Steven Noske - Founder and Owner, Ausoco Energy Management

Steven Noske grew up and was educated in Melbourne, Australia.  He completed his secondary schooling at Haileybury College and achieved a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with Honours from the University of Melbourne in 1985. Mr. Noske entered the energy industry as a graduate engineer for Woodside Petroleum which was the commencement of a long and successful career in energy, specifically oil and gas. Mr. Noske has lived and traveled widely arising from several varied roles that have included working with Shell International in Brunei for three years and in Malaysia for two years, and in Jakarta, Indonesia for two years working with BHP Petroleum. Mr. Noske was founder of consultancy Ausoco Energy Management which provides services to many clients including Mitsui Exploration & Production Australia, an equity owner of Texas LNG, and to other major energy companies.

Steven Noske has held senior executive positions with a company exploring for hydrocarbons in the Republic of the Seychelles and can offer client expertise in this area.  He has also headed the APA group in Western Australia, which is currently subject to a take over offer from CK Infrastructure Hong Kong (CKI).  CKI have indicated that they intend to sell the APA Western Australia assets if the takeover offer is successful. Mr. Noske has provided consulting services to organisations looking to get an insight into the CKI takeover and the APA Western Australian assets.

Currently, Steven Noske lives in Perth, Western Australia with his wife of 25 years and his two children.  He is currently working with investors looking to source good quality energy projects and has been instrumental in securing a minor equity stake in Texas LNG.

How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?

I think everyone needs to understand that education is one of the most important aspects of success.  Any young person looking to succeed in business needs to secure a university degree at a minimum in my view.  So, for me it was the benefits of a good engineering degree that got me started in the energy business with Woodside Petroleum.  It is then very important that a professional gets a good “grounding”, meaning that he or she spend 5 to 7 years building up quality experience at quality companies.  I was lucky enough to be able to grow my earlier career with experience working with Woodside Energy and Shell International.  The opportunity to create a consulting business only arose after reaching a level of confidence in one’s ability to add value to a client meaning you have acquired good experience and that you are able to translate this experience into value adding work for your clients.

Most people believe they can create a business around hydrocarbons.  We all seem to believe that the technical expertise we have acquired in our careers naturally translates to being able to create a successful business.  For me it was only after having good exposure to the capital markets that I was able to fully understand the challenges and pitfalls that surround making a good idea into a successful start-up.  It was my long experience in the energy industry coupled with my exposure to leading organizations in tough capital markets that has given me the skills and desire to take opportunities into new businesses.  Most recently I was able to bring equity into the Texas LNG Project into a small international company where I am providing ongoing consulting services to help them to grow.

How do you make money?

I would always say to anyone young starting out in business not to focus on “making money” because gaining first class experience is the most important part of a career.   Working in great organizations that pay you a good salary is all one should look for early in one’s career.  For me I remember thinking that I would “make money” by working overseas and whilst the expatriate opportunities that come to you by working in the hydrocarbon industry are great, you tend to spend what you earn. So, whilst I got great pay it really just gave me great life and career experiences and I didn’t make much money.

For now, I make money advising my clients.  I am always keeping an eye out for an opportunity to build another company, so we’ll see what the future holds.

How long did it take for you to become profitable?

The way I would like to answer this is to say that the most important part of making a company successful is to get client willing to pay you well for your experience.  So, for me it didn’t take very long at all to get my first clients.  In fact, the impetus for creating Ausoco Pty Ltd was that I had the offer from a client to look at the south east Australian domestic gas market.

When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

As one’s experience grows there comes a “point of inflexion” where, as a professional, you go from learning to being able to use your experience to provide directions, ideas and leadership.  It is making the jump across this point of inflexion that is the most challenging.  It’s not until you have taken the leap, thrown yourself headlong into a client’s problems and then been able to assist the client that you truly have confidence in your abilities.  I remember a very large company that asked me to do a study from scratch on the benefits of manning a previously unmanned offshore production facility.  I arrived at the client’s offices overseas with my knowledge and laptop.  After six weeks interrogating the client’s data and systems I was able to deliver a report and presentation to senior management.  The report was well received with the comment “how did he get to know so much about our operations in six weeks?”

When one doubts his own abilities, my advice is to trust in your experience, work through the challenges and act with confidence.  You’ll be surprised just how much you truly know and the value you can add to client’s businesses.

How did you get your first customer?

The first customer is a milestone in any business and you often see that first $1 note framed on the wall is many small business offices.  In Energy consulting it’s no different. The first client is an important launch pad for any business.  My first client happened to be Woodside Energy and we were asked to undertake a study on forecasting south east Australia domestic gas supply, demand and pricing.  That was many years ago and the client came from a personal relationship I had within the organisation.  Often it is the networks one has and the relationship one has developed that lead to business opportunity.  That first client and the study I did provided a launching pad into a focus on south east Australian energy and that expertise has been continually updated, new studies actioned for clients and it remains a personal area of interest.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

Whilst I mentioned above that networks and personal relationships are most important in generating business opportunities, I have found that mixing external consulting with internal consulting is a great way of generating new business.  By this I mean, external consulting is when you parachute into a client’s office for a short period or undertake an assignment from your own premises.  By internal consulting I mean working in the client’s offices as part of the client’s team for a medium/long term.  The benefits of the “internal consulting” is that wide opportunities present themselves over time.  Some of these are with the client you are working with, others are with the client’s partners or other industry organisations that become evident as time marches on.

