Thinking Laterally With A Vacuum Cleaner (Page 1 of 2) 23 Aug 2012

Participants at the Australasian Oil and Gas [AOG] Conference were greeted by the somewhat unusual sight of a mechanical engineer handing out portions of chicken curry and business cards out the front of the Perth Convention Exhibition Centre.

The food stand was just one of several new initiatives started by mechanical engineer-turned entrepreneur Alistair Murchison and his business partners Nick Morris and Ryan Carey, who used the major event to make a serious push into the oil and gas industry providing pre-made, pre-packaged food to onshore and offshore sites across the resources sector.

This food operation is just one of several that comes under their company MCM Group - the MCM representing the trio's surnames.

Murchison's story is of a young professional with a burning desire to think laterally, using the skills he learned in Technip's graduate program, to start a company that is not your usual career of a mechanical engineer.

Murchison, 30, first began learning the contracting process while completing his thesis at university, titled Contracting strategies and information efficiencies in major projects as part of a double degree in Mechanical Engineering and Commerce from the University of Western Australia. As part of this thesis, he studied eight major contracting projects in Western Australia that were a commercial failure for whatever reason.

Technip gave him his first break as a graduate contracts engineer and project services manager. He ended up taking on various roles in some of WA's biggest projects, mainly with Australian major Woodside. As a result he also learned plenty about how contracting works in the petroleum industry.

“At Technip I had great mentoring, initially by Rob Radici then Jim Smith, and it was here that I really learned about contracting strategies. Exceptional mentors are really important, and generally experienced people are always keen to help the next generation,” he said.

“In the role, I was not just an engineer designing a bolt or a flange, I was required to know a little bit about every package and companies that are involved in the project.”

Murchison first worked on the Angel 1TL Subsea Hot Tap, a 30 inch hot tap in Woodside's North West Shelf 42 inch trunk line. This was the first subsea hot tap of that size in the Southern Hemisphere. The hot tap involves drilling into a pipeline whilst it is live and operating at pressure to connect a new pipeline without interrupting production.

He also worked on Woodside's Perseus over Goodwyn [PoG] project, which involved subsea installation work connecting the Perseus gas field to existing production infrastructure.

“There was no better way to learn about oil and gas contracting other than working with a major international offshore contractor building the oil fields whilst being involved in the project in a way where you're responsible for the commercial outcomes for the client, the contractor and the project as a whole,” he said.

The role prepared him well for his future entrepreneurial endeavours as the work entailed managing risk and contracting strategies. At the same time, it was always about building the oil field for the clients so he had the best of both worlds because he was involved in construction and the finance side.

“Any successful project requires great people, risk and financial management and Technip taught me great tools, which I now use in our business. Technip encouraged my professional development by allowing me to go offshore as much as I could and I recommend to all graduates to get to site as much as you can because this is where you really learn about engineering and business,” he said.

“It is really important to understand who the decision makers are and how the contracting process works in the oil and gas industry. It can be a very difficult industry to crack into otherwise.”

For example, at Technip he worked on a vessel called the CSO Venturer, which had about 110 specialists from about 20 companies. As a contracts engineer, part of Murchison's role was to put contracts in place with each of those 20 companies, giving him the opportunity to learn about each of those companies. For every one of those 20, they considered three, giving him exposure to 60 companies. So by the time he did 10 different jobs, he had exposure to about 300 companies.

Through the commercial business development role and meeting people within those oil and gas service companies, he developed a great network and a holistic understanding of how oil and gas contracting works. He was then able to apply this experience to his other services within MCM Group - cleaning, laundry and foods.