Q and A with Joanne Leng MBE of NOF

Industry Insights

Q and A with Joanne Leng MBE of NOF

23rd January 2023

Horizon Works is very proud to be a corporate sponsor of NOF, an organisation dedicated to building connections between businesses in the global energy sector.

So it was great to sit down this month with NOF’s chief executive, Joanne Leng MBE, to get the lowdown on her career, NOF’s evolution… and what lies ahead for the energy sector in North East England.

Talk us through your journey with NOF – what have been the key milestones?

Twenty seven years ago, I joined Northern Offshore Federation (now NOF) as an export and marketing advisor after graduating from Sunderland University with a Business and Marketing degree.

I was initially attracted to the job advert because I was drawn to the international travel aspect of the role. Unfortunately, after the interview I didn’t get the job initially, so after recovering from my disappointment and a month later, I got a call to say the first candidate hadn’t worked out and would I like the job! Well of course, I gladly accepted and I have been with the organisation ever since.

My first role involved looking at the international opportunities for our members, providing export support and organising international events and trade missions, predominately working within the offshore oil and gas industry. For the first few years, I spent most of my time traveling and leading our trade missions, which was really exciting, I got to see so many wonderful countries and to date I’ve led around 80 trade missions to places such as Nigeria, Libya, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, Canada, USA, UAE, Qatar to name but a few.

I then moved through the ranks to management and then to Director status before becoming deputy chief executive, a role I held for many years. And in January 2022, I was appointed chief executive of NOF – it was a very proud moment to have the honour of leading the business into the next stage of its development.

Looking back on your career with NOF to date, what have been your proudest moments?

There are lots of proud moments over the years, but one that stands out is the period when our diversification support for members started to reap benefits and our companies were winning work in offshore wind and nuclear: that’s when we knew all of our hard work was paying off.

Another highlight from a business perspective was when we went from being heavily reliant on public sector funding to the point where we became financially sustainable in our own right in 2012. That was a step change for the business and it meant we had become masters of our own destiny and could focus and react to exactly what our members needed from us

From a personal perspective, in 2010 I was awarded an MBE for services to the offshore industry. I remember the day the letter dropped onto my doormat – I was actually convinced it was spam!

The Coronavirus pandemic was a challenge for all industry networks and membership organisations. How did NOF respond to it?

We worked extremely hard to keep our members connected, albeit virtually during the pandemic.

In December 2020 we delivered our Offshore Wind North East Conference and Exhibition virtually, which was the only option. We carefully chose the right event platform to use for the event and I am pleased to say it was a huge success. Don’t get me wrong though, I am a huge advocate of face to face networking and in person events, and NOF is most definitely back on this pathway.

During the pandemic, we also launched our Offshore Wind Projects Database: this was a major achievement to launch a new service in such challenging circumstances, especially when companies were keeping the purse strings tight.

What did NOF achieve in 2022 – what were the highlights?

Getting back to face-to-face events was simply the best – and we had some amazing attendance figures, there was a huge appetite for our network to get back together

2022 also saw us continuing to role out our strategy to support members in diversifying into other energy sectors, including the emerging carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen industries. Our five key sectors now include the two above, in addition to our traditional offshore oil & gas, offshore wind and nuclear sectors.

In addition, over the last two years, we’ve started to roll out a new business model. NOF now contracts directly with some of industry’s big players including BP, Equinor, SSE and RWE to support them with their supply chain engagement activities on major projects. That’s a very different business model for trade organisations in our space and we have managed to implement this very successfully. These activities give our members and the wider UK supply chain access to business opportunities.

Demand for NOF services is growing as is our membership, our business growth has enabled us to take on five new members of staff since last year, which is fantastic, and we are currently recruiting for an events marketing manager to strengthen our team even further. The NOF team are all absolute stars, they work hard every single day to support members and they definitely go the extra mile

What do you think 2023 will bring?

