Meet the MD: Graham Puntis, Soil Machine Dynamics

Meet the MD: Graham Puntis, Soil Machine Dynamics

The kid that was always building things out of Meccano grew up to be Graham Puntis, working somewhat unsurprisingly for manufacturer and engineering firm Soil Machine Dynamics…

What is it the company does?

Soil Machine Dynamics Ltd (SMD) is a North East engineering success story and a world leader in the design and manufacture of specialist subsea intervention assets.  Manufacturing remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and advanced ploughing, trenching and mining machines at our UK headquarters in Wallsend, the company has developed an enviable reputation for providing the best technically and financially viable subsea intervention solutions to a global customer base.  SMD equipment has played a major role in laying over 80 per cent of the world’s subsea physical connections for the internet between continents.

SMD launched its Services business in 2016 to provide the industry with 24/7 operational and engineering support, intelligent spares support, asset management, life extension, repurposing and OEM training for any subsea intervention asset.

Describe your role

I’m responsible for running SMD Services operations globally.  My focus is very much on developing this area of the business to provide a range of aftermarket solutions focused on increasing the availability and reliability of ROVs, trenchers and ploughs through refurbishment, modification and upgrade which enables owners to maximise the lifetime and financial return on their subsea intervention assets.

Ultimately, our aim is to reduce the costs of ownership and maintenance during these challenging times for the subsea industry.  We are seeing our customers squeezed like never before and we recognised the importance of providing a new type of service which helps industry owners and operators optimise their operational costs by providing them with an extensive technical support and refurbishment service.  

Initially, I spent a great deal of time talking to customers to determine what they want from an aftermarket offering so that we can extend our Services portfolio to meet their needs; now my focus is on shaping the business to provide those.  I also travel regularly to our overseas offices in Houston, Singapore, China and Brazil.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I’m an engineer by trade and started my career in naval architecture. In the early days I was involved in designing new and cutting-edge equipment.  I was born in Glasgow and have lived and worked in the Midlands, the South West, on the South coast, the South East and Norway before coming to the North East to join SMD. My wife has Geordie connections and we both love the quality of life up here.  It was working for Rolls-Royce that led me to discover the aftermarket, which I found much more exciting.  I thrive on a challenge and enjoyed using my engineering knowledge and expertise to develop new solutions, before turning to development of businesses in the aftermarket sector.  For many SMD customers and other owner operators in the subsea industry it makes more economic sense to restore, re-purpose or retrofit a piece of kit than to buy a new one. 

What do you believe makes a great leader?

Vision! In order to initiate change and achieve your goals you have to be able to bring people on that journey with you.  A great leader can do this by sharing their vision and inspiring people to embrace change for the better.  

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Defining what the subsea asset aftermarket is looking for in order to design the SMD Services division to meet those requirements.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Family time! I have a four year old daughter, two older children and a stepson.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending time with them on weekends and holidays.  I also like cycling, it’s good for clearing the head and the North East is home to some stunning coastal and rural cycle routes.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My dad worked for British Rail when I was a kid, which resulted in me being a bit of a train buff and definitely led to a love of all things engineering related from fast cars to space rockets and big ships! I was the kid that was always building things out of Meccano.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I get frustrated when people can’t see the need for change.  In order to survive and grow in business you have to be adaptable, stay on your toes and react to the bigger picture. 

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We have huge plans for growth within SMD Services.  Our aim is to increase turnover from £20 million to £50 million by 2021 and for customers to see us as the ‘go to’ provider for any subsea intervention asset regardless of scale or complexity.  

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Don’t be constrained by accepted norms, challenge boundaries and don’t be afraid to make a decision; you can always make another one later if it turns out to be wrong.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?

The fact that business can be fun if you find something you really enjoy and have a passion for. It’s very important to enjoy what you’re doing because you dedicate so much of your life to it.

Are you a business owner or manager working in the North East? The North East Growth Hub provides a wealth of information on finance and funding, business support and events available across the region to help take your business to the next level.

The North East Growth Hub is delivered by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP). The LEP works to make the North East a place where more businesses invest, grow and prosper, to deliver more and better jobs for everyone.