Yarmouth is it back in business?
08:00 12 February 2014
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2014
Back in 2007 Graham Hacon had a small, one-man office in Gorleston’s Beacon Innovation Centre but an unlimited store of energy and innovative ideas.
He fondly recalls that a fellow tenant from those early days was jack-up barge developer Blair Ainslie, who rapidly took his ideas from the drawing board to the dizzy heights of the EDP Top 100 with his company Seajacks.
Within three years Mr Hacon is confident 3sun’s turnover will be at a similar level to Seajacks’ today and proudly sees he and his friend and fellow entrepreneur as part of “a new breed in town”.
Whereas the first offshore boom had been largely driven by big, foreign-owned companies the current renaissance of Great Yarmouth was being led by “local people who want to invest in the region, spend in the region and employ workers from the region”.
Growing up in the town, the former Lynn Grove High School student has seen both the good times and the bad times but passionately believes a buoyant future lies ahead both for 3sun and the wider economy.
Recruiting 10 new employees a month on average, he predicts that in a labour intensive industry 3sun’s present workforce of 240 staff and 31 apprentices will be easily doubled by the end of March 2017 and this year’s turnover of £25m will be up to £65m.
Premises in Boundary Road, Yarmouth, opened only 14 months ago by Olympic boxer Anthony Ogogo, have already been outgrown and Mr Hacon is eying a new flagship headquarters at the cost of £3.5m.
He said: “We are looking at three possible sites, one near Seajacks at the port side, one at Beacon Park and one on privately-owned land.
“It will definitely be in Yarmouth and we will be looking to be in by April 2015.”
It is likely the whole of the Boundary Road site will then be given over to the 3sun Training Academy, the company’s skills centre set up to ensure the region is not held back by a shortage of offshore technical expertise.
In the past year the number of students passing through the 3Sun Academy – rebranded when 3sun took over Leiston-based Eastern Training Services – has increased from 30 to more than 200.
And Mr Hacon revealed that they had just secured £8.5m to further the development of training over the next three years through a bid led by National Grid to the government’s employers’ ownership of skills initiative.
Part of his passion for training comes from his own roots as Mr Hacon joined the Army from school as a military apprentice and left seven years later as a qualified instrument technician ready to begin his career in the oil and gas industry.
He said: “I worked my way up into middle management positions until 1999 when I was approached by two old chums who said, ‘we want you to set up on your own and we will provide you with work’.
“Without knowing anything about running a business I set up Specialised Management Services (SMS) and my brother Ian (who went on to become the CEO of Blue Sky Leisure) joined me in 2002.”
After selling the firm in 2004, Mr Hacon stayed on as a director for three years when he left to set up 3sun.
He said: “Originally it was just a consultancy business, with me on my own, but then old customers came to me and said, ‘things are not the same without you being around’.
“I could not compete with SMS for the first year so I just concentrated on renewables.”
The father of three sons – “that’s the reason behind the company’s name, I could not use 3sons as the domaine name had gone” – has since diversified the company’s services across the sector.
Adding to its core business of providing products and services to the top side of oil and gas platforms, 3sun entered the subsea market when it acquired subseas control systems manufacturer RRC Controls Services last year.
The firm also offers an impressive range of services to the wind farm sector, both on and offshore, and is a renowned operator in offshore inspection.
“All our inspection personnel are trained by the original equipment manufacturers and are all multi-skilled,” said Mr Hacon.
The training academy has also become an important division of the company, growing its turnover from £150,000 to £500,000 since moving to Yarmouth a year ago.
Still only 46 himself, Mr Hacon wants tomorrow’s potential young offshore workers to realise the rapid progress that can be made in the sector.
To help establish the academy as a truly national base for offshore training he is considering the purchase and refurbishment of old guesthouses in the town as accommodation for clients on courses to overcome the shortage of hotel space.
Seeing healthy growth across the company and “exponential” growth in offshore wind – both turbine installation and operations and maintenance - he predicts the jobs will keep on coming.
He said: “There are already 2000 offshore wind turbines built or under construction in our target markets of the UK, Germany or Denmark compared to 350 oil and gas platforms in UK waters - and the revenue potential of each of those turbines is equivalent to an oil or gas platform.”
3sun already has branches in Germany and Denmark and Mr Hacon sees Yarmouth’s enviable offshore skills as highly exportable.
Closer to home, he is confident the region – including Yarmouth’s outer harbour – will benefit from the construction of the next wave of wind farms, Dudgeon off Cromer and Galloper off Lowestoft, and is well placed for round three, including the giant East Anglia Array, after that.
Praising the support of his wife Leonie – “she has been in every business I have had” – Mr Hacon summed up the secret to 3sun’s success as “listening to the needs and problems of customers and then moving very quickly to provide a solution”.
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