Business profile: Rupert Soames, Aggreko chief executive

FRESH off yet another flight, if Rupert Soames is delighted to be the newest chief executive of a FTSE 100 company he is keeping his upper lip stiff.

"I am concentrating on trying to stay in it," says Soames of his company Aggreko's elevation last week to the London stock market's list of leading blue chips.

How did he celebrate? A bottle of Champagne, perhaps?

"Well being a Scottish company you would expect me to have a glass of single malt whisky, which I confess I did," says Soames.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

His six years at the helm of Glasgow-based Aggreko has wrought measurable change in the group's fortunes. When he arrived after the untimely death of its chief executive Philip Harrower in a car accident, profits were plummeting and the company's future looked set for UK plc's industrial scrapheap.

But under his watch the group has been transformed into the world's leading temporary power company, renting its Dumbarton-made gas and diesel generators, heating units and dehumidifiers to some of the world's most high-profile events – including the Beijing Olympics and President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremonies – and to some of the world's most remote places where the production of electricity can be a matter of life or death.

Cheered by the City, in the last year the company's share price has nearly doubled from lows in the first quarter to well over 800p. Aggreko has long had a handful of ardent fans but landing a spot on the top Footsie index is set to broaden its appeal to investors even further.

Confounding the group's analysts this year has been the firm's resilience in the face of the global economic downturn. And although its established power generation business in western markets has understandably declined, demand for temporary power is increasing in the developing world where money for investment in permanent hydro or nuclear power projects is thin on the ground.

"He has done a fantastic job," says Nick Spoliar, analyst with Altium Capital.

"What he and his team have done is to do a proper structural analysis on how this business can grow. He identified this gap, this issue that governments have increasingly got, as a future major part of the business

"The international power projects business, which is the company's engine of growth, was nothing just five years ago. That has now become a major driver for the profits and now drives 40 per cent of the business," adds Spoliar.

This week Soames will update the market on the group's performance in 2009. Although the company is reticent to give details of its involvement supporting American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, these revenues are expected to be worth a cool $120 million (74m).

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"They are very adept at riding the cycle. I am hopeful for the outcome and I have a 'buy' recommendation," says Spoliar. "Other things that will help them is the troop surge in Afghanistan, which is not unhelpful at least and they have the confidence in the future to invest in the new plant in Dumbarton which they will be doing next year, which is really encouraging."

By rights Soames should not have gone into industry, but politics. Grandson of Winston Churchill, his family's political pedigree is pre-eminent. But he has said he prefers to leave the House of Commons to brother MP Nicholas Soames and brother-in-law Philip Dunne. But what has become increasingly clear, particularly since he began expanding Aggreko's business to governments across the not-so-developed world, generated power is politics.

Soames is a hands-on chief executive, travelling frequently to the 80-plus countries in which Aggreko has operations. While this includes VIP treatment and indulging his passion for music at Glastonbury, it also takes in the ardours of travel to conflict zones or countries still trying to rebuild their infrastructure after war.

But he has a special interest in Africa – his father Lord Soames was the last governor of Rhodesia before it elected Robert Mugabe and became Zimbabwe. Here a recent report found that African businesses lose 56 days of production a year to power shortages, and as a result Aggreko and its business there is booming.

He has the look and presence of his grandfather, a strikingly bald and robustly built 6ft 3in with a penchant for expensive Cuban cigars. He is supremely well spoken and good with an anecdote; it is possible to see why government ministers around the globe welcome him with open arms.

Increasingly Soames is concerned about the UK, where energy policy is criticised for setting unrealistic targets for energy sourced from renewables. He has recently gone public with his fears that the UK might soon fall prey to power cuts reminiscent not only of third world countries but California, too.

Although Aggreko would undoubtedly benefit if the lights went out in Britain, Soames has weighed in on the debate arguing for energy security over emissions targets.

In a well-judged statement showing shrewd political nous he said: "I personally believe that meeting climate change goals is not incompatible with national energy security in the long run, but I think keeping the country running is more important."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Soames is generous in the credit he gives his board, including finance director Angus Cockburn, in reshaping the business.

But almost immediately after his arrival, the charming Soames was winning over investors. Presiding over his first AGM in Glasgow, Soames's strategic overview was given a vote of thanks by those present. His presentation was, said one investor, Churchillian in its brilliance.

Although the vast majority of his contemporaries at Oxford went on to become bankers, advertising executives, or, indeed, politicians, he instead served a 16-year apprenticeship at GEC under the mentorship of the late Lord Weinstock.

Soames has been around the block. And he seems as enthused about the business now as he was when he wowed the board in the recruitment process for a chief executive in 2003.


IN 1981, the Honourable Rupert Christopher Soames graduated from Oxford (he got a Third). He was also president of the Oxford Union.

He ran a DJ business while he was a student, but his career officially started at General Electric Company in 1981. Soames rose through the ranks, spending his last four years there responsible for the UK, African and Asian operations of weighing division Avery Berkel.

Soames left in 1996 to join software company Misys until a parting of the ways in 2002. He became chief executive of Glasgow-headquartered Aggreko in 2003.

Soames is married to Camilla (known as Millie) and has three children, a daughter and two sons.

Aggreko also manufactures and assembles diesel-powered generators at a factory in Dumbarton.

Aggreko is this week due to release a trading update to the City.

Related topics: