The Big Interview: px Group CEO Geoff Holmes

Geoff Holmes is proud of how px Group stepped up to the plate when the pandemic hit, but says it will really come into its own powering the recovery.

‘We will see more manufacturing coming back to the UK – and we will be there,’ says Holmes. Picture: contributed.

Geoff Holmes is the chief executive of px Group, which describes itself as a fully integrated infrastructure solutions business delivering innovative management services for high-hazard and highly regulated environments. It manages, operates, and maintains some of the UK’s largest industrial facilities, and has helped to ensure the UK’s energy supply has been maintained throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Its sites include St Fergus Gas Terminal in Aberdeen, as well as Saltend Chemicals Park on Humberside, and Teesside Gas Processing Plant.Holmes was last year appointed to lead the company, to support its next phase of growth, from his role as chief operating officer of Ineos Upstream Services.

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The company said when he was named CEO that “px is known as a specialist, independent operator of complex and technically challenging assets… [his arrival] means we are well-positioned to achieve even greater success across a portfolio of sectors”. It recently announced two appointments to its senior leadership team, with Holmes saying: “We are an ambitious business.”

px Group has said it has helped to ensure the UK’s energy supply has been maintained during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as helping firms making personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS, medication, sanitiser, and disinfectant. Can you explain more about this?

We operate sites on behalf of our clients across the country, from St Fergus to London. We are responsible for processing around 30 per cent of the UK’s gas supply, with much of that energy going into all the places we use in everyday life – households, hospitals, schools and public services. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, it was essential we found a way to “keep the lights on”.

All our sites have operated throughout the pandemic with no loss of production, which is essential given that we have many manufacturing businesses on site that have seen increased demand for their products since the end of March.

At our Saltend Chemicals Park, for example, there is a range of companies producing materials that are central to the fight against coronavirus. With demand for PPE and other medical equipment skyrocketing, we had to manage the delivery of a 50 per cent increase in energy supply to those businesses at short notice.

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How have you adapted your own sites to meet physical distancing rules?

The coronavirus has meant we’ve had to find new ways of working, and we’ve had to do it fast. We focused on safety – you can’t run your business if your people don’t feel safe.

In normal times, we have around 500 staff and 500 contractors working on our sites across the UK. This has naturally been reduced in some places to ensure we’re following government guidelines.

We isolated our control room teams from other workers; we upgraded PPE with face masks and visors worn widely; we put up Perspex screens between workstations; and we used viral and antibody testing to help keep our staff safe.

We prioritised safety-critical work, and have consulted extensively with clients, partners, stakeholders, and our people to share best practice. I must say that our partners and people on sites across the country have been fantastic. Everyone understood how important it was to the country to keep everything running, and they continue to do so.

What does your own role entail – and how has this changed because of Covid-19?

As CEO, I’m responsible for ensuring px Group continues to safely manage and operate UK strategic assets worth billions of pounds on behalf of our clients. My priorities are our people and partners, which has not been changed by coronavirus.

Communicating with our staff is harder due to the pandemic but has never been more important. I need to listen to them and give them the reassurance they need that we are determined to keep working safely. Likewise, collaboration with all our stakeholders is key so we are sharing best practices and learning from each other. Oh, and I’m a Skype expert now as well.

You studied electrical and electronic engineering, subsequently holding roles at, say, Chevron, KCA Deutag and Ineos – can you explain how your career progressed?

I’ve been incredibly lucky throughout my career and have worked with some incredible people. My philosophy has always been if you work hard and deliver, then good things will happen. That has generally been the case and my career development has been more opportunistic than being part of any grand plan.

Your career milestones include travelling with then Prime Minister David Cameron to Beijing as part of a key British trade delegation – what would you choose as the most pivotal moment in your career so far?

Going to China with the Prime Minister was certainly interesting. But I can honestly say the last three months have been absolutely pivotal.These are unprecedented times, and at px Group we’ve had to transform our workplaces to ensure we can maintain the essential energy and infrastructure the UK needs for the fight against coronavirus.

There’s never been a time when what we do has been more important. And I’ve never been prouder of a team, all pulling together with total commitment.

You were appointed chief executive in July of last year – since then the firm has snapped up majority stakes in NRG Well Management and Camm-Pro. Is further merger and acquisition activity on the cards in the short and longer term?

While I’m sure you’ll understand that I can’t give much away at this stage, our aim is to continue growing at a steady pace, whether that’s through organic growth or acquisitions. We’ll only pursue deals with companies that fit in with our core values – which is why NRG and Camm-Pro fit the bill so well.

As with any ambitious business, we’re constantly looking at different ways to continue our strong growth, so there are always some things bubbling beneath the surface. We’ll keep you posted.

What is the biggest challenge for the business?

It’s two-fold really. Number one, we have to keep on keeping on, making sure our assets deliver for however long the coronavirus continues.Challenge number two will kick in once we emerge fully from lockdown. That’s when the country will need to bounce back. That’s when business will need to get back on its feet. That’s when we’ll need to rebuild our economy.

px Group provides the essential services that business and manufacturing need. From gas processing to electricity generation and sites for critical industries, everyone at px Group understands just how vital our role will be. I think we will see more manufacturing coming back to the UK as a result of coronavirus, and we will be there supporting British manufacturing all the way.

px Group was recently named one of the fastest-growing firms in the UK – and you said that it has a strategy in place to build on its strong performance. Can you give more details about this?

We’ve built a reputation in the energy industry for being personable, dedicated and relationship-driven with our clients. We have an exceptional team delivering excellence in operations and maintenance, engineering, and energy optimisation. We invest in our people at px Group, and that’s why we have a stable and dedicated workforce – something that is highly valued by our clients.

I’ve also strengthened our senior leadership team over the last few months, with some new hires who really share our philosophies and outlook. I think what really sets us apart is that we are nimble enough to react to changing customer and market conditions (as we’ve seen in extremis in the past three months).

Our focus for clients is on key improvement areas where we can quickly provide returns for the client, alongside, of course, best-in-class safety, health, environment and quality performance.

When you put all of that together – dedication, team, customer focus, safety – that’s the core of our success, and we won’t lose sight of that even as we target further growth over the next few years. That’s why we’ve never lost a site we’ve been asked to manage, and we won’t forget it.

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