Executive Interviews

Aaron Howell, Managing Director, Head of Oil & Gas, Asia, Rothschild

4 January 2016


What are your strategic priorities and growth targets for the next 12-24 months?

We have always taken a long-term view of our client needs; evolving their strategy and enabling its execution, we do not focus on quarterly or annual deal related metrics. As the macro-environment has moved, we have moved with it, however our core focus of impartially advising our clients over the long-term has not changed.


Where do you see the greatest opportunity in the O&G market and how are you positioned to capture this opportunity?

Generally we observe client needs across the region, making it difficult to isolate certain markets, that said, we do see scope for significant activity within Indonesia, Thailand and Papua New Guinea. More broadly we see real opportunity for a mid-sized E&P company to be created within the region, or formed as a result of aggregation. We are also focused on the relationship of the industry with the NOCs, lower oil prices offer the opportunity for this partnership to evolve. We continue to maintain relationships with all industry participants across the spectrum; from our base in Singapore we have on-ground presence in most countries within region.


What do you foresee as the greatest challenge to our industry’s future growth?

Forgetting, or allowing demands for dividends to distract our attention, from the reality that “E&P” starts with “E”. More broadly the availability of money with a risk appetite. As regulations tighten, the LNG market commoditises, and we struggle to manage the cost and complexity of the business it becomes increasingly difficult to marry the money with projects.


These are tough market conditions with depressed oil prices and global reductions in capex and workforce, what measures and practices are you putting in place to adapt to this new (but not unknown) working environment?

Increasingly our advisory practice will focus on re-structuring and re-financing, so as to manage the immediate needs. Mergers, Acquisitions & Divestments remain a core part of our business; this environment requires a thoughtful advisor who understands market participants, company strategy, valuation and the dynamic of deal closure at low oil prices. Confidential advisory mandates, assistance on strategy, working through a client’s imminent funding needs towards effective re-structuring enabling longer-term growth. In other words, staying very close to our clients, taking a long-term view of what needs to be achieved and drawing on experience from previous low oil price cycles.


If you could wave a magic wand over the global industry, what would you change and why?

Perception and appreciation. Energy is mission critical to our society; our industry is a leader in innovation, technology and safety, at times the few bad examples taint an otherwise leading industry.


How would you describe your company in one sentence to a new investor/client?

We are a dedicated advisory only firm with deep experience in the oil & gas industry; we deploy impartial advice and industry / market insights to develop and deliver the strategic objectives of our clients.


You are attending our 2016 Asia Pacific Assembly, what is your goal at this event and what take-away(s) do you want attendees to go home with regarding your company and your work in Asia Pacific?

This is an excellent networking opportunity and forum to exchange views and thoughts on the industry in general. I hope to catch-up with old friends and meet new ones; potentially line up deals, at the very least bring people and opportunities together. I do hope that attendees leave with the recognition that the Rothschild Advisory business is an active and informed member of the Asia Pacific Oil & Gas community.


How did you come to be in the O&G industry?

It was not planned, a random campus recruitment poster invited applications to attend the “Shell Assessment Centre”; I was genuinely impressed by the rigour and scope of the assessment, so much so that I determined that this was the industry for me.


What is your proudest work-related achievement to date?

When a client, occasionally, offers the feedback – “you have always advised us honestly”.


What one businessman/woman do you most admire and why?

Mr. Martin Lovegrove. I commenced my advisory/banking career with Martin, he was an outstanding teacher and mentor who amongst other strengths truly understood the people and psychological aspects of our business.


What was the wisest advice you received from a mentor?

From my 10 years at Shell; the refrain “Honesty, Integrity and Respect for People” still resonates strongly. In my advisory career; “Deals are made between people, not companies”.

What advice would you pass onto a recent graduate embarking on a career in O&G?

Be curious, ask questions, don’t be afraid to innovate, seize the opportunity to travel.


How and where do you prefer to spend your spare time?

Off-road touring / camping in Australia.


What is your all-time favourite book?

The Fountain Head by Ayn Rand


What is your all-time favourite film?

Contempt (“Le mépris”)


What three items would you take with you to a desert island?

Keeping with family tradition, no less than Thurston managed to take on his 3 hour island tour...

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