Spring 1997 (5.1)
Susan Crouch, a Managing Director of Spearhead Exhibitions, has been one of the primary driving forces for the Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibitions and Conferences that have taken place in Baku annualy since 1994. With the 1997 Exhibition soon approaching (June 3-7), we wanted to know her impressions of how this event has developed over the years.
You'll be holding your fourth exhibition this year in Baku. So much has happened over these past few years. How did it all begin?
Not many people know that we actually started preparing for the Caspian Oil and Gas Exhibitions in 1985. At that time, everyone in the oil and gas industry was aware that the Caspian had great potential. Nevertheless, it was still too early. But we decided to go to Moscow anyway to check out the situation and were able to obtain the floor plans of the Exhibition Center in Baku. But it was clearly too early, both politically and practically. We would have to wait. So I stored the floor plans in a file. In the meantime, I kept trying to find out more about this region.
In 1992, a year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, BP and Statoil of Norway decided to form an alliance to work together in Azerbaijan. Their union made a global impact, and that's partly why we realized it was time to get serious about Baku again.
But the Exhibition Center had burnt down. However, we learned that Baku had built a Sports Complex, so we decided to go take a look.
I knew that we should work with the Chamber of Commerce in Baku, because that's the way things had been done during the Soviet period. Frankly, they have been superb partners. So I telexed them about my plans. Those were the days when you had to communicate via telexes-it was nigh impossible to get through on the phones. It is astonishing how quickly everything has changed. Satellite communications and facsimiles have become routine these days.
On that first trip to Baku in January 1993, I was accompanied by our Technical Director, Bryan Weavers. The weather was cold, rainy and snowy. The Chamber met us at the airport. I said that I understood that there was a Sports Complex in Baku and wondered if we could visit it. "Yes, we can," was the reply. And the rest is history. We had dinner together our first evening, and the friendship was cemented. We developed a strong rapport right from the beginning. Then in May, we returned again to seek permission from the President of Azerbaijan. He fully agreed with our initiative.
That was it. Well, of course, the logistics weren't quite that simple. But we managed to pull off the first show in 1994, which was attended by Tim Eggar, UK Energy Secretary. In 1995, the presence of Hazel O'Leary, U.S. Secretary of Energy, gave a big boost to the show. Then in 1996, 11 Ministers of Energy or their representatives came, which we believe is immensely important as they are the ones who will make many of the final investment decisions.
Everyone hesitated to get involved at first. A significant leap occurred after September 1994, when the "Contract of the Century" for the Azeri, Chirag and deep-water Gunashli fields was signed.
Now, AIOC (Azerbaijan International Operating Company) is developing that field and organizing subcontractors for the work. During the last two years, four other consortiums have been signed-Karabakh, Shah Deniz, Dan Ulduzu and Ashrafi, and Lankaran-Talysh.
Your exhibitions have clearly become a barometer of the economic growth and investment coming to Azerbaijan.
It used to be when you mentioned Azerbaijan, people would say, "Azerbaijan? Yes, well, sure I want to be there, but where is it?"
Our exhibition has grown from 158 participating companies in 1994 to a projected estimate of 230 for this year. We started with visitors from 25 countries, and last year had visitors from 33 countries. This will undoubtedly increase in 1997. As Natig Aliyev, President of SOCAR (State Oil Company for Azerbaijan Republic), says, "This show focuses the world's attention on Azerbaijan."
What's new for the 1997 Show?
For the first time, the Exhibition will expand to the second floor of the Sports Complex. All the space has already been sold out. New operating companies will be participating, such as JNOC (Japan National Oil Company) and Monument, a UK independent oil and gas company which is already active in Turkmenistan.
Natig Aliyev has emphasized the need to focus on practical production issues. Also, we'll have more presentations from representatives of operating companies such as BP's Mike Shearman, who presides over Shah Deniz. And we're expecting that another contract will be signed during the exhibition, just like Shah Deniz was last June.
What other projects is Spearhead involved with?
Well, Spearhead was founded in 1969, and we are an international trade show and conference organizer. Our portfolio includes energy, defense, aerospace, marine science, agriculture and infrastructure. We organize "Offshore Europe" in Aberdeen which is the biggest oil show in the world.
How do you find working with Azerbaijan at this point in time?
Azerbaijan is very different from other countries we've worked with. We were there right when the doors opened. That makes it both exciting and challenging.
We've been very fortunate to have the support of the President of Azerbaijan and his Ministers. Their continued assistance just further strengthens our resolve to succeed.
Let's be perfectly honest: we all have to earn a living. But this effort brings additional pleasure because you know it matters and that Azerbaijan has the potential to become one of the richest countries in the world.
In the end, it's the love, friendship and the intellectual stimulation that you receive when working with Azerbaijanis that is so rewarding.
It reminds me of your last issue [AI 4.4, Winter 1996, "Youth: In Search of the Future"]. It's amazing how much you've succeeded in bringing the true message about Azerbaijan to the rest of the world. I've watched your publication grow from the beginning. It's now considered absolutely essential reading for anyone serious about this country. Let's be frank. "Azerbaijan International" is a very authoritative source. As we Brits like to say, "It's smashing."
I don't think I've ever worked in a country where the people are so highly cultured, so well educated, and so steeped in history. There are so many layers of intellectual knowledge and cultural richness here that have built up over the centuries. This is an extremely vibrant country. Back in England and the U.S., we think we tolerate different races and creeds. But do we? Hell! You come here and you really see that internationalism is the policy of this country and that they genuinely tolerate every race and creed. It's deeply ingrained in the psyches of these people. At the end of the day, it's the gracious hospitality of the people with whom you work that makes all the effort so rewarding. I've never known a country like this before in my life.
From Azerbaijan International (5.1) Spring 1997.
© Azerbaijan International 1997. All rights reserved.