One thing Guillaume Gautier of AXYS Technologies has learned from managing teams at a distance is - close that distance as soon as possible. “If you send an email and there’s some kind of misunderstanding, if you’ve met they’ll probably just ring you. If they haven’t, it’ll escalate before they pick up the phone.”

Guillaume Gautier: “There’s always the thought that if it fails, people could die”

Guillaume Gautier: “There’s always the thought that if it fails, people could die”

It’s a recurring theme: after doing his Masters in engineering in the prestigious Ecole Centrale de Nantes, France, he moved to Angola, and ended up involved on life extension treatments for oil and gas platforms, where he spent some time transiting by boat to meet the operating teams in person: “Luckily the water is nothing like as rough as the North Sea,” he added. However, he admitted bridging the cultural norms amongst the mix of Korean, American, French and Angolans wasn’t always as easy. He explained: “A Frenchman walking into a room will first go and shake hands with all his colleagues – with Canadians, you don’t interrupt other people’s conversations to say hello.”

From there, he went on to ALSEAMAR (back then ATOB) where his engineering skills were also stretched. Following the horrible loss of the Russian Kursk with all 118 crew in 2000, a number of navies created submarine rescue equipment. “The ROVs and other underwater equipment are very specific, very advanced technology... made of third generation materials. So, it wasn’t always simple, even to getting the right parts to maintain them,” he explained. And of course “there’s always the thought that if it fails, people could die”.

Another kind of encounter gave him one of his most memorable moments: while retrieving a SeaExplorer underwater ‘glider’ off the coast of Southern France he turned to see a distant water spray. Moments later “a huge sperm whale, far larger than our 10m boat” came almost close enough to touch – and seemed to be interested enough to stick around for a full five minutes. What’s more, the team returned with the whale song on the recording equipment.

It’s AXYS Technologies, though, that’s now making the most of his talents: he is to set up a new department to move the company beyond simply manufacturing AXYS’ well-know, high tech databuoys for others, to offering a complete service: “If you are going to be modifying the buoys or even just maintaining them, it’s useful if you are the manufacturer,” he pointed out. So, he’ll be setting up a new department, with a new team in France – again, quite some way from the company's Canadian HQ.

There are other challenges on the table. One element is flowing new technology from drawing board to commercial availability: “At the moment we have to validate our floating LiDAR for each project although our FLiDAR are already produced as a standard series... it will be much easier when certification is in place.” This, he said, will move the devices from being treated like prototypes to being employed as a regular product.

So European industry leaders may soon find they are negotiating with the gently effective Mr Gautier.

By Stevie Knight