From its headquarters in Chester, RAS Ltd provides risk management consultancy services to COMAH and high hazard establishments across the UK and further afield, delivering practical and sustainable solutions for safety, business and environmental risk management. The Chemical Industry Journal talks to Carolyn Nicholls, Operations Director of RAS Ltd about how they approach their work, and their plans for the future.
“Risk management begins with understanding, you can’t manage what you don’t understand,” says Carolyn. “What we are about is risk, helping our clients to understand risk.
“One of the greatest challenges we face is the assumption that red tape and regulation stifle innovation, but in fact, they can be very good for business. In essence, complying with regulation is good for a company’s bottom line. We help clients to understand why regulation is there in the first place, what it is trying to achieve and to recognise the benefits.”
People at the heart
As our discussion continues, it becomes apparent that RAS Ltd is a very people-orientated business. “When you work in risk it is all about people,” continues Carolyn. “As a business, people are central to everything we do, both in delivering a service to our clients and as employers.”
As employers, RAS Ltd takes a distinctive approach to their recruitment, “we see the potential in people from a wide variety of backgrounds and have graduates within our team from many different disciplines including engineering, mathematics, chemistry and geography – to name but a few.
“Traditionally those working in the process safety industry have been chemical engineers, we take a different approach looking for the right person to join our team, then giving them the training needed to develop their competencies,” continues Carolyn.
This approach to recruitment can be traced back to co-founder Andy Stanley, who quickly found that his nuclear physics background was useless unless he could communicate well with people. In looking for employees then, Carolyn focuses on finding a candidate with the right attitude and who is the right fit for their team – then trains them up.
Employing candidates from a wide variety of backgrounds is advantageous both to the company, and their clients, as issues are examined from many different perspectives. As Carolyn explains “in asking questions and in looking for answers we can cast our net wide.”
Continued professional development
Carolyn is committed to growing her team, giving them the opportunity to develop their skills in-house. As Operations Director, this is very much the path that Carolyn has followed, joining the business soon after she graduated and staying there ever since. Carolyn has now been with the business for twelve years, becoming a director after nine, now she is inspiring the next generation.
Overall, Carolyn is responsible for making sure the company runs smoothly and that the work coming in is allocated to the right people. Part of that is ensuring her team have the training and tools they need to do the job. “From the moment they start, new employees are encouraged to build their experience and develop their skills,” comments Carolyn.
A number of the team are now working towards Professional Process Safety Engineer registration with The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) – the global professional membership organisation for those working in the chemical, process and bioprocess industries.
“When we invest in our people it is brilliant on so many levels, benefitting them, benefitting us and our clients,” continues Carolyn. “We are immensely proud of the team, they have put in so much effort, and it is great to see the fruits of their labour.”
The faith the company shows in their team is repaid in loyalty and long service, with a high retention rate amongst their employees – the difficulty across the industry in finding and holding onto skilled personnel is not reflected at RAS Ltd.
Working as a team
When it comes to working with their clients, people again, are at the heart of everything they do. As Carolyn says “When we begin working with clients, we become part of the furniture, we work as one team, it is not a case of us and them.”
The high regard in which the company is held by their clients is indicated by the fact that some of their clients have been with the company since the early days – 25 years ago. Another indicator is that most of their work comes via word of mouth and personal recommendations.
“We do things because we believe in them,” comments Carolyn, “we always ask why? We don’t simply do what we are being asked to do, we will always question if what we are being asked to do is what is needed to solve the client’s problem.
“You need to really question what you are doing and why – look at the issue from different angles. This is the first thing we do when we are asked to work with an organisation.”
Building a lasting relationship with clients
It is this ethical approach to business that has led to such lasting relationships with their clients over the years. “We make sure we strongly believe what we are doing is right” says Carolyn, if the team feels that a client’s request is not in their best interests, they will always offer the most efficient and practical solutions – it is an approach that keeps clients coming back, such is their level of trust.
The RAS Ltd team is growing steadily, still nimble enough to adapt swiftly to clients’ needs, but established enough that they can deliver their services across the UK and internationally. In the 25 years since their foundation, the company has built up an impressive roll call of clients including oil companies, oil refineries, oil storage facilities, pharmaceutical companies, speciality chemical companies, the food and drink industry and major airports – helping them all to identify, assess and manage risk.
An evolving industry
Carolyn and her colleagues now stand at the forefront of the industry, taking part in working groups and presenting papers at international conferences, always developing their specialist knowledge. Traditional hazards may remain, but new hazards are emerging, the process safety industry is constantly evolving and there are always new things to learn.
When asked about the secret of their success Carolyn is decisive: “It is all about keeping people at the centre of all we do, understanding our clients’ needs and why they are asking for help. As a company, we are also nimble, and if something needs doing, we do it, on time and in budget. Knowing we will do so builds trust with our clients and gives them certainty.” To Carolyn and her team it is clear, do not offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but instead keep things personal, delivering a solution tailored to the needs of each individual client.
Looking to the future
Moving forward, 2018 is looking to be an exciting year for RAS Ltd, not only is the company celebrating their quarter century, but they are just about to present two papers at the world’s leading process safety conference Hazard28 – a rare accolade indeed. Whilst the search is on to find the next bright spark or two to join the company.