PNG’s Preferred Partner
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Tom Cullum
Wild Cat Developments Ltd (WCD) has grown from humble beginnings to become a major force in the oil-heli-rig construction and complementary mining, oil & gas, and civil engineering sectors over the past 30 years, and is now looking to leverage its comprehensive knowledge of the volatile Papua New Guinea (PNG) terrain to achieve even more concerted Company growth in the future.
Based in Mendi, Southern Highlands Province, since inception; the Company previously operating as Carson Pratt Services Ltd has thrived under its current guise since its acquisition – along with subsidiary, South West Air Ltd – by the Remington Group of Companies in 2013. Subsequently evolving from beginnings in hydrometric survey work, both Wild Cat and South West Air – established to support the Wild Cat business with fixed and rotary wing aircraft operations – have become a one-stop shop in the PNG domain, with flexibility and bespoke capabilities perfectly befitting of the country’s niche requirements.
All-told, the Company’s service remit now comprises the full range of construction and engineering assets to apply to a number of key industrial sectors in the country including road, bridge and airport construction; design and construct services; remote petroleum exploration rig site development; construction and exploration camp installation and operation; and remote area aviation operations via South West Air.
Project investigation, feasibility, and design service facilitation add further strings to the Wild Cat bow in catering for project requirements from start to finish and, in sharing 36 years of experience in the construction industry, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Tom Derby’s two decades of monitoring the country’s enormous resource potential bubble to the surface is being solidly instilled into the business’ current strategic vision.
“Our continuous improvement philosophy is essentially based on vertical integration and self-sufficiency,” he emphasises.
“Given the vast experience the Company has accumulated of PNG conditions, it has, by necessity, committed itself to a policy of sustained investment in self-sufficiency which has included diversification into the associated infrastructure essential for the continued success of its primary business objectives and the continuing localisation of positions,” the Company continues. “As a result, the Company’s field operations are underpinned by a substantial and financially sound structure of support facilities and services including a training development programme, its own fully-equipped machine shop and its own carpentry, plumbing, electrical and fabrication workshops.
“These workshops carry out the Group’s own building and maintenance requirements and, in addition, through its large mechanical workshop; the servicing and maintenance of its heavy equipment and motor vehicle fleets.”
The reasons for Wild Cat Developments’ more recent success can largely be attributed to this in-house ethos, the customisability that comes through such a structure, and the resulting diversification that has occurred in complementing its core business arms.
Strong links having been developed with related industries – including those under the South West Air banner – has allowed the Company to branch out into areas of geological, survey and seismic work, for instance; epitomising the platform that has been laid for a plethora of nationally significant contracts awarded to Wild Cat in recent years.
Derby says: “Wild Cat Developments has traditionally worked mainly in the Highlands, Gulf and Western Provinces, however we have tendered a number of projects outside of these regions in the past three years including West New Britain (where we are now working), Central, Bougainville, Madang (where we constructed two rig sites) New Ireland, Manus, Milne Bay and Morobe Provinces.
“At present, WCD is involved, with its joint venture partner, Golding Contractors, in the BRIRAP Package 2 ADB-funded bridges project in West New Britain and this should be completed around the middle of 2017. It involves the replacement of 12 bridges on the New Britain Highway. We are also bidding on other ADB-funded road projects in Southern Highlands and hope to pick up at least one; while we also hope to be involved in the K170 million Halimbu-Kelabo road project in Hela Province which is due to kick-off shortly.”
Further talks in regards to major proposed bridge projects on the Ramu highway compound this substantial influence on the PNG engineering scene and are an indictment of the overall portfolio which also embraces numerous contracts having been completed across areas of rigsite construction; the construction and operation of base camps; geological line cutting and logistical support for camp operations and seismic projects; road construction activities; bridge construction; general civil engineering works for various quarries and airports; survey works and exploration; and overseas works which may provide a glimpse into a future broadening of Wild Cat’s focus.
Derby continues: “The Company will generally concentrate on projects PNG-wide moving forward, although we would certainly be interested in looking at possibilities in other Pacific Island countries. Solomon Islands is one area we may consider in the near future.”
