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Cover story: Journey to a kingdom of prosperity

by Indrajit Sen on Jul 9, 2017

David Dickson, CEO of McDermott International.
David Dickson, CEO of McDermott International.

When as CEO you are invited to be part of a delegation led by a US president seeking to strengthen bonds with Saudi Arabia, you are not just any business leader but essentially a stakeholder in America’s scheme to foster new socio-political and economic partnerships with the kingdom. This honour is representative of the laudable records your company has achieved in its six-decades-long presence in the Middle East, and as someone leading the organisation globally you can only feel proud about it.

McDermott International was the only EPC contractor present in the leadership gathering presided by His Highness King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and US President Donald Trump, during the latter’s first foreign visit in May. An even bigger achievement was the fact that McDermott was one of the few companies from the 50-strong American business delegation to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Saudi oil giant Aramco, during the Saudi-US CEO Forum.

“I think from oil and gas (industry), there were only nine companies. So to be a part of that (delegation) was good, and to be recognised in the form of signing an MoU, because not all those companies signed an MoU, obviously made me feel proud,” David Dickson tells me. “It is also a reflection of how McDermott’s name is quite strong in Saudi Arabia,” the CEO tells Oil & Gas Middle East during an exclusive interview in Dubai, where he arrived just a couple of days after his moment of glory in Riyadh.

Of the 60 years that McDermott has been in the regional oil and gas industry, the Houston-based company has been performing offshore EPCI (engineering, procurement, construction and installation) work for Saudi Aramco for almost 55 years, and hence has “enjoyed a very strong presence and reputation” in the kingdom. However, McDermott’s relations with Aramco have not been without complications. “I would tell you that three years ago, I went public in saying that our relationship with Aramco was not good. I think we had treated the relationship with a lot of complacency and lack of respect,” Dickson admits.

Since then, Dickson says he has “made a big effort to strengthen our relationship with Aramco”. The campaign he has led, since becoming the president and CEO in December 2013, has not just been centred around improving McDermott’s standing with the Saudi energy behemoth, but has overall been more focussed on transforming the business model – that has included making structural changes to the organisation and modifying the approach to and performance of offshore projects – with an eye towards the future to cement McDermott’s operations in the Middle East.

“Now I think we are talking about a transformation to say ‘how do we take the business to the next level?’ Dickson says. “So you will see things coming out around digitisation. We are being involved more in early engineering (stages of a project), in terms of pre-FEED and FEED. That’s how we take the delivery of these projects to the next level. When we look at our customers’ procurement models, we look at a change in the market, in terms of factors like technology and low oil prices, etc. We want to make sure that we are ahead of the pipe. Coming through this transformation, we’ve had quite a bit of change in culture and quite a bit of leadership in the region.”

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