For 10 years we’ve been building this team, finding the right people, training them and giving them the opportunity to be the best they can be.
How would you measure the success of a ten year old engineering company like RED?
Some MDs might look at Joe Orrell and wonder. He feels more comfortable in a tee-shirt than a Boss suit, he picks up a broom and sweeps the Test Facility floor if everyone else is busy, and on the day of this interview he was going to buy a new electric forklift truck for the company’s major new workshop facility because, well, everyone else was flat out busy.
Judged against other normal business benchmarks, RED looks pretty successful. They have a full order book of projects, they have grown steadily over 10 years to employ 27 people in their own offices, they’re expanding their facilities yet again and they have a global reputation as some of the most creative and effective engineering problem-solvers in the business.
It’s the reputation that measures highest on Joe’s definition of success. “When we started RED in 2008, success wasn’t about making lots of money or conquering the world, and it still isn’t. What we have always wanted was to create a company with a team of people who could enjoy coming in to work every day and pushing the boundaries of engineering design. The primary goal here at RED has been to build a team of exceptional people who enjoy doing exceptional things for our clients. That’s our most important achievement, and that’s what our reputation is built on.”
Being completely independent and self-funded has given Joe and co-founder Richard Kent complete control over the way they have run and developed the business, and the quality of the people they have been able to attract has allowed them to operate with the minimum of hierarchy and the maximum of individual responsibility.
“For 10 years we’ve been building this team, finding the right people, training them and giving them the opportunity to be the best they can be. So now we have an amazing core of world-class engineering designers and a great balance of different personalities with different views and skills right across the company.
“Everybody in the team has complete confidence that they can contribute and their contribution is valued. We all have great respect for each other’s strengths. I think this is a key factor in creating the company’s unique personality and we’ve invested a lot in developing this culture of mutual respect. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have creative friction when everybody is involved in solving a challenging engineering design problem, but it does mean the friction is positive. It generates energy and produces the best results and it makes working here much more fun.”
We add maximum value to our clients precisely because we are small, creative and agile. We exist to think outside the box for those clients who struggle with change and we love change and innovation.
Small is beautiful – and agile
It is a cultural approach that works brilliantly in this organically grown company, partly because the team members have been very carefully chosen for their individual and teamworking skills, and partly because RED has deliberately stayed small. Growth for it’s own sake has never been on the RED business-building agenda. The team is currently 27-people strong, and the MD thinks this may well be close to its optimum size.
“It’s essential that we stay small and agile. The size of the team is ideal for purpose as it is and that’s very important for our clients. Most of our clients are large companies operating in very tightly regulated industries where potential risks are very carefully managed and they have to have established, minutely detailed processes and procedures covering every aspect of their working practices.
“This makes it very difficult for them to deal with unplanned change and they have very little scope to think outside the box and develop innovative solutions to problems that need solving quickly. We add maximum value to our clients precisely because we are small, creative and agile. We exist to think outside the box for those clients who struggle with change and we love change and innovation.”
Over the past four years we’ve moved into design and testing for higher technology applications and we have begun to build a great relationship with other sectors.
Change is an opportunity
The RED approach proved immediately invaluable to big oil & gas clients when the company began life as Red Marine in 2008. It was a time of enormous and urgent change in an industry forced to find new ways to recover oil and gas from deeper and more remote sources. So it was also the perfect opportunity for RED to offer their world class skills, their creative energy and their unique, integrated combination of design/build/test capabilities to big companies who were restricted by their size and their traditional processes.
“We acted as a fast-track partner the big companies and their contractors could call on for solutions to engineering problems that needed solving impossibly quickly. We built a unique reputation in the oil & gas industry for delivering creative but absolutely pragmatic solutions, under enormous pressures of timescale and cost.”
Then when oil prices slumped in 2014/2015, the stream of oil & gas projects diminished, and RED began looking for other markets for their talents.
“We have never seen change as a threat for our clients and it certainly wasn’t for us. The oil price slump gave us a chance to review where we were and see where we wanted to go and we were small and agile enough not to cut back but to take it as a massive opportunity to use our talents in other areas of engineering design.
“Over the past four years we’ve moved into design and testing for higher technology applications, including robotics, and we have begun to build a great relationship with other sectors – particularly with the nuclear decommissioning industry – who can use us just as the oil & gas industry does as a ‘tiger team’ they can plug into their own problem-solving process.”
Tried and tested innovation
Coming up with creative solutions very fast has been essential to RED’s success, but Joe emphasises that there is another equally important side to the company’s reputation.
“Clearly our clients value our ‘can-do’culture and our creativity, but we’re also highly pragmatic, in two important ways: Firstly, we understand the practical context of the applications we are designing for and we design the most effective solutions accordingly.
We understand the engineering context of the challenge we’re helping our clients meet and we also understand the operational and business context – aspects like quality and accreditation, for example, and installation and maintenance practicalities, health & safety and human risk and time and cost implications. We take all these factors into consideration in the development of the best engineering design solution.
“Secondly, we have a fully integrated design/build/test capability which allows us to test and prove new design ideas very quickly. There is obviously a risk in pushing boundaries and trying ideas that haven’t been tried before. But we don’t back away from any challenge for fear of failure. We can build a prototype, design and build a test rig to prove it and if a prototype fails for any reason we can redesign and retest it until we are absolutely certain it will work for the client. This is a huge advantage in terms of quality, assurance and speed and the engineer responsible for the design follows their design all the way through from concept to final solution, which our clients tell us is another important point of RED difference.”
For clients in the global oil & gas industry, says Joe, RED has become a go-to, reactive R&D service – engineering troubleshooters called in to solve a crisis. He would like the company to be involved in much more planned, proactive change.
“We joke that we’re like the ‘A Team’ of engineering design. We walk in when others walk out. But going forward, we’re working with clients to help them improve the ‘traditional’ way they have always dealt with change, slowly and cautiously. We want to help clients to be more agile themselves, and to introduce change and innovation before it becomes a problem.
“Staying ahead of the game reduces cost and stress and that’s exactly what we help put clients do.”