Being involved in some of the country’s most significant projects is a responsibility lived up to in some part through the experience and expertise enjoyed by Wild Cat in PNG, but is never taken for granted as epitomised by its continuous investment strategy and the kinds of key business partnerships entered into over the years.
A quick look at the manufacturers responsible for the equipment within the Company’s fleet sheds light to this end, with the likes of Sandvik, Caterpillar, Komatsu, Hyundai, Sumutomo, Isuzu, Nissan, Volvo, Mitsubishi, Atlas Copco, Toyota and Ingersoll Rand just a small sample of the global heavyweights driving Wild Cat’s daily operations. And as Derby emphasises, updating and upgrading these machines and processes is pivotal to facilitate the contracts being awarded to the business.
“2015 was a year of substantial expansion for the Company and significant investment was made in a new plant with quite a number of bulldozers, excavators and other more specialised items purchased. The reduced activity in 2016 has seen minimal capital expenditure with the exception of a new crushing and screening plant for our Southern Highlands operations,” he explains. “The slowdown has allowed Wild Cat Developments to focus on improving our internal systems and also to work on ISO accreditation for the Company in health & Safety, the environment and quality.
“This should be in place by the end of the year. We are also in the process of implementing Jobpac project management software and Fleetmate software systems.”
The aforementioned slowdown over the past two years – across the global industry, not just PNG – has greatly reduced the amounts of mining and exploration activity as well as the amounts of funding being spent on infrastructure in countries like PNG. However, as Derby affirms, this has allowed for the business to hone in more concertedly on internal refinements, and has been offset once again by the unparalleled diversity within the Group at large.
“Wild Cat Developments has diversified and can focus on civil infrastructure works when there are limited opportunities in oil & gas. However, a great deal of our civil infrastructure work has been with the Government and their reduced revenue makes it difficult to: one, get paid for work completed; and two, continue working on Government-funded work in the absence of any guarantee of getting paid.
“To attempt to counter this, Wild Cat Developments is pursuing work that is not directly or completely funded by the Government; for example, ADB, JICA or World Bank funded projects and/or privately funded projects. We are also working with foreign companies who have access to foreign soft loan facilities and who supply – for example – bridge structures and pavement stabilising compounds.”
With a permanent workforce of between 400 and 800 at any given time, a significant factor in the Company’s long-term success has not just been senior management’s experience in the volatile region, but the way in which this knowledge has been passed down to all levels of a well-drilled, and predominantly localised, workforce.
“Wild Cat Developments’ employment policy is to hire locally as far as possible and train our local staff in preference to hiring expensive expatriate personnel,” Derby explains. “This policy has been recently reinforced due to the current slowdown and the need to minimise overheads. Out of a current total of 400 employees we currently employ 15 expatriates and the remainder are PNG nationals.
“We are developing a graduate training programme for our national engineers and we are finding great benefit in employing new graduates directly out of Lae Unitech. We have also significantly increased the amount of training provided Company-wide in the past two years and regularly send staff to a variety of courses for administration, accounting, HSE etc; generally in Port Moresby. We also provide on-the-job training in safety and plant operations etc.”
The staff complement now existing within Wild Cat is something which the CEO attributes as a key differentiator for the business; providing the most accountable and personable element of the longevity and extensive knowledge base that drives the business forward each year.
Derby continues: “A key advantage is the can-do attitude of our staff who want to see the Company do well and evolve into a contractor of choice.
“Other advantages include our location which gives us access to the resource-rich highlands in which our clients operate; our quality and history; our clients including Oil Search, Horizon, TOTAL, Exxon, NAC, NRA and DoW; our diversity of work; and our sister Company, South West Air which gives us the ability to fast-track key materials, plants and people to site in order to respond quickly to clients’ needs.”
Ambitions for the next period of Company development include revenue growth of between 20 and 50 percent on 2015’s figures, compounded by more tailored improvements epitomised by achieving ISO certification; implementing a more mature project management system; achieving Tier 1 HSE performance; and by increasing the IT infrastructure at both Wild Cat’s headquarters and site locations.
Ultimately though, Wild Cat Developments is as driven as ever to continue a legacy in PNG that has already been 30 years in the making, while creating a sustainable future for the business off the back of its now unrivalled service and sector complement.