needs to be,” he said.

It’s how he authored one of the most historic North Sea documents to date, the Wood Review, and launched the body focused on the north-east’s diversification, Opportunity North East (ONE).

“Aberdeen needs ONE,” he said. “It needs initiatives like that to keep shaking ourselves awake.

“The worst thing that could happen is oil comes back strongly and we go back to forgetting everything again. That would be a really bad thing to happen. I want oil to recover, but I want us all to remain conscious of maintaining a broader base in the city and giving future generations a reasonable chance.”

The basin still has much to do, according to one of its founding fathers.

“This is now a reasonably competitive basin for new field development,” he said.

“We have had dramatic cost reductions, essentially halving them. That has the potential for a dramatic positive impact to produce more and develop more, but has a very negative impact on the supply chain and employment. It’s been a tough two years during which we have changed, but I’m not sure our behaviour has changed enough in two respects.

“We’re not looking at field developments and thinking about them differently enough. It’s not about just doing them better and cheaper. We have to start doing them differently and that probably extends to most aspects of oil and gas.

“That’s why I think the OGTC (Oil and Gas Technology Centre) is so important, because it will be a disruptive thinker. Digital will also enable things to be done differently and not just better.

“The other significant factor is the growing strength of the OGA (Oil and Gas Authority) on collaboration.

“I still can’t see why operators are so competitive. Because after you shoot the licence there are all sorts of good reasons to compare notes.

“We have to work to do things differently and we have to get collaborative behaviour.

“To some extent it has to be forced. Operators aren’t going to wake up in the morning and say ‘Gee whiz, we’re all going to hold hands, work together, take the initiative and do this better’.

“But they did agree to, both in my review and after. They recognised they would win some and lose some from it but generally if we produce more oil and gas everyone gets something from that.

“The two biggest things that will get the North Sea through the next five years are genuine collaboration and the development and application of technology.”

Sir Ian pointed to BP’s flagship Quad204 redevelopment as a major step in the right direction. The multi-billion-pound redevelopment of the Schiehallion and Loyal fields, located 110miles west of Shetland, will produce an additional 450million barrels of resources, extending the life of the fields out to 2035.

“That’s the confirmation that we are changing the development of technology and the North Sea badly needs that. I think there’s a lot of development in West of Shetland but it will need the kind of approach BP has taken with Schiehallion,” he said.

“But we need people to understand it is in their interest to work with others and get their staff to think that way as well. So they think I’m a BP employee, but I can help others and they can help me. That’s what it’s really about.

“It’s not about giving something away.”

That strategy can halve the cost of well plugging and abandonment, according to Sir Ian.

The industry veteran has been helping to shape the North Sea since the 1970s, but now his focus extends well beyond oil.

“In the 1970s I hadn’t a clue where we were going. But I did get to a point where I was doing things at least as quickly as other people were doing them and I tried to ensure they did them with me,” he said.

“I think we now have a strong supply chain and very enterprising companies. We are actually a very enterprising city because of North Sea oil.

“All I’ve done is look ahead and I’m still very much focussed on looking ahead. I’m quite lucky, because most people as they get older look back. But I’m not.”

He funnelled cash from his foundation into ONE, recruiting the likes of Jennifer Craw and Trevor Garlick to spearhead diversification efforts.

“Money is meaningless to me now, absolutely meaningless. It’s only meaningful to the extent that I can do some good with it,” he said.

Sir Ian will chair ONE’s latest addition, a digital board. It’s a position he will hold for a year before passing it on to a successor.

He said: “The pressure is not as bad as it was. With Wood Group I was responsible for 42,000 people. That was a huge responsibility and that kind of pressure lives with you. I found when I stopped at Wood Group that weight had gone and that was a big plus.

“I now plan my time pretty carefully. I’ve got a chart that tells me the different things I am meant to be doing and how I am doing at them.”

The one-year term follows a pattern. He spent a year chairing ONE’s oil and gas board and the OGTC.

“I’m a generalist,” he said. “I was chairing the OGTC and I’m not a technology guy. I am not a digital guy. I am the wrong generation by a mile.

“But I am a good business guy. I do know how to get a team together and make those first few important decisions. The people going in and doing these things after me are doing them far better.”

Having recently celebrated his 75th birthday he has no plans to slow down.

“If you drive by the office late at night you’ll probably see my car there,” he said.

“If you ever wake up in the morning and think you’ve made it, then just stay in bed, because there’s always something new to do. I never dreamt I would be chairing a digital board trying to get a digital cluster going in Aberdeen, but there is always something new to do.

“When I get up in the morning I’m never short of things to get excited about.”

But for Sir Ian the excitement is tempered by urgency. To the left of his desk hangs a picture of his grandfather, who made his living as a fisherman.

“They all fished in Aberdeen and all lived in Torry,” he said. “I guess if I had gone to university and left Aberdeen it would have been different. But having seen Aberdeen change and had a lot of benefit from North Sea oil and, frankly, made a lot of mistakes along the way, I really worry about what comes next. If we pass on to our children and grandchildren a legacy of people leaving Aberdeen because there’s not employment, then we have really screwed it up. I won’t be here then, but I am here right now and I feel a responsibility to get this correct.

“I’m just starting.”

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