Consultancy Special Interest Group
17 April 2015

Our People: Francis Minah

An interview by Rajiv NarangFrancis Minah

Francis C. Minah is a Chemical Process Engineer with 25 years of experience in Technical Advisory roles in the Oil & Gas and process industries. Francis has spent the majority of his career living in South East Asia, where he and his partners have established the PRISM Group of companies to undertake Process Risk Integrity Safety and Marine consultancy studies.

 

You have spent considerable time in South East Asia. How comfortable are you with this part of the world? Did you have to adjust your private and professional life when you moved here from London?
When the opportunity to spend 2 years in Hong Kong came up, I volunteered without hesitation as I saw this as the best of both worlds - travel while earning a good salary. South East Asia in the 90s was a very exciting place, Hong Kong was this "work hard play hard” city with an incredible buzz about it, leading up to the British handover of sovereignty to China. Malaysia, where I have spent most of the last 18 years, has a vibrant offshore industry and has been a good base for work throughout the region - from Vietnam to Australia. In the mid-90s Risk Management techniques were still relatively new to this part of the world, so work was very challenging and plentiful. Professionally, working in South East Asia has provided a variety of work on onshore, offshore and marine facilities, in several different regulatory regimes. In South East Asia I have had not only technical exposure, but also accelerated management exposure, which has given me the competences and confidence to own and manage my own business from a relatively young age. Personally, I am very comfortable here, I have made some fantastic friendships in South East Asia, and my wife and I were happy to set up home and start our family in Malaysia.

 

You are in the area of Safety and Risk Assessment. How has the awareness to Safety changed in this part of the world? Has it followed the global trend towards higher safety norms? Or are there any gaps yet to be filled?
Safety awareness has improved greatly in this part of the world over the past 25 years I have been working here. Firstly with globalisation, South East Asia has had the opportunity to learn from major accidents around the world. Secondly, over the last 25 years, major oil companies have expanded their corporate safety management systems throughout their global organisations. There is, of course, still a way to go to make safety second nature to every worker's activities. This is now more about individual behaviour and company cultural commitment. With regards to risk assessment, I think there is work to be done to ensure that they result in actionable recommendations that lead to measurable improvements in safety and operational performance.

 

You have moved from an employee to an independent consultant - having your own company. Do you see this happening more frequently in South East Asia? If so, what are the challenges faced by those trying to do this switch?
The techniques of my specific discipline, risk assessment, were relatively new to South East Asia, so I had a lot of responsibility early on, which gave me confidence in my abilities. However, as is often the case, my initial push to self-employment was both through perspiration and inspiration. The Asian Financial crisis in 97/98 saw my salary halve in Pound Sterling terms; this made the decision to work for myself easier. Consultancy is one of those professions where it is quite easy to set up on your own since our overheads are relatively low, however, the flip side of this is that there is a lot of competition which makes survival in this industry harder now than it was say 15 years ago.

 

The Consultancy industry here seems to be picking up. What support would like to see from professional organisations like IChemE?
As the industry picks up and more people or companies provide consultancy services, it becomes more difficult for clients to identify the best solution providers for their specific issues. I would like to see professional organisations provide specific accreditation for consultancy services to help clients navigate the industry and to acknowledge leaders in our industry.

 

Looking back, how would you reflect upon the time you spent in South East Asia, and what are your plans for the future?
Working in South East Asia has been a fantastic life experience. If I had it to do over again I would choose to spend my career here and I would also choose to work in consultancy. I have had incredible exposure to people and cultures so different from my own, and I have made professional and personal relationships that have enriched my life. My plans for the future are currently to do more of the same. However, I would like to spend time in Africa sometime in the future.

 

Do you see younger people trying be independent consultants? What would be your advice to them?
I would advise young engineers to choose consultancy as a career, as project work exposes you to a wide variety of companies and challenges over a short period. Joining an existing firm and being an independent consultant are two very different issues. However, if you have a strong technical capability, believe you can develop a personal client-base, and are good at managing people, then I would recommend it. 

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