Five minutes with… Sahil Gandhi, executive director of Unique Group

The subsea and offshore solution provider is now looking to expand into Saudi Arabia

Can you describe Unique Group’s activities in the Middle East?

Unique Group, founded in 1993 and headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, is an integrated subsea and offshore solution provider. Our organisation has a local presence in the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, India and Singapore and employs over 500 people worldwide.

Through its five operational business divisions – Survey Equipment, Marine & Subsea, Diving Equipment, Buoyancy & Ballast and On-Site Engineering, Unique is a specialist in the provision of engineering, sales and rental of equipment for the marine, diving, and subsea market sectors.

The group also has an established manufacturing capability for the delivery of customised engineering projects worldwide.

You have recently rebranded and restructured. Can you elaborate why?

After 20 years, we have evolved as a group and while the maritime and energy sector remains a core focus, we are continually on the lookout for opportunities to apply our technology and solutions in other sectors and geographies.

The main aim of the new restructure and rebrand is to highlight our full solution offering to the various different industry segments. It also enables us to handle our past growth more sustainably and further helps put us in a strong place to implement our future growth plan and give our customers more value.

As a consequence, our new brand reflects a far wider portfolio of products and solutions we offer, and our commitment to international standards.

How has 2015 been so far for your company?

At the beginning of 2015, we were optimistic that we will see an increase in demand for our product and service offerings in the Middle East market, especially since the NOCs remained committed to increasing oil production that has put a focus on maintenance and retro-fitting solutions.

As part of the restructure in 2015, we also recruited an experienced leadership team across the new divisions. So we now have ‘strength in depth’ in our people as much as we do in our products.

Are you looking at launching any new services or expanding operations regionally this year?

The first expansion into new sectors is the launch of Unique Group’s range of technically advanced products for Dive Support Vessels (DSVs), which is the result of three years of research and development. As offshore operations move increasingly into deeper and more challenging environments, the DSV market will become significant in Unique Group’s growth.

In terms of expanding to new markets, we have already identified Saudi Arabia as a key market and also look to further grow in South East Asia, Middle East and West Africa.

Will you be hiring in the next six months?

A key challenge in the industry is in sourcing specialised technical support and knowledge. To face the challenge of talent shortage, we are currently putting in concerted efforts to hire the right people, train them in-house and successfully induct them into the fold so they contribute to the group’s success.

How is the overall diving industry performing in the Middle East?

The diving industry is extremely co-related to the offshore construction industry and the diving companies here are doing better than any other country in the world. There is definitely a sufficient backlog of projects in the UAE market to keep it significantly buoyant.

What are the biggest challenges that it currently faces?

The current industry faces its biggest challenge from macroeconomic conditions, predominately oil prices. If current oil prices are to hold you will see a major drain in innovation and new talent coming into the industry as the industry as a whole will be reluctant to spend on research and development of technology and development of people.

Where do you see the industry headed in the near future?

We are experiencing a slow but definite shift of the service industry into the Saudi market. Also, the industry is gearing towards becoming more safety conscious and that will influence our plan of rolling out new technological designs into the market. We also work very closely with International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), a respected voice around the world promoting good practice, particularly in the areas of health, safety and environment, quality and efficiency, as well as providing technical guidance.

What’s your leadership style?

For many family businesses, family values are a key competitive strength. Similarly, at Unique Group, with values built around integrity, quality and customers, we try our upmost to empower employees to continually innovate and drive business growth.

This idea for collaborative and communal thinking also extends to our partners and customers, to help ensure our solutions are bespoke and made to order.

So while we might be diversified in terms of our management and ownership, I still hold on to our family values which guides the culture and way of working at Unique Group.

In your spare time, you like to…

I like to read, mostly business books. I also like to play golf and when I can, support Arsenal Football Club.