It’s an impressive array of crowns that graces the company logo, and there are not many other enterprises – if any – that can claim to have earned three Queen’s Awards within a mere decade of existence; within half a dozen years, in fact.
And “earned” is the operative word, says James Milne, chairman and managing director of the Aberdeen-based Balmoral Group of which this remarkable 2015 winner – Balmoral Offshore Engineering, holder of previous awards in 2010 and 2012 – is a subsidiary.
Mr Milne is at pains to stress that the winning of such a respected accolade is based firmly on real achievement. “It’s very exciting and good for the team, winning almost three times in a row,” he says. “It’s very prestigious and it does help, too, when your clients see you getting it. But you don’t win easily.
“There are strict rules and you have to prove, with facts and figures, everything you claim. It’s not just a matter of telling a lovely story and sitting back to wait for the honour. So we’re really pleased about it… again.
“It’s unusual to win as regularly as we have. We’ve just been so successful, and you don’t get there merely with competitive pricing. It’s very much hard work from the whole team at Balmoral and the resulting confidence gained among clients. They have to believe in the dependability of our products because we’re the last link in the chain. If we didn’t deliver, it could cost our customers millions.”
Employing around 300 people at the time of the Queen’s Award entry, the Balmoral Offshore Engineering division provides buoyancy, insulation and elastomer products to the oil and gas industry. These products provide uplift and protection to subsea systems used in the exploration, installation and production sectors of the deepwater industry worldwide.
“It was eight years ago that we decided to concentrate on deepwater and subsea fields, offering buoyancy products that can operate to 7,000 metres of water depth,” Mr Milne says, “and I’m happy to say we’ve been very successful in securing most of the deepwater projects around the world.”
Such as where? “Offshore China, Brazil, Ghana, India, Angola, Gulf of Mexico, Norway – mainly where the water is very deep,” James Milne says. “Such depths demand millions of pounds’ worth of investment from us as a private company – in technology, processing, engineering and technical expertise. Pressures thousands of metres down are very challenging, but we guarantee a product life expectancy of over 25 years with less than 2 per cent water ingress.”
Balmoral’s business is buoyant in more ways than one, however. The award, in the international category, is not just about innovation but also a measure of export achievement. So while there is recognition of technical cleverness – and Mr Milne enthuses about “our terrific team of experts in design engineering through research, development and testing” – it is also about hard sales far beyond Scotland’s borders. “International sales are up between 80 and 90-plus per cent in that regard,” he says.
Indeed, this technology-led company increased overseas sales on an upward trajectory by £20 million during the period 2012-14, with an attendant doubling of profits. It’s been a heck of a journey, says 74-year-old Mr Milne, whose corporate headquarters sits less than a mile from the farm where he was born.
“It’s 50 years ago this year that I decided to go on my own,” he recalls, “and left my job as an engineer to spend three years in technical and market research before starting business in my old mushroom shed designing and manufacturing glass-fibre products.”
And he still has an “onwards and upwards” attitude: “I’m never happy unless we’re knocking back the frontiers of technology daily … and doing bigger and better things for our clients than anybody else around.”
By virtue of this philosophy, Balmoral has become a strategic partner, rather than simply a supplier, to its ever-broadening customer base. “We enjoy a great name and respect in the industry,” Mr Milne says, “and you can’t buy that kind of respect; you have to earn it.”