The future is looking bright for NOF and our members. We will continue to deliver outstanding business development support and we have plans to enhance our offering to industry. Watch this space!

From your perspective, what have been the key developments in the energy sector during your time with NOF?

When NOF began life in 1988, the industry focus was purely on offshore oil and gas, and we were subjected to the highs and lows of the oil and gas industry due to its cyclical nature around projects and the fluctuations of the cost of a barrel. Today the energy sector is much more diverse and there is a multitude of projects and investments across the industry which supply chain companies can be involved in, evening out the opportunities pipeline.

It’s a whole different ballgame in 2023. Diversification support remains so important, now more than ever as what the UK needs is an integrated energy sector supply chain and companies which are capable of suppling into multiple energy sectors as and when the demand determines.

Although NOF is a national organisation based in North East England, it also owns and operates Energi Coast, North East England’s offshore wind cluster. What makes for a successful offshore wind cluster… and why is it important?

The key ingredient to the development of any cluster is “energy”. The energy behind the companies involved and more importantly, the energy from the individuals who are the ambassadors who carry the message on behalf of the cluster.

As effective cluster relies on collaboration, partnership and the ability to speak as one voice for the region. So, let’s say we have a member from North East England who is talking to a client in offshore wind about a project – it’s becoming second nature for them to mention fellow members from the region in their conversations.

There are eight offshore wind clusters in the UK and I feel Energi Coast is the leading cluster when it comes to moving the industry forward. In Dogger Bank Wind Farm and Sofia Offshore Wind Farm, we have two world class offshore wind farms on our doorstep, plus numerous other high-profile projects in play in the region and we must capitalize on these local opportunities.

Energi Coast was set up in 2011 so it is a very well-established cluster and we have years of experience behind us now. The companies in this cluster have contributed significantly to the development of many global offshore wind projects, our footprint isn’t just here in the region or indeed the UK.

But we must keep the momentum going, by ensuring that we keep offshore wind in the minds of the supply chain and all relevant stakeholders, promoting the need for as much regional and UK content as possible.

How do you think Energi Coast will develop in coming years?

Going forward, it’s not just about maintaining that momentum, it’s about being mindful of industry developments such as the potential for floating offshore wind and green hydrogen, positioning the supply chain so we are at the forefront of industry

Innovation is key. We’re looking at robotics, automation, digitalization, electrification etc… the region is leading the way in a number of these areas.

And it’s fantastic that we have the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in the region, which supports companies with R&D and supporting their growth plans in offshore wind.

The Offshore Wind North East Conference & Exhibition is taking place again this year on November 8-9 at The Beacon Of Light in Sunderland. It seems to be going from strength to strength…

Yes, that’s right! 2022 was a record year for Offshore Wind North East with more than 900 delegates and 130 exhibitors, 56 speakers and 24 sponsors, it is now a firm fixture on the energy events calendar. Someone said it is now an event of national importance in a pioneering offshore wind region of the UK

And it looks like this year’s Offshore Wind North East will be even bigger and better: we have already sold more than half of the exhibition stands and there is a lot of interest in the event from sponsors.

Even if your company is only just starting to look at offshore wind, I would urge you to come along and listen to the presentations about the projects and take part in all of the great networking that happens over the two days. Make sure you speak to the NOF team when you are there to get a feel for how we can help you do more in this exciting sector.

Why should a company join NOF? How would they benefit from membership?

One of the main ways we help companies is by supporting them with business development. Put simply, we facilitate introductions, we make important connections, we raise your profile, we bring the supply chain together to network and we keep you informed of projects and specific supply chain opportunities.

In addition, if a business is diversifying and entering a new sector, we can help them understand what the supply chain structure is, who the clients are and an insight into projects. The help exists, get in touch and let us support your business!

NOF works on behalf its members and its network of partners to put companies of all sizes in touch with the best and most innovative supply chain businesses in the UK.

For more information on NOF and its vibrant events programme, visit www.nof.co.uk