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Meet the Experts – Neal Ferguson

Ghana, Nigeria, Greece, and Brazil—Neal Ferguson, one of our UK senior business managers, has held various roles and projects that have taken him on overseas assignments to these countries, cementing his desire to work abroad. In 2016, he fulfilled this dream by taking on a rotation in Angola as our country's account manager, “Working overseas was challenging due to cultural and language barriers, among other factors”, he said.

But what were Neal's early career steps? When did he begin his journey at Altrad Sparrows? What other roles has he taken on during his 16-year career with us? Explore the details of Neal's career and gain valuable insights from him in this issue of our Meet the Expert series!

Could you share some information about your educational background, qualifications, and prior professional experience?

I started my career straight from school at a small engineering practice in Aberdeen, enrolling in their apprenticeship scheme. In late 2000, I graduated in civil engineering from the Scott Sutherland School of Architecture at Robert Gordon University (RGU). My apprenticeship gave me a good grounding in engineering, draughting and design, construction management, as well as land surveying. Following this, I joined a large local house-building company, where I progressed through the design department and became a construction project manager.

What positions did you hold with us before becoming senior business manager?

In 2008, I joined Altrad Sparrows following its recent acquisition of Baricon Systems (now CPLS). My first role at the company exposed me to the entire cradle-to-grave design and build philosophy, where I could fully use my CAD, design, and project managerial skills. In 2012, I undertook a project engineer position in our fluid power division, further broadening my skill set. This role included overseas assignments such as conducting cable lay vessel audits in Ghana, Nigeria, and Greece. Additionally, I spent time in Brazil aiding in the bid process for constructing a new spool base, reinforcing my interest in international work.

In 2013, I moved into the European operations team as a contract support engineer, progressing to account manager function, supporting a major North Sea operator. Three years later, I embraced the opportunity to work abroad by taking on a rotation in Angola as an account manager. Based in the client's offices, this scope involved aligning the national team with the North Sea approach. My goal was to create self-sufficient support functions and meet nationalisation targets, which I achieved in two years. I then returned to Aberdeen as Africa's head of operations, evolving into the role of Africa's general manager. In mid-2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, I became senior business manager for one of our managed contracts in the UK.

Please outline some of the key responsibilities that shaped your daily routine as senior business manager.

My daily routine centres on contract delivery, which involves collaborating with support functions, financial forecasting, and reporting to achieve shared goals with both Altrad Sparrows and our clients. Customer satisfaction, continuous improvement, and the application of lessons learned are key aspects of my role. As Altrad Sparrows is a service-oriented company, I am very hands-on with contract delivery, focusing on developing, nurturing, and empowering the support team to meet and exceed clients’ expectations. Each day is different, with unexpected changes often arising, but I find excitement in fault-finding and problem-solving, striving for optimal solutions that maximise uptime and reliability. Most importantly, safety is paramount in all that we do, and this will always be a primary driver.

Over your journey at Altrad Sparrows, could you tell us about one challenging project you were involved in and the factors that made it particularly demanding?

While it's challenging to pinpoint a single project, working overseas came with numerous challenges. Beyond cultural and language barriers, adapting to regional client demands was another difficulty. My business knowledge and the strong support from our team and experts helped me navigate these complexities. This 'lean on the team' mindset continues to guide me in my current role.

Last but not least, how would you sum up your expertise?

Broad! My career at the company has been diverse, offering various roles that have helped me gain valuable experiences and skills. My previous positions have prepared me well, and I continue to learn something new each week. Over my time here, I have had multiple touch points both domestically and internationally, each coming with a diverse range of challenges, which has allowed me to develop a wide range of skills, that I continue to build upon. I am always very keen to share these with others. Altrad Sparrows has been the springboard to my career, and I am keen to give back to those starting out, or even well along their journey with the business.

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