Asco eyes major contracts in Africa and Alaska

OILFIELD services firm Asco is on the verge of unveiling major contracts in Africa and Alaska as the Aberdeen-based outfit continues its global expansion.

Derek Smith remained tight-lipped over the identities of the clients. Picture: Contributed
Derek Smith remained tight-lipped over the identities of the clients. Picture: Contributed

The company, which Doughty Hanson bought from fellow private equity player Phoenix in 2011 for £255 million, has grown through a series of acquisitions, pushing its reach into Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia.

Newly-appointed chief executive Derek Smith remained tight-lipped over the identities of the clients, but he told The Scotsman that he was just weeks away from announcing a “large contract win” in East Africa, along with a deal to advise a customer in Alaska.

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Smith said the East Africa contract was a result of the expansion of his Middle East and Africa team, while the Alaska deal demonstrated the company’s diversification strategy.

“We’re moving from just doing the ‘lifting and shifting’ work for customers to advising them on logistics, which is what clients have been asking us to do,” Smith explained.

Asco, which traces its roots to 1967 when it began working for BP in the North Sea, has shifted from being UK-focused to having a global reach. Five years ago, 95 per cent of its work was in the North Sea, while now the figure is down to 55 per cent.

Asco now employs more than 2,100 staff globally, with about 900 at its bases in Aberdeen, Peterhead and Great Yarmouth.
News of Asco’s pending contract wins came as the group posted a 21 per cent rise in profits to £36.5m, following the takeover of five smaller companies over the course of the year.

Billy Allan, the firm’s executive chairman, hailed a “defining year for Asco”, with rising oil prices helping to push turnover up 11.2 per cent to £678m.

Smith worked with Allan for more than 30 years, including at EJ Stiell, the Lanarkshire-based engineering business that was bought by Alfred McAlpine in 2002. Smith left McAlpine in 2007 to join Allan at Asco and has now taken over the top job from him.

Allan also sits on the board of SPFL club Partick Thistle.

Smith said that Asco was on course to open an office in Australia before the end of the year and that he expected to make an acquisition in Western Australia to expand “down under”.

Further acquisitions are also on the cards in the UK following the takeover last year of Scrabster Port Services, giving the group access to the fast-growing market to the west of Shetland.

But Smith is cooler over a move into offshore renewables.

“We’ve moved some turbines, but there’s so much demand in oil and gas that I think a push into renewables would be a distraction,” he said.

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