After 41 years of supporting oil & gas clients across the world, Paladon Systems’ Sales Manager, Bob Curnow has decided to retire
Paladon Systems interviews Bob as he prepares to retire in the next few months.
How did you first enter the world of valve automation?
I first started in the valve and instrumentation industry in 1976 as an Outside Sales Representative for Morvalves. Back then Morvalves represented 6 Italian manufacturing companies whose products included valves and instrumentation. Due to the diverse range of products, I subsequently grew a broad network of contacts including not just those in procurement, but also valve, piping and instrument engineers.
How did you end up working for Paladon Systems?
After 4 years at Morvalves, I was asked to work for Domgas in the position of Sales Manager. Domgas used to manufacture valve actuators and controls and it was at that time that I first became aware of Paladon Systems; who back then was the Valve Automation Centre for Bettis. Although Domgas was a lot larger than Paladon Systems at the time, Paladon Systems was rapidly getting a reputation for supplying highly engineered and high quality valve automation systems; particularly in the offshore North Sea market which demanded rugged and reliable solutions. When Domgas was purchased by Limitorque in the early 90’s the long-term prospects for Domgas didn’t look promising to me and so I decided that I might as well work for Paladon Systems who had become very strong competitors to Domgas, producing, as we were at the time, high quality, high integrity actuation systems. One of Paladon Systems’ key to success was the quality of their systems, which I would find easy to continue selling to my major clients if I jumped ship. Paladon Systems' Managing Director, Brian Ennever was at the time very interested in poaching me from Domgas and so, I jumped. In September 1993 I started working for Paladon Systems in the position of Sales Manager.
Please tell us about your early years at Paladon Systems
As soon as I started it was pretty clear that, to grow the Company, we would have to engage more with the major valve companies, who back then and still mainly today, are based in Italy. During my time at Morvalves and Domgas I had built up a considerable network of contacts in procurement and engineering, and so I regularly hit the road with Brian Ennever to meet those of them working for the major Italian valve companies. It was a gruelling time spending so much time on the road; made easier only by the Italian hospitality, fine food and wine, but someone had to do it! After only 3 years the results spoke for themselves as Brian and myself helped double the Company’s annual sales during that period. At the same time that we were engaging with the Italian valve manufacturers, I spent a lot of time in front of the major oil and gas end users, particularly Shell, BP and Conoco Phillips, and subsequently we started winning major projects such as the Conoco/Shell Britannia, many Shell and BP projects along with huge projects such as Karachaganak and Conoco’s Judy Joanne and J Block work. Up until 2000 the Company was still selling Bettis actuators; however, to maintain our growth it became obvious that we would have to design and manufacture our own actuators. In 1999 we started designing a comprehensive range of pneumatic and hydraulic scotch-yoke and linear actuators and in 2001 we set up a plant in Italy which has been manufacturing our actuators ever since. At that time we were chosen by Shell/Amec and Worley-Parsons as the actuation supplier for onshore and offshore Sakhalin Island projects and business continued to grow.
How has the industry changed over the last 41 years?
From my perspective, I think the biggest change has been how business is conducted. When I started in the industry, valve automation suppliers were often chosen by the Engineering Procurement Contractors (EPCs) and added to proposed Approved Vendor Lists (AVLs). The EPCs typically selected suppliers based on a combination of their track record and ability and willingness to help the EPCs at the Front End Engineering Design (FEED) stage to design cost-effective and reliable solutions. Back in the day, building close relationships with customers, coupled with our willingness to go over-and-above were usually sufficient to win business. Today, it is the End Users who typically dictate suppliers through the use of AVLs. Getting on AVLs has become increasingly onerous and political in nature, with certain End Users starting to charge significant sums just for a supplier to be evaluated for an AVL. We have also seen most of the independent valve actuator manufacturers being purchased by large multinationals, who then win business, not necessarily by offering the most optimum and cost-competitive valve automation solutions, but by using their significant size to secure global frame agreements that cover multiple types of products.
How has Paladon Systems remained successful?
A big part of our success is down to the fact that we’ve enjoyed strong and consistent leadership from Brian Ennever ever since we were founded in 1981. Paladon Systems consistency has been in stark contrast to most of our competitors which have had multiple Managing Directors during the years, or who have been swallowed up by large multinationals. We’ve also remained a friendly and approachable independent company, and one whose centralised decision making allows us to be very flexible and accommodating to our customers’ needs. We have continually invested in developing technology that not only meets our customers’ current operational needs, but that also anticipates their future requirements. Today we provide many solutions that lead the industry in terms of cost-effectiveness and environmental protection; particularly with regards to our solar powered Self-Contained Electro-Hydraulic systems and subsea Autonomous Shutdown Valve.
What did you enjoy most during your career?
Meeting so many interesting, unique and smart people, many of whom were larger than life characters. In fact, many of my customers have become close and lifelong friends over the years. The opportunities to travel into Europe and even down to Mexico were also very interesting.
What are your initial plans for retirement?
I’ll still be assisting Paladon Systems for next few months; however, after that I have several vintage vehicles that need restoring, as well as an old cottage and garden that are in desperate need of some TLC. In between that, if I have time, who knows, you may well see me again within the industry. I hope that clients will still keep in touch if I can assist in any way.
Thank you Bob for taking the time to talk to us about your illustrious career. Paladon Systems sincerely appreciates all the support you’ve given us during the last 24 years and we wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
Lynette Ross will be taking over Bob’s responsibilities in the coming months and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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