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3 Jul 2014

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alan your job

Accord Energy Solutions Director and Principal Consultant Alan Spence was recently featured in the Press and Journal 'Your Job' section. Read about his career to date.

Name: Alan Spence

Age: 60

Job Title: Director & Principal Consultant, Accord Energy Solutions Ltd.

What did you want to be when you were young?

I wanted to be a doctor but after a few brief steps down that route, I realised it wasn’t for me and set off in another direction. It was a fairly easy decision and even with hindsight, one I’ve never regretted.

What are the main career stepping stones you have taken?

I started my career as an analytical chemist with the Atomic Energy Authority at Dounreay. While it was an incredible place to train and gain experience there appeared to be far more opportunities in the embryonic North Sea oil and gas industry. Following a short spell on the Sullom Voe Project, I spent nine years in Orkney at the Flotta Terminal and returned to Shetland for three years managing the Sullom Voe Terminal Laboratory. A move to the Mobil-operated SAGE gas terminal at St. Fergus provided the chance to branch out from chemistry and get more involved with measurement, allocation and production scheduling. This was followed by nine years as Principal Consultant and Managing Director of Smith Rea Energy where I gained further opportunities to build and manage a team of people and experience all aspects of business development. In 2010, I founded Accord Energy Solutions with Phil Stockton and James Arthur. We provide the full range of hydrocarbon accounting services to the upstream oil and gas industry.

Are you scared of making mistakes?

I don’t like making mistakes but I’m not scared of making them – it’s part of life and one of the ways we learn. When I have to make a decision I try to weigh up the available information and go for the best option. If it becomes apparent that I’ve made a mistake, I think it’s important to acknowledge it, re-assess the situation, make a new plan and move on. It’s important to learn from your mistakes but also avoid doubt and self-criticism. No-one benefits from that sort of negativity.

Pet hate?

Unnecessary meetings! In some companies, for some people, attending meetings becomes an excuse for not doing any real work. I think it’s important for people to meet, communicate, reach a shared understanding and plan a way forward. But all too often insufficient thought is given to the agenda, the purpose of the meetings the list of attendees and the required outcomes. People end up having meetings about meetings and a huge amount of potentially productive time is wasted.

Who’s been your greatest influence?

The opportunities trust and support that Martin Barnes and David Pridden gave me at Smith Rea was astonishing. Their energy and entrepreneurial skills were an inspiration and it was largely down to them that I had the confidence to take the step into the unknown when I founded Accord with James and Phil.

Best achievement so far?

I’ve been delighted with the success that we’ve achieved at Accord. We knew from day one that we wanted to be employee owned – a business model that’s very different from the traditional model found in the oil and gas industry. There’s no doubt that we took a risk going down this route, but we had the courage of our convictions and it has paid off in more ways than we could have hoped for. Our team and client list has grown steadily, and we are well ahead of all our targets. That has allowed us to reward our staff for the fantastic efforts they’ve made over the last few years. We’ve also been able to share our success by supporting the local community through sponsorships such as the Accord Half Marathon with Run Garioch and a wide range of donations to local and national charities.

What do you want to achieve in the rest of your career?

My personal experience of employee ownership and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests it’s a greatly underutilised business model that really should be more widely known and implemented. As an Employee Ownership Ambassador for Co-operative Development Scotland, I’m committed to providing practical advice, based on my experience with Accord, to companies considering employee ownership. I’d like to hope that I can help more companies achieve the success that Accord has by using this model. And, of course, I want to continue growing and developing Accord so that the company realises its full potential.

What’s your idea of the perfect retirement?

A house on the Black Isle beside the sea where I can spend more time with my wife, indulge my hobbies (gardening, reef aquariums, photography, kayaking and mountain biking), and get to know Scotland even better.

What have you actively tried to avoid in your career?

I’d like to say that I’ve taken the road “less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”. In truth I’ve made what, to my mind, has been a fairly logical progression. I’ve moved on when the time felt right but not always made the move that others might have expected!

What would your autobiography be called?

To paraphrase the words of that great northern raconteur and local radio presenter Colin Campbell, “The Unexpected Journey of a Failed Chemist”. It’s been many years since I did any real, hands-on chemistry but from time to time, I think it would be good to spend some time in the lab again!

What has motivated you?

By nature I’m generally optimistic and enthusiastic. I throw myself into everything I tackle and get a great deal of satisfaction from having done something really well. What really motivates me, however, is the feeling that the decisions I make and the things I can do make a positive and meaningful difference to the company, others and myself. The best way I have found to experience this is by working for a small company or a fairly autonomous business unit.

Your favourite stress-buster?

I’ve spent more than 20 years kayaking in the seas around Scotland and have visited almost every Scottish island and most of our coastline. Experiencing the beauty of our country and travelling on the sea in all its changeable moods in the company of good friends is one of the best stress-busters I can imagine. Having said that, I’ve recently taken up mountain biking and it’s proving to be an effective alternative!