Three Decades in the Long Grass chronicles the story of the rise of Global Pacific & Partners, a leading global oil and gas advisory and conference management firm, from modest beginnings in a small apartment in Geneva some 35-years ago. But in truth, it all started in Zimbabwe, the home and origins of its founder, Duncan Clarke.
Written and narrated by Clarke and his long-term associate and business partner, Babette van Gessel, the biography gives the reader both a colourful and frank behind-the-scenes taste of what it takes to build a pioneering and formidable consulting and advisory practice, servicing some of the biggest companies, as well as national governments and other agencies, in the fast moving, competitive and ever changing game of oil and gas.
Born and raised in what was then Rhodesia, Clarke has built a reputation for being a maverick over the years, having seen a gap in the oil and gas market and carving out a unique path to become a leading authority in the industry, along with his business partner of more than twenty years, Babette van Gessel.
It all began in the late 1970s while Clarke was teaching economics in Africa and advising a wide range of clients in and around the continent. In 1978 he was asked to do research and advisory work focusing specifically on oil. This spiked his interest and spawned the beginnings of Global Pacific and Partners, which he formally established after building on the experience and various clients in the oil and gas industry.
30 years later, the company has evolved into a global offering of advisory and research, as well as a suite of international conferences for senior executives, aligned with unique in-depth strategy briefings, conducted on all five continents across the globe.
So what does it take to build a leading consulting and advisory service from the ground up?
Clarke and Van Gessel share the evolutionary – if at times difficult but always exciting – path taken in building the company and developing a niche for themselves at the most opportune time.
First, the importance of having the right people working for and with the company, and retaining them. Clarke credits the work of many individuals that have worked for, and continue to work for the company, in contributing to its success and longevity in what is a turbulent and challenging industry. Several of the individuals hired in the very early days still form the hard core of the team today, not only ensuring the preservation of knowledge, but also building the experience curve of the company and its institutional memory.
Second, Clarke emphasises how Global Pacific and Partners were able to innovate and adapt its business model to meet the changing needs, conditions and challenges faced by the industry in varying geographies. His candid approach allows him to acknowledge mistakes made at various points in the growth and development of the company. However by always remaining ruthlessly objective, keeping agile and staying close to the industry, corrective action could be taken and strategy agility ensured their offering and services remained both relevant and necessary for operational performance.
With this in mind, the book maps out the numerous cycles the company and its team have encountered over time, requiring several shifts in focus, and establishing a working environment that fosters a constant flow of new ideas.
Credit must be given to Clarke’s entrepreneurial approach and adventurous spirit, which tests different markets, new subjects and nuanced approaches.
Three Decades in the Long Grass is an interesting and entertaining read. It appeals to those interested in the oil and gas sector, with a strong African orientation, illustrating what it takes to be a recognised and competitive advisory firm in tough markets over an extended period of time.
Review by Dr Lyal White, the Director of the Centre for Dynamic Markets (CDM) at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), University of Pretoria; and Liezl Rees, Manager of the CDM at GIBS.