Quite often, being an internal consulted, provides opportunities that can be services by others within my consulting network.  As an example, when working with a client’s organisation preparing for a new gas plant to come into operations, a need for expert advice in mercury handling was needed.  My consultancy was able to service this need through establishing a relationship with an expert based overseas.  The consultancy had an expertise in mercury handling and was able to provide services in this are widely across the industry over time.

What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?

Recently I advised a client on the sale of equity in an onshore US liquified natural gas (“LNG”) project. I had a good personal relationship with one of the other equity holders in the project.  I managed to introduce a buyer of the equity into the project but was met with a level of unprofessional hostility and demands from the other shareholder with whom I believed I had a personal friendship.

I was faced with the choice of continuing to professional advise and support my client at the expense of a long friendship.  In business you must be able to separate business from friendships.  One may go into a deal and negotiate hard and with integrity, but you should be able to share a laugh with your business adversaries socially.  Unfortunately, my friend was not able to separate his business objectives from our friendship.  I made the tough choice to put the friendship at risk in order to continue to properly service my client.  In all likelihood, the friendship will (or already has) come to an end.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

All too often capitalist society defines success as “what you do”, “how far have you got in your career”, or “how much you get paid” and even how important they perceive you are.  We can say a Fortune 500 CEO is successful even if he’s on his fourth marriage and has children that will not speak to him or are struggling to fit into society.  So, what makes me successful?  I would say undoubtedly it is the fact that I have a lovely wife of 25 years and two grown children who have made their mum and dad proud and, oh, by the way, I’ve managed to build an enjoyable and successful career in the Energy industry!

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

That is a very tough question because my business career has been over a very long time: 30 years and counting! The one “moment” that stands out was where I was advising a Japanese client about an acquisition opportunity in the Queensland coal seam methane space.  The due diligence team I was leading had concluded that the deal was marginal and that it was not worthy of proceeding.  I took a view that, whilst the numbers were marginal, the strategic positioning and learning opportunities acquisition of the assets presented, tipped the balance in favor of the acquisition.  I recommended the acquisition and the client accepted this recommendation.  The acquisition proved to be a positive contributor to the overall business.

What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?

We have seen the oil price fluctuate from a high of USD142/bbl in July 2008 to a low of USD30/bbl in January 2016.  We are now seeing the price trend upwards and it is now around USD70/bbl.  This fluctuation has seen the industry essentially stop exploring and look to “clean house” by discarding assets that no longer made sense during 2016.  What I see now is an endless opportunity for the countercyclical business to position itself with quality assets and growth opportunities.  Image above is from macrotrends.net

I’ll give you an example; LNG demand dropped during the downturn linked to the GFC.  Process is generally linked to the oil price and so LNG pricing was down.  Low demand and low pricing meant that new development was not actioned.  In the USA there is an abundance of low price gas that is produced (almost as a by-product) of oil production.  Those countercyclical organisations saw an opportunity to position businesses to produce LNG from US gas.  Now LNG demand is likely to exceed supply by 2021 and it those businesses that positioned themselves in 2016 to be able to build new LNG production that is now well positioned.

What excites me is the opportunity now presenting itself widely across the oil & gas industry.  I am also excited by Texas LNG that was one of these countercyclical businesses now well positioned.  Recently I advised a client to buy equity in the Texas LNG project and I continue to advise this client.  I am excited about the future of this investment.

What business books have inspired you?

The book that comes to mind is “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson.  The book helped me to understand that uninteresting and stressful elements of one’s life just are not important and there is nothing wrong with just ignoring these.  By getting to a position where you can comfortably ignore the small stuff it allows much more time to be focused on those important things in your personal and business life.

Another great book is the “4 Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss.  It is along the same lines as “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” and it too tries to give you advice on how to put aside those smaller items to give you more time to do what is important.

A great example is how many of us religiously go to our mailbox daily, collect the mail, open it, think about it, put it down and then pick it up and do something with it?  Why when almost all mail doesn’t need to be actioned daily.  Why not get yourself a post office box?  Go to your mailbox once every two weeks and deal with your mail during one sitting once every two weeks rather than the daily habit we are all in.

What is a recent purchase you have made that helped with your business?

I recently bought the Huawei MateBook X Pro after many years of relying on my trusty Apple Macbook Pro.  The performance of this new machine is simply great and whilst my old Apple had served me well, over the years the technology became clunky.  Having great IT equipment that seamlessly connects with one’s phone and other equipment is important.  A cloud-based storage system is also important to allow one to travel with his business information available to him anywhere.

What is the one thing you would advise someone starting out in business?

Creating a successful business is tough.  You may be trying to create a small business or run a larger business listed on the stock exchange.  Being successful in the eyes of your stakeholders is tough.  For the small businessman, often the stakeholder is your family that need income to support themselves and they also want you at home and not always working.  A tough measure of success.  For a business listed on a stock market, it is usually your shareholders that want the share price to rise in order for them to consider you successful.

So, if one is starting out in business I say to them, make sure you know and understand the measures of success.  Once these are understood then ensure you have well-structured plans in place to deliver on this expectation.

You can learn more and follow Steven on medium.com and stevennoske.com

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