Under the surface with: Greg Raaff CEO of Subtech
Find out how Subtech came to be part of James Fisher and Sons.
When South African diving company Subtech was looking for potential investors to take the company to the next level, its CEO led it towards James Fisher. We ask him all about it.
Tell us how the merger happened?
We started looking for an investor over a year ago as we felt more capital would help the company develop and grow. At that stage we weren’t looking to be acquired, but James Fisher (JF) put forward an interesting model - supporting us financially if, in return, we could capitalise on our reputation and contacts in this part of the world to provide a shop front for the many other James Fisher services in Southern Africa.
What is it about James Fisher that appeals to you?
It was a very comfortable fit from the start. The JF company DNA fits perfectly with ours, and we felt an instant affinity with each other. We visited the UK to see other JF group companies [such as Fendercare and Divex (now part of JFD)] and get a feel for what really happens when you sell your private company into a big group like JF and was hugely reassured to see the original company owners and their teams still in place, working to grow their company as well as the group. James Fisher has a very select set of companies, all of which are at the top of their fields internationally. We are proud to be working alongside them and hopefully, they will be proud to work alongside us.
Tell us about Subtech.
We are a group of companies offering different diving support services across the African continent from Namibia to South Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius and also Angola. Although our HQ is in Durban, we have operational bases in Walvis Bay, Cape Town, Maputo, Beira, Nacala, Pemba, and Dar es Salaam.
There are very few operators like us here in South Africa so we have had to become a full service provider for our clients, offering pretty much anything they require. This means Subtech has become very diversified and well respected. We are taking the lead in the gas market in East Africa, and salvage is a big area for us. In fact, we are hoping our salvage, diving, and oil and gas experience will give us a huge advantage when decommissioning starts to become a requirement. Our teams were involved in the clean up of the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005 so we have plenty of useful decommissioning experience under our belts.
What impact will joining the James Fisher family have for Subtech?
It is very exciting to be part of a larger marine services group now and our knowledge and experience in this area makes us an efficient vehicle for James Fisher’s wider range of products and services in this region.
The financial investment has enabled us to acquire more kit, which means we can take on jobs we might not have been able to manage before.
We have already noticed the impact of JF’s great reputation and the link is having a positive impact on our clients. South Africa is a highly volatile market and the politics can affect the steady flow of work, but our clients seem to like the security we can now offer as part of a bigger group and they seem more willing to take risks with us that they might not have done before. The whole Subtech team is very excited to be part of the JF group – this acquisition gives us a new lease of life as well as a financial safety net.
Getting to know Greg.
I joined Subtech in 2001, and took a 25% stake in the company. It was only small at the time, and my colleagues decided I should take on the CEO role. My background is engineering – I was born in Durban, grew up on a sugar cane farm in Zululand, then got a degree in civil engineering from the University of Natal in Durban. My first job was with Group 5 Civils, one of South Africa’s largest construction companies, then I moved to a specialist geotechnical engineering and construction company, Frankilpile, before joining Subtech.
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