By Donna Ewen
THE NORTH-EAST is a success story that stretches across the world. When the 4th annual Aberdeen-Perth Western Australia Gateway took place at the Marcliffe Hotel and Spa last week to promote diversification opportunities, the speakers included Donna Hutchison, Director of Quensh HSEQ Specialists.
Originally from Westhill, Donna founded the quality, health, safety and environmental consultancy 13 years ago and 3 years ago set up an office in Perth, to support the Asia-Pacific region. With the company thriving there, she has recently returned to the resurgent Aberdeen to look for fresh opportunities to grow the business. Speakers at the event included Councillor Jenny Laing, co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, who welcomed the opportunity to build business links with Perth.
She said: “The links we already have with Perth are strong because of the World Energy Partnership. We want to ensure we are allowing the companies to use the skills we have built up over the past four or five decades to other aspects of the energy business while maintaining oil and gas moving forward.” Other presenters included Agent General Mike Deeks (The Government of Western Australia to Europe), Andy Demetriou (Country Manager and Director of Woodside Energy (UK) Ltd, and Murray Bainbridge (leader of SDI Delegation to AOG).
Donna talks to ABN.
ABN: Tell us a little about your background?
Donna: Early in my career I was fortunate to have a great boss who asked me what it was I really wanted to do. I like working with people, rather than sitting behind a desk, and decided I wanted to work in HSEQ or HR. From there I worked in a variety of jobs in construction and oil and gas around the UK. I left Aberdeen and worked in the South-West of England as a Construction HSEQ Advisor. I came back to Aberdeen in 2004 and worked as a HSEQ contractor and at that time I felt that there was an opportunity in the market to provide a better HSEQ consultancy service than was available. I’m a big believer in “if you think you can do better then go and do something about it”, so I decided to set up Quensh in 2006 and it became a limited company in 2010 and we have developed from there.
ABN: Tell us about Quensh and how you’ve made a success of it.
Donna: We now have a team of nearly 20 people based in Aberdeen and six in Perth (Australia), providing QHSE support to a wide range of clients. Quensh is a team of practical HSEQ specialists enabling clients to manage and mitigate risk as well as optimise business performance. Whether operating locally or internationally, we pride ourselves on delivering a flexible service applicable to our clients’ specific business needs.. Choosing the right HSEQ Partner involves more than just glancing at the services offered and the price lists, it depends on several factors. These include quality of work, value for money, timely delivery, responsiveness, reliability and flexibility.
ABN: Why did you decide to set up in Perth?
Donna: We decided in 2016 that we would internationalise. The obvious choices are Houston, Calgary and Baku. We did our research — six of the world’s top 10 international energy companies are headquartered in Perth — and in 2017 we decided to go ahead. The decision was made that we needed someone on the ground who knew the business to give us the best chance of success.
ABN: How did you build the business in Australia?
Donna: If you are new to Perth and no-one knows who you can be perceived as another member of the McMafia here to tell us how it is all done better in Aberdeen. You have to do the groundwork, and for the first 6 months, networking was key. Perth has a good quality networking system in place. People are genuinely willing to help. They are quite direct, if your service is not what they are looking for they will tell you, but they will point you in the right direction of who to go to, put you in touch, and you would go meet up for a coffee. The Petroleum Club of Western Australia hosts monthly dinners with industry leaders as keynote speakers and an average turnout of 200. There is a growing alignment around decommissioning too. There is a lot of support out there but it is not going to come to you, you have to go out and find it.
ABN: What is your advice to anyone looking to expand there?
Donna: Have a .com.au address and establish a presence on the ground. Once they knew I had moved there, there was a willingness to engage. Make sure you get your visas right, otherwise it is a nightmare. It takes a little while to build the right relationships, but once you do that, the opportunities are there. Do use your Scottish DNA – there is nothing better than an ex-pat Scot who wants to help someone overseas. Without that, we wouldn’t have had the success we had.
ABN: What’s the atmosphere like in Perth?
Donna: St George’s Terrace is the main hub — think Union Street but with every major operator and mining company on it. The coffee shop culture is strong with plenty of options on the Terrace! Right now it is the height of summer so things will quieten down until Australia Day has passed on January 26 and then things will ramp again from February onwards.
ABN: What others adjustments did you have to make?
Donna: It is remote. You cannot just get on a flight to come home and you do miss family and friends. I completely understand why people with young families would choose to do so because of the weather and the quality of life.
ABN: What would you say has been your biggest driving force to get you where you are today?
Donna: I never left school thinking I would end up running a business. I am a reasonably pro-active person and problem solver. If I see something can be done a different way and we can take the pain away for our clients — that’s my driving force. I just really enjoy what I do. I enjoy meeting people, the variety of my job and love the fact it has allowed me to travel to places I would otherwise not have gotten to. I was never particularly academic but I do have a different skill set that works. I enjoy when people have that light-bulb moment when training them. The fact we coach and mentor people coming through the business, bringing them through their qualifications, it’s almost like you are bringing on the next generation.
ABN: What would you say about the future of Aberdeen. Do you think it is bright?
Donna: I think so. I think what you find about Aberdeen is it is adaptable and it will move with the times. It’s been through these cycles before. I think the momentum building with net-zero, green energy and clean technology is growing. I think that businesses in Aberdeen should recognise that if you are going to survive and flourish you are going to have to internationalise, go out and diversify. Having lived away from Aberdeen, I have a different perspective. Aberdeen is a great place to live. We are very lucky with what we have on our doorstep. Yes, it is not without its challenges but I think it will pull through from the oil downturn.