September 2016

Executive viewpoint

How to thrive during a downturn
Peter M. Duncan / MicroSeismic, Inc.

Our industry’s market today clearly presents a host of challenges, but at MicroSeismic, Inc., we are doing our best to see this as a time of opportunity. Winston Churchill said, “Successful people see opportunity in every difficulty, instead of noticing difficulties on the way to an opportunity.” The companies we admire have been able to approach the current economic climate as a driver for new thinking.

To thrive in this downturn, oil and gas businesses—whether operators or service companies—should use the current economic reality as a catalyst for developing new techniques to improve efficiency and profitability. We must reinvent our enterprises, seeking new opportunities for revenue, value creation and growth that position us for success in the long term. Our industry is no stranger to the boom-and-bust cycle, and a long-term strategy is essential for success. The one certainty is that the world will rely on this industry for the indefinite future.

Here are five areas of focus that I believe go toward using this time for the best: the technology that makes us unique; a mindset to market; a commitment to quality; our people; and fostering an attitude of fresh thinking and entrepreneurship. A concentration on these key areas will shift the mood from worry to motivation.

Technology. We are an industry that is known for its technology. The value of that technology remains undiminished, regardless of the tumultuous economic climate. Now is a time to drive cost out of the delivery of existing technologies to make them more efficient. But cost is only one part of the value equation. Now is also a time to differentiate and position our companies for explosive growth as commodity prices creep upward. Holding off on investments will compromise your ability to capitalize quickly on opportunities as the economy rebounds. The next industry cycle will demand new and different technologies. This means developing technologies and investing in the future now.

Market. Listening to what the market is telling you is always important, but never more so than in an environment like this. For operators, watching how other operators are coping and how service providers are retooling is important market intelligence. For service companies, staying in sync with what operators feel they need is more important to survival than ever. And then there is the problem sometimes described with the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know.” This is not a time to turn inwards, but rather a time to listen to what the “chatter” is around you, and to speak up loudly if you have a new idea that could be of value.

Quality. Similarly, in challenging economic times there is even more reason to do it right the first time, and to do it better every time. Cutting corners to lower costs at the risk of getting an inferior result—one that may have to be done over—is false economics indeed. Whether it is safety, environmental responsibility or the quality of the operations, tight margins do not warrant sacrificing the integrity of the project. Our stakeholders have a long memory; beyond the economic costs of shoddy workmanship in the short term, the loss of reputation for the long term can be devastating. Ensuring the highest level of quality can be one of the most essential factors to survival.

People. It sounds trite and is often quoted, but it is a fact that our people are our most valuable resource. Our people know times are tough, and it is important to share and be frank with them about the state of our businesses, about the security of their employment, and what they can do personally to engender success for all. Stay connected to your employees by addressing the current situation in a timely and direct manner. Get everyone on board and earn employees’ commitment to do their part in helping the company thrive.

This is a time to explore positive, proactive initiatives that support long-term success. Give employees the opportunity for cross training. Put teams together to explore new ways to do old tasks better. Brush off those wild ideas that you had no time for when it was all blow and go and see whether they fly. Challenge people to invent and succeed, not just to “hang on ‘til things get better.”

Attitude. Attitude is everything, and a positive outlook through down cycles can turn challenges into opportunities for improvement. This latest down cycle was a chance to shift your company’s thinking, behaviors, strategies, and actions toward future growth. We should always encourage a mindset of resilience with a strong organizational culture, based on operational flexibility, employee loyalty and team collaboration.

Stay focused on the factors you are able to control, and respond proactively to things you cannot control. Keep in mind that downturns are temporary, and this latest one appears to be slowly moving in the right direction, so prepare your business for the eventual upturn.

At MicroSeismic, we strive to foster a positive, can-do attitude above all else, and encourage our partners and colleagues to do the same. We understand we cannot control commodity pricing, so we focus on the things we can control; developing technology that improves our customer’s well performance and developing our people who deliver that technology. We are surviving the short term by adapting to new business models, and managing our costs on a daily basis. But our focus is on positioning our offering for the next cycle with products and a level of quality and service that are even better than before. wo-box_blue.gif

About the Authors
Peter M. Duncan
MicroSeismic, Inc.
Peter M. Duncan is founder and CEO of MicroSeismic, Inc. He holds a Ph. D. in geophysics from the University of Toronto. He is an Honorary Member of SEG, CSEG, GSH and EAGE. He received the Enterprise Champion Award from the Houston Business Journal in 2010, the World Oil Innovative Thinker Award in 2011, and was the 2013 EY National Energy Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2014 he received the Virgil Kauffman Gold Medal from SEG.
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