BINTULU: Peru Balan Ding moved to Bintulu in 1984 to be a banker, but in an ironic twist of fate, he found himself venturing into the oil and gas industry a few years later.
He took a leap of faith in the early 90s by quitting his job of eight years in the bank and ventured into O&G.
He founded Persafe Engineering Sdn Bhd in 1995. In the early years, Peru said he and his late brother Felix George struggled to keep the business going as they have no previous experience in running a business.
But by sheer hard work and discipline, they manage to build Persafe into one of most successful indigenous Bumiputera oil and gas company in Malaysia today, with a staff strength of more than 600 people.
Its core businesses are in integrated facilities maintenance (IFM) service and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC). With a current order book of about RM800 million, Persafe is riding high and seemingly resilient to the prolonged global oil price turbulence.
Also, Persafe is one of the very few Sarawak’s company involved in the construction of Malaysia’s mega petrochemical project in Johor. Together with its partners, Persafe is constructing eight units of sphere tanks at the Steam Cracker Complex (SCC) of the multi-billion ringgit Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development Project (RAPID) at Pengerang, Johor.
According to Peru, the contract to build the sphere tanks was awarded by Toyo Engineering to a consortium comprising Toyo Kanetsu Japan, Toyo Kanetsu Malaysia and Persafe.
“Persafe is the license holder for American Society of Mechanical Engineers U2 stamp (ASME U2) and DOSH Unfired Pressure Vessel (UPV) needed for this contract,” Peru explained.
He added that Persafe has deployed 60 staff comprising project managers, welders, fitters and scaffolders to work on the project.
“We are in partnership with Toyo Kanetsu in tank system for both domestic and international market…we specialise in the construction of floating roof tank, cone roof tank, dome roof tank, low temperature tank, spherical gas holder tank, cryogenic tank and other storage tanks,” added Peru, who is the chairman and managing director of Persafe Engineering in a recent exclusive interview with Borneo Post at his office in Bintulu.
Apart from that, Persafe also has expertise in total plant engineering, erection and installation work as well as piping and instrumentation works.
Throughout its existence, the company has successfully delivered numerous projects in tank repair, maintenance and constructions, plant turnaround, mechanical and piping, and civil construction works.
Notable achievements include the construction of storage tanks for LNG projects in Malaysia as well as well sites and wharves for oil exploration companies operating in Malaysian waters.
Persafe has an impressive list of clientele who include Petronas Carigali, Malaysia LNG Group of Companies, Asean Bintulu Feritiliser Sdn Bhd, Sarawak Shell Bhd and Shell SMDS.
With a mantra “Deliver-in-full-on-time-in-spec”, Persafe is hoping to scale new heights in the coming years including venturing into offshore oil and gas projects, growing its construction business as well as diversifying into plantation sector.
The Borneo Post spoke with Peru on his experience starting Persafe from scratch and where he plans to take the company next:
Q: How did Persafe started and how has the journey been so far?
Peru: I came to Bintulu in 1984 to work in a bank. I was working in Brunei when my cousin rang up and told me about a vacancy in a bank. I came all the way to Bintulu, applied for job and got it.
After almost eight years with the bank, I left and ventured into oil & gas industry. I wanted to become a professional safety officer in the oil and gas industry, so I put up a plan for myself to qualify as a safety officer within 18 months. I did it.
Instead of pursuing a career in health, safety and environment (HSE) I decided to go into O&G – It took several years for me to really understand business before I finally made up my mind to pursue this path.
One of the reasons for this to happen was the assistance we got from Petronas subsidiaries – Petronas Carigali and MLNG. There were many contractors in Bintulu who engage small entrepreneurs like us for simple jobs like manpower supply and scaffolding work. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q: What is the first job you got from Petronas?
Peru: By the time we got our Standardised work and Equipment Categories (SWEC) from Petronas, we have already significantly invested in a few other support services such as scaffolding work, blast and painting and manpower supply.
Q: As a service provider to Petronas, how have Petronas helped you to develop your capability?
Peru: We definitely owe our success to Petronas. We learnt a lot from them. We emulate Petronas working culture, management system and safety standard. We have taken our HSE standard to a new level.
Operationally, we continuously challenge ourselves to improve our in-house capability. That’s why we are buying our own equipment and machineries.
We are committed to growing our capability so that we will continue to be a reliable, efficient and capable partner to Petronas and other multinational oil & gas players. Everything we learnt from Petronas, we try to take it to a different level.
Recently, Petronas awarded us a contract to build tank in Kertih, Terengganu. We competed at national level for this contract and we won it. We view this award as a recognition of our capability and a testimony that a Sarawakian company can be as good as its local and international peers.
Q: What is the future direction of Persafe?
Peru: For us, we are looking forward to get involve in offshore work. That would be our ultimate journey. We see ourselves as the next generation of O&G players who will eventually take over the role of other bigger companies who will move on to take up bigger jobs such as EPCC projects in the oil and gas sector. We believe we are ready to take on the offshore jobs.
Q: How many staff did your company have when it first started?
Peru: The nature of business that we have is labour-intensive. The scaffolding work definitely need a lot of manpower. So we started with about 30 employees and today we have more than 600 employees scattered all over Malaysia – Terengganu (tank maintenance in Kerteh), Malacca (PPSM), Johor (RAPID) and Sarawak (MLNG and Shell).
Q: what is the biggest challenge faced by Persafe so far?
Peru: Our biggest challenge now is to get support from local contractors in Bintulu. Becase of that, we have to develop our own strength and capabilities so that we will not be over-dependent on sub-contractors. We are almost 100 per cent self-reliant today.
Q: What are your company’s key achievement so far?
Peru: Locally, I won the “Sarawak Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2015. It was awarded by Sarawak Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI). Internationally, Persafe was awarded the International Construction Award 2016 by the Global Trade Leaders’ Club at a ceremony in Madrid, Spain. We also won numerous HSE awards from Petronas, Shell and the Malaysian Society of Safety & Health (MSOSH). We have excellent HSE record.
In project delivery, we have delivered many projects ahead of schedule for Petronas. When we were hired by Shell to provide maintenance and repair services at the Bintulu Integrated Facility – the facility is now owned by Petronas – from Oct 2007 to Nov 2014, we delivered four maintenance and shutdown projects ahead of schedule.
Q: How do you plan to ride the current downturn in the O&G industry?
Peru: We are definitely worried. We are now experiencing decline in our revenue due to the low oil price. We are also worried about the long term impact of the prevailing low oil price. We have to use our strength to ride the storm.
This is why we are diversifying our business into construction and plantation. But the O&G business will remain the mainstay of our business. It will remain as our flagship division.
Q: Can you tell us about Persafe’s future prospect and growth plan?
Peru: The potential impact of the current downturn on our growth plan is still not clear at this moment. If the low price environment stays for much longer, then at some stage we will be forced to optimise our cost and take other necessary measures to ensure we remain in business and for the company to remain profitable.