In this month’s member profile, we speak to former Marine and founder of Ventus Workboats, Matt Lane, about the transition from military to civilian life, the evolution of his business, and new opportunities for workboats in offshore wind.
You established Ventus Workboats in 2014. Can you tell us a bit more about the background of the business?
Of course – although I may have to tell you a little of my personal story, to do so. Having been around boats and the ocean all my life – from canoeing and rowing off Deal beach where I grew up to the Sea Scouts – I left home at 16 to join the Royal Marines and subsequently the RM’s Maritime & Amphibious Operations Specialists, the Landing Craft branch.
I spent 14 years at sea while serving my country and towards the end of my time in the Marines I started doing some consultancy work. This was with the military division of the marine services company CTruk, and with CWind – both set up by my friend Andy White. CWind provides support to the offshore wind sector.
Having left the Marines, I was looking for the next challenge and the opportunity came up to buy a half-share in the vessel CWind Sword, a 22-metre Multi-Purpose Catamaran (MPC). So I went into business with long-standing, fellow ex-Marine friends Matthew Woodley and Lee Price – and that was the start of Ventus.
How has the business evolved since its establishment? Has your focus shifted at all?
Well, what we do now is a world away from how we started out. The turning point for us came when an international shipping company asked us to run a portion of their fleet. At this point, we evolved from a business that owned half a boat, to managing a fleet of vessels for a major commercial enterprise.
Since then we’ve continued to evolve and expand our offering; we now contract medical teams to support projects and vessels at sea, support port and coastal work as well as offshore wind, and lots more. Our primary aim is to help our clients lessen their permanent resource in the office by efficiently managing their operations.
What were the market conditions that prompted the foundation of Ventus?
It was a natural evolution from my career in the Marines and my previous work with CWind – and at the time of establishing Ventus, the industry was booming, so it was a fairly easy decision.
What is more interesting for me is the turning point, when we started managing our first fleet of vessels for a commercial enterprise, and Ventus as we know it today was formed. It was a turbulent time, of course – but we started with recognising the trades and management expertise we already had, and then looking outwards to see how we could package those for our clients. For example, offering offshore services was just a side-step from experience already gained in the Marines.
Tell us a bit about the transition from the Marines to ‘civvy street’.
I owe a lot to the Marines – it’s where I learned my trade, and it allowed me to travel the world for close to 14 years, driving, coxing, and skippering vessels ranging from light-weight vessels to 180-tonne tank-carrying landing crafts.
The transition to private business was fairly gradual thanks to working with the military division of CTruk while still serving, which gave me my first taste of consultancy work. Ventus is now fortunate to have access to a comprehensive network carried over from my previous career – I’d say around 70-80% of our direct staff and contractors are ex-forces which our clients and principals benefit from owing to our inherent cool, calm and collected natures!
A career in the forces can leave you with a lot of transferrable skills – not least a deeply instilled sense of discipline, and a willingness to work in adverse conditions.
Where do you see the greatest opportunities in the Workboat market? Are you coming up against any challenges?
The opportunities for workboats in offshore wind can’t be denied – and of course, an opportunity for our clients is an opportunity for us.
However, with Round 2 and 3 projects now going into construction, there is also an acknowledgement within the industry that the ambitious scale of these projects poses a challenge. Wind farms are moving further offshore, and this remoteness has effects such as changing the requirements for onboard medics and increasing the transfer time required for vessels.
There are even more ambitious projects in the pipeline – including floating projects and even wind farm ‘islands’ – which offer boundless opportunities for the workboat sector, but these untrodden paths are also likely to demand a lot from the industry. Vessel operators may need to build new CTVs or make adaptations to existing vessels – the ambition of the sector is there, but we still need to figure out how to achieve these goals.
Tell us about Ventus’ current projects. What is the biggest focus for you right now as a business?
We have ongoing projects in areas including the North Sea and Holland, where the work ranges from providing medics to directing refits. We also have a long-term contract to manage a fleet of vessels and their crews off the south coast of England.
Looking forward, our immediate commercial aims are growth and diversification. While continuing to focus on our core legacy clients, we want to expand our client base to match our expanding services.
Meanwhile, we also want to diversify the areas in which we work, adding to our portfolio of coastal and port, offshore vessel and logistics work. Offshore wind is certainly a growth avenue, but it is by no means the only one.
What do you value most about your membership of the NWA?
We’re moving into our second year as an NWA member now, and one of the most valuable things about our membership for us is the visibility it offers. The NWA enables us to solidify and consolidate our business – particularly as we turn our focus to the UK, having worked in Germany a lot over the last few years.
The Association is also a great lead into the MCA, and the top-level liaison it provides – for example with the recent CoCs issue – has been invaluable.
Apart from anything else, the support network – belonging to this group and being able to contribute to discussion and working groups – is great. We want to engage with, and contribute to, all that the NWA does and has to offer.
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