John Walsh, Managing Director for Spiecapag Australia
Could you tell us more about the history of Spiecapag and its core activity?
Spiecapag is a leading construction company that builds infrastructure for the oil & gas sector. We are specialised in onshore pipelines and are mainly recognised for our ability to work in extreme conditions, whether due to the terrain, the climate or geopolitical difficulties. Our pipeline enterprise has been running for almost a century.
Originally, Spiecapag comes from a combination of two companies: “Société Parisienne Industrielle & Electrique” (SPIE) and CAPAG. SPIE was a French company established to develop the Paris electrical tramway system in the early 1900’s, before diversifying in the 1920’s to pipeline construction with the first high pressure gas pipe in France. In the 1950’s, SPIE consolidated its pipeline expertise by acquiring CAPAG, a well-established French pipeline company with an international presence, and stepped into the world market as Spiecapag.
In the 1990’s, Spiecapag was bought by AMEC, which in turn sold it in 2006 to Entrepose, a construction company specialised in oil & gas infrastructure. Today, we are part of VINCI Construction Group thanks to its acquisition of Entrepose in 2007. VINCI Construction Group is the world’s largest construction conglomerate (China excluded). Its turnover is approximately 60 billion AUD a year, including 40% overseas. Spiecapag is the only permanent entity of Entrepose in Australia, although Entrepose contracting are involved in the Wheatstone LNG project in Western Australia in a joint venture with Thiess.
Based out of Brisbane since 2015, Spiecapag has been involved in projects installing gas pipelines in Queensland, WA, NSW and Victoria, as well as constructing the export pipeline for ExxonMobil’s Papua New Guinea LNG project. Our office is home of 20 full-time staff – most of them engineers occupied by tendering and admin support staff – on a permanent basis, while our projects employ up to 420 people on fixed-term contracts, 50% of which would be regular project management staff, plant operators, quality controllers, engineers or tradesmen (such as welders) and the other half would include less skilled local jobs (such as drivers).
Can you describe your personal background and your role within Spiecapag Australia?
I come from Ireland where I studied to become an engineer and started my career with a summer job on a pipeline project. I was part of the survey team and actually got in thanks to my dad whose land was crossed by a pipeline. Part of the deal to allow access to the company on his land was to hire me for the summer! Following this first experience, I worked in Belgium, the UK, the USA and the Middle-East in various engineering roles mainly in the oil and gas sector, before joining the BGE in Ireland working on the gas transmission network from 1998 to 2008.
I have been working with Spiecapag since 2008. Back then, I was a Project Manager in South Africa. For a few years I got involved in oil & gas projects throughout Africa, in places like Angola or Mozambique, before I was transferred to Australia in 2013 to oversee the construction of the QCLNG upstream trunklines for QGC, which involved laying pipelines for gas, water and cables. Australia was not totally foreign ground though for Spiecapag. The company has had an on and off presence in Australia for the last 35 years and has been in a partnership with AJ Lucas, a local pipeline company, over the last 20 years. However, on completion of that project, Spiecapag decided to set up a permanent entity in Australia and I was appointed managing director. Since then, we have completed a 300-km project for APA in WA, bringing gas to a gold mine in the Eastern gold fields. Our current project is also with APA: a 170-km pipeline across NSW and Victoria.
My role as Managing Director consists mostly of business development and planning, but also requires me to have an oversight role on projects we are undertaking. On average I spend around three days per week at the office and travel the rest of the time to different states, depending where the projects take place.
How do you envisage the future of your company and how can FACCI help you achieve your objectives?
It is likely that our oil & gas focus will lessen in the future, as the Australian oil & gas market contracts. Areas of growth will include infrastructure with water pipelines - potable, storm or even waste water - , which are already in our fields of expertise. I believe water infrastructure is a sector that will bring more opportunities for us from 2017 onwards.
We also want to open our business to sustainable energies and take part in solar (in Queensland) and wind farms; there is a construction element to all these projects that would have many similarities to pipeline construction. Another focus of Spiecapag Australia is the growing market of PNG. We have already completed the Exxon LNG export line, a $1.5b project, there and there will be bigger and more interesting projects in 2017/2018. In the medium term, this is an area of our focus.
Being part of FACCI over the past year has certainly helped us broadening our network, as we took advantage of many business networking opportunities. We mainly attended your Industry breakfasts, in particular the Energy & Resources Series, which always featured interesting speakers, expert in their field – such as Page Maxson or Paul Bloxham –, as well as interesting people to network with. We also highly appreciate Bastille Day Business Breakfast as we can bring the staff along and celebrate the ‘Frenchness’ of the company. Being so far from France, it is easy to forget our roots and being part of the Chamber enables us to stay in touch with our French heritage.
For more information, please visit www.spiecapag.com.
Interview conducted by Claire Dupre and Sharlen Crespin on 24 August 2016.
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