Bureau Veritas – A Certified Leader
Bureau Veritas is a risk assessment company providing testing inspection and certification, and in helping benchmark the standards for the industry, they are also leading the way.
Bureau Veritas began life in 1828 as one of the first ship classification societies. The company grew and evolved over time, experiencing considerable growth over the last decade, reaching 78,000 employees. Today the firm is made up of six different businesses working in certification around different industry sectors.
Of those businesses, probably the smallest is Bureau Veritas’ Marine and Offshore business, which makes up only 10% of the Group. However, it is more than pulling its weight.
“It’s quite interesting over the pandemic period we’ve probably performed the best out of the entire Group,” explains David Barrow, Vice President of Bureau Veritas. “Marine and Offshore have kept going through the pandemic with a business that needs to be done even while other sectors grind to halt. We contribute high levels of profitability to the Bureau Veritas Group. We are specifically known for our work within the gas sector both in terms of LNG vessels and also LNG as fuel.”
A Depth and Breadth of Knowledge
What the Marine and Offshore sector of Bureau Veritas can offer is the benefit of the breadth and depth of Bureau Veritas’ knowledge and expertise.
“Our expertise has a global basis, drawn from our presence in nearly every port,” Barrow tells us. “We have surveyors and key technical expertise from doing actual surveys but also through design, review and approval work. There’s a strong network across the Bureau Veritas Group, with approval offices staffed with 600 plan-approval surveyors globally. This deep expertise is combined with the ability to reach decisions quickly without having to refer back to head office all the time.”
Barrow has seen firms that rely on a culture of micromanagement to get results, but he finds Bureau Veritas a refreshing change.
“Our culture is very much one of ‘Run your business, take accountability and responsibility for it, head office is here to support you.’ It’s been a breath of fresh air for a lot of our staff,” he says.
Indeed, it is because of the independence Bureau Veritas grants its staff that Barrow was able to launch two major projects for the company, the iCARE Centre of Excellence in Singapore, and another centre in Australia.
“Our centre of excellence in Adelaide is built around the naval business. When I first joined Bureau Veritas three years ago, I looked at Australia and said, ‘That business is in decline, but I don’t understand why’,” Barrow recalls. “I went in to restructure that, brought new people in and we started to invest in the naval business. We got into a position where we found ourselves on the naval classification panel, and we were scratching our heads asking how do we grow our business from here?”
Barrow quickly decided that the traditional route of organic growth would take a long time to break in through this sector, and so he began looking at other options.
“We saw there was a lot of business with the Royal Australian Navy, so we positioned ourselves between classification societies and the big four companies in the sector,” Barrow says. “We just signed a 20-year contract for a seaworthiness programme defining risk assessment, and that’s going really well.”
The other big project Barrow has been behind is the iCARE sustainability innovation centre in Singapore.
“As we look at the whole industry the main topics are around sustainability,” Barrow says. “COP26 is going on at the moment, and there’s a lot of hot air being talked about it.”
Barrow acknowledges that the marine and offshore sector has not always been the most active on this topic.
“If you look at the shipping marine industry people have seen us as laggards in the past, and I looked at some slides I gave at a similar conference 12 years ago in Istanbul and I could have used the same slides talking about sustainability and alternative fuels today,” Barrow points out. “The industry is starting to move quicker now, but for me, there are five pillars to address as an industry to achieve 2030 and 2050 targets for zero-emissions. We need zero-carbon ships on the water, eight years from now.”
These five pillars, Barrow argues, are Technology- not just in terms of alternative fuels, but the technology and infrastructure necessary to support it, Financing, Regulation- in particular, whether regulators can keep up with the rapid adaptations the industry will need to make. Barrow does point out that the Singapore government has shown itself to be particularly adaptive in this regard. The third pillar Barrow points to is Social Stakeholders- particularly those chartering ships or large amounts of containers. He cites their ability to put pressure on shipping firms, particularly stipulating what fuel the shipper needs to use, can be a strong positive influence on the industry. Finally, most importantly, the fifth pillar Barrow names is Collaboration.
“If we don’t work together on a collaborative basis, we’ll never achieve those targets,” Barrow insists.
The iCARE (innovation centre, alternative fuels and renewable energies) Centre of Excellence in Singapore is Barrow’s effort to bring those pillars together.
“About seven months ago I was looking at how the market was starting to adapt, and nobody was bringing in the innovation we needed,” Barrow recalls. “You need to utilise innovation and technology to help us on the journey we need to go on. We started looking at that, talking to the Singapore government and asking what they were doing and what the industry wanted. Singapore is the fastest growing shipping hub globally and it will continue to grow, and we’re seeing a shift from West to East for shipping operations. Singapore strategically is the best place to be positioned.”
Bureau Veritas went on to open up an innovation and decarbonisation centre.
“I’m a clear advocate of succeeding fast and failing fast,” Barrow says. “If something is failing stop doing it and look at something else.”
Some have questioned whether the new centre can be a profitable enterprise, but Barrow has made clear that the centre is deliberately a cost centre, not a profit centre. However, it is still creating a new revenue stream through consultancy to specific stakeholders and clients, and by working in collaboration on joint development projects.
“The big advantage we have is here is we can pull on the rest of the Bureau Veritas network, and the depth and breadth of technical expertise is a competitive differentiator,” Barrow points out. “We can pull that into specific projects as and when needed.”
The project is one that already has strong foundations, but Barrow has a strong vision for a future.
“My hope is that we’ll continue to grow the resources here in Singapore. As we go forward, I envisage we’ll open iCARE centres in Shanghai and Rotterdam, coming out of the iCARE centre in Singapore.”