Up Close & Personal with Dominique de Soras

  • Business
  • Saturday, 01 Sep 2012

LIKE many expatriates working and living in Malaysia, Malaysia Marine & Heavy Engineering Holdings Bhd (MHB) managing director and CEO Dominique de Soras is quick to reveal one of the obvious things he likes most about this country.

“I like the food. There's a lot of variety. It's okay-lah,” he says in a thick French accent.

However, the Frenchman just as quickly quantifies that statement: “Of course, I won't say it's the best in the world.”

“Perhaps after French food, Malaysian food is the best in the world,” he quips.

De Soras was appointed to the board of MHB on Feb 1, 2011 and has over 20 years of experience in the oil and gas (O&G) industry, covering areas of petroleum engineering, operations management, commercial and major projects in the oil and gas industry.

Still, he openly admits that joining MHB was not a “walk in the park.”

“It's been a short period (since joining last here). This is my first experience in Malaysia working for a large O&G organisation like MHB.

“So far, it's been interesting and challenging,” says De Soras.

And challenging it has been. For its second quarter ended June 30, MHB's net profit fell to RM55.32mil from RM79.02mil a year ago despite revenue was up 0.8% to RM965.71mil from RM957.79mil. Earnings per share were 3.50 sen compared with 4.90 sen.

In the first half, its earnings fell 35.7% to RM133.58mil from RM207.93mil. Revenue slipped 13.3% to RM1.631bil from RM1.881bil.

MHB, Malaysia's largest marine and heavy engineering services provider, is the heavy engineering arm of MISC Bhd, which is the world's single-largest owner-operator of liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers.

The company notes that with the acquisition of the Pasir Gudang fabrication yard, coupled with the novation of the Kebabangan project from Sime Darby Engineering Sdn Bhd and successful award of the F14/F29Topside contracts, its offshore segment is expected to contribute positively to the group's earnings, although cost pressures remain a challenge.

De Soras believes that the acquisition of Sime Darby's fabrication yard in Pasir Gudang will bode well for the company's future O&G operations, pointing out that the yard is of a significant size in terms of space and capacity.

“From an asset point of view, we're well positioned to take on the O&G market,” he says.

MHB acquired the 52.6ha fabrication yard in Johor from Sime Darby Engineering Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned unit of Sime Darby Bhd, for RM393mil in March.

MHB announced in June that it had secured three contracts worth RM278mil from Sarawak Shell Bhd to build topside, process module and jacket for the latter's oil and gas operations.

The company's unit, Malaysia Marine and Heavy Engineering Sdn Bhd, had successfully bid for the F14/F29 project award which comprised three structures.

MHB's order book as at March, not taking into account the RM1.2bil Kebabangan project, stood at RM2.4bil.

Transformation for success

Since being appointed head of MHB, De Soras has been given the herculean task of driving changes in MHB.

“One of the challenges is to improve the performance of our company,” says de Soras, who points out that working in a country like Malaysia brings with it a unique set of challenges.

“Our organisation comprises a diverse group of people with various cultural differences and we need to be able to get the best from everyone.”

De Soras says that an internal transformation programme was initiated within the company earlier this year, with the goal of improving the competitiveness of the company.

“A few months ago, we launched a transformation programme within MHB. We even set up a dedicated office to improve the performance, welfare and people-satisfaction to turn the company into a better organisation from a customer and stakeholder perspective.

“It's something that I am overseeing and the initiative is driven by me.”

He says MHB had set “a number of targets” to achieve within the internal transformation programme.

“We have a three-year target. It's a big challenge but it's a process we need to do. The programme is to ensure that we remain competitive, secure a better market share and win new fabrication projects within the next few months.

“We need to be able to better deliver. We have to go beyond Malaysia and attract overseas customers.”

De Soras says the transformation programme will involve everyone within MHB.

“MHB relies a lot on its people. We have close to 4,000 employees within the group. They are the key assets of any organisation. Without them, we can't deliver and meet the expectations of our customers.

“Hence the programme will have a lot of emphasis on our people. We are in the process of cascading down to the next level to make sure that the programme is embraced by everyone - that it's a team effort.”

Despite having near-term goals, de Soras points out that the transformation programme will carry past the three-year target deadline.

“I wish we could say that the programme would have a definitive end-date. But it's complicated, as it's spread throughout the organisation.

“The initiative will never end because we need to constantly evolve and always be in transformation-mode to remain competitive. That's the best way to perform to continuously move fast, move forward.”

De Soras admits that being able to continuously adapt to new changes is easier said than done.

“It's easy to say, but to remain competitive, we have to keep evolving, no matter what. We will need to keep growing over the course of the next few years.”

Work-life balance

While he enjoys the challenges that come with his job, de Soras admits that too much emphasis on work can be unhealthy.

“The job here is significantly stressful,” he says with a laugh, adding however that there is no job out there that isn't without its own unique pressures.

“Even a gardener can be stressed. He could be pressured by the rain, sun, or the fact that his flowers are not blooming!”

De Soras says that stress is felt by everyone, regardless of their job status, hence the need to be able to find a good balance between one's job and their personal life.

It's important to find a good balance between work and your personal life. My wife puts pressure on me to keep that balance right,” says the married father of six.

“You need to invest in your work but you need have time for your family as well. Thankfully, in my career, I have managed to keep a balance in both.”

Growing up, de Soras admits playing a lot of sports. These days, time and to a certain extent, age, has limited his love for recreational activities.

“I love sports! Of course, as you grow older, it becomes a little harder to play them.”

De Soras believes that having an active lifestyle outside work is both crucial and beneficial.

“People say they have no time for exercise but it's an easy excuse. You can always make time for it.

“Besides, I always believe that someone who's healthy would always perform better than someone who doesn't, be it at work or outside.”

When he has the time, de Soras' interests include scuba diving with his wife and children around Malaysia's marine-rich coastlines.

De Soras also reveals that he is picking up futsal and badminton by participating within the company's sports and recreation club tournaments.

Any further “downtime” is spent with his golf coach, fiddling with his iPad, tweeting and of course, catching up on work - and more work.

“It depends on my schedule. I usually spend my time between Kuala Lumpur (MHB office) and Pasir Gudang (the company's fabrication yard).

When it becomes difficult to manage his work-life balance, or when work gets very stressful, de Soras says he likes to recall a famous statement made by Hyundai founder Chung Ju-yung in the latter's autobiography “Ordeals, but No Failures,” who said that “man's potential is limitless.”

“It has become a personal motto of mine,” says De Soras.

“It's a good statement for people. No matter what, I feel that people can always push themselves to go the extra mile.

“If, within reason, I believe that there's no limit to what we can do and how far we can go.”

BORN: May 27, 1956 in Lyon, France

PERSONAL: Married with six children

HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: MSc in mechanical engineering, Ecole Catholique de Arts et Metiers in Lyon, France

CAREER: Technip senior vice-president, subsea division; member of the executive management committee; Malaysia Marine And Heavy Engineering Holdings Bhd managing director & CEO

FAVOURITE FOOD: Tenderloin steak (rare), chocolate mousse, nasi lemak

FAVOURITE PLACE: Central Massif in France, Pulau Perhentian in Malaysia

HOBBY: Scuba diving, skiing, jogging, golf

INSPIRATION: “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself” - Napoleon

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