Built on Granite, dipped in Oil, coated in Culture – Why I think Aberdeen is at last a pretty cool place to be

Spencer Buchan, Media Company MD and Non Executive Director AGCC

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REWIND to 2015 and Houston, we have a problem, a big problem it seems and Houston was actually the key city once again in a similar unfolding disaster. The ‘oil price’ has dropped like a stone, from $120 a barrel to sub $30 a barrel, some say $45 a barrel before the Oil producers (or Operators) make any profit, so not good, not good at all. We couldn’t believe what was happening, the city relied on a buoyant Oil industry, what were we all about to experience?

At the time I had just secured the full stake in the business I had worked in and invested cash into, a lot of cash, but hey, we were profitable, making good money, I was doing great, we all were. We made health and safety videos for an Oil industry on our doorstep, cash-rich companies who relied on good health and safety records to allow them optimum drilling time. Now, accidents slow down operations and when minutes and hours not drilling equals hundreds of thousands of pounds zero accidents through good communications is key, that’s what we did/still do, help communicate via video and animation, we help to keep people safe, a bit of no brainer really, we were part of the wider industry, a team member, an integral part of the supply chain, an important part, we had built our business as a supply chain link, that was us and we loved it and they loved us. That was until $30 a barrel became all of our reality and the love seemed to fade.

‘No thank you, not at the moment’ was becoming a very common phrase, the redundancies kicked in and my company went from profit to lose practically overnight, we reshaped, I dug in, I diluted my 100% ownership and managed through grit, determination and a strong back trading story to secure a partner who believed in me, a partner willing to ride the storm and sit in for the good times again, but they were slow in coming and questions on whether a once superpower of Energy and Oil & Gas was ever going to be realised again. Don’t be misled though, there’s so much more to this region than the North Sea oil Industry, beautiful sparkling granite, countryside unrivalled, whisky, Scotland’s food larder, tourism, we tried to get into all of it and in many areas succeeded, but it wasn’t the revenues from Oil companies of old, willing to spend to communicate, we had it hard but we were surviving and survival was the goal.

Fast forward now to early winter 2019, Oil price on the increase due to supply and demand and middle east tension with a US President happy to stoke the fire so to speak (we love middle east tension in this neck of the woods! good for business). ‘A new norm’ they say, Oil companies investing in renewable energy, smaller, more efficient Operator’s reducing the costs via new technologies, a city being invested in inwardly and by attracting external investors: City centre regeneration, the Marshall Sq development, The culture-rich and quirky Green, Nu Art across our city’s buildings attracting tourists, a regenerating Union Terrace Gardens, the multi-million pound Aberdeen Art Gallery and the mile-long Union St once again attracting in new retailers and independent businesses. A Chamber of Commerce supporting the business community through the City Vanguard initiative and ABZouloutley campaign, a new harbour development that will see cruise liners visit from 2020, our famous football club building new training facilities and a new stadium and attracting American investors, the AWPR (the city ring road) making the city a cleaner, greener area and of course TECCA, the new Exhibition Centre that has announced it will host the BBC Sport’s Personality of The Year 2019 event, attracting the best of the best to our once again city in full renaissance mood.

Youth, culture and industry go hand in hand in my view, and at last Aberdeen has the perfect mix of all of these, it was forced to reinvent and rediscover itself, in some ways a fall from grace is the step to change this city needed, a chance to have a look at what else it had to offer, a city once dominated by Oil seems to be dominated by an entrepreneurial, disruptive nature that says, we’re taking control, there’s more to this city than meets the eye, more than oil. Aberdeen can hold it’s own, we still need the Energy industry and all that it offers in employment and opportunities but the birthplace of BrewDog, Emily Sandé the award-winning Aberdeen University and preferred holiday destination for what seems to be the whole Royal family these days we certainly have a lot to be positive about. As for me and my business, we changed a lot also and we haven’t finished yet, the journey alongside the city renaissance is just the shot in the arm we needed, Aberdeen might just be the place to be…Gary Lineker and Gabby Logan certainly think so!


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