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Trinity CEO Joel ‘Monty’ Pemberton: From auditor to oil exec
Joel Montgomery “Monty” Pemberton, 37, the incoming chief executive officer of the new Trinity Exploration and Production plc (Trinity plc), is committed to the development of south Trinidad. “Our corporate head office: I refused to put it in Port-of-Spain. We put it in San Fernando,” he said on Friday during a telephone interview with the Business Guardian from London. Trinity plc will be T&T’s first company to list on a major international stock exchange in mid-February.
“We want to transform San Fernando and create an energy hub in San Fernando. That is where the oil fields are: south of the border,” he said. “We really want to make a difference to the people of T&T in general, but moreso in San Fernando.”
Though Pemberton grew up in Diego Martin, and spent his primary (Maria Regina) and secondary (St Mary’s College) school years in Port-of-Spain, through work, he moved to San Fernando.
“Living in San Fernando really opened up my mind to a lot more than what everyone sees in Port-of-Spain. Living in San Fernando is a totally different life. I fell in love with that side of the country. It’s an area where all of the wealth of the country comes from. No one from Port-of-Spain understood, but there is a disproportionate distribution of the wealth, in terms of nothing really goes to South, in my opinion, and I realise something needed to be done about that, and also Bruce is quite passionate about that.”
Bruce’s surname is Dingwall and he is the executive chairman of Trinity. He is known in the industry as the man who built Venture Production into one of the biggest independents in the North Sea.
Pemberton, or “Monty” as he is better known in the oil industry, is in London on Trinity’s investor roadshow. The company recently announced it is seeking to raise US$90 million through the issue of new ordinary shares as it merges through a reverse takeover with Bayfield Energy Holdings plc.
Trinity plc, which will subsume Bayfield under rules of the London stock exchange’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), will be the name of the enlarged group. The stock is expected to list by mid-February according to the London stock exchange’s AIM listing documents.
The early years
Monty began his career in 1993 as an Ernst and Young junior learning and studying accounts. He was granted a scholarship from Ernst and Young to go to London to work and study with the company there. While in London, he was part of an international energy team that served BP, and was so able to understand BP’s worldwide business in detail.
On the advice of his father, Gerard Pemberton, retired managing director of the DFL Caribbean, Pemberton returned to T&T “to help develop the country.” Pemberton recalled his father saying in 2002, “Son, you’re at a crossroads of your life. You either live in London, or come back home and take what you’ve learnt in a developed economy, and bring it back, and help develop the country.”
By the time Pemberton came back, he was armed with work experience in the United Kingdom, Spain and France. He came back to Ernst and Young in T&T, but quickly realised auditing was not his thing. He found it “quite boring, to put it frankly,” so he quit without a job to go to, and took a sabbatical to decide what he wanted to do in life.
In 2003, Pemberton joined what was then RBTT Merchant Bank to head its energy sector. This was where he met the future executive chairman of Trinity plc, Bruce Dingwall. At the time, Dingwall was buying up local assets for exploration and production.
At the time RBTT was starting an energy fund in 2004, and Dingwall approached RBTT for funding, but RBTT “did not want to take the investment,” Pemberton said, but, he (Pemberton) said he had “fallen in love with the idea,” so chasing the dream, he left his senior managerial job with a well-established bank, to go to work with Dingwall, at a comparatively small oil company called Ten Degrees North.
The transition to Trinity
After Dr Jim Lee Young left in January 2009, Pemberton took over and ran the company for Dingwall as its CEO from February 2009. During Pemberton’s tenure, Ten Degrees North began to transition to Trinity, changing its logo and trying to reflect its indigenous composition.
By the end of 2011, the company had become Trinity Exploration and Production Ltd. The new Trinity also now included the Charles Brash family, whose patriarch Charles Brash founded Well Services Petroleum Company Ltd, which was originally incorporated as Well Services Ltd in 1967.
Pemberton said in those early days of Trinity, the company also raised international equity from London, Hong Kong and North America. Most recently it took over AIM-listed Bayfield Energy Holdings plc in the reverse, under AIM merger rules.
“The Bayfield opportunity came up and it fit very well within our strategy, and our strategy is really led by the Trinity visionary, which is Bruce. He’s really the pioneer with the vision,” he said.
The Trinidad-born, London-raised Dingwall still lives in the British capital, but visits T&T frequently.
Asked about Trinity’s success to date, Pemberton said: “I don’t think it was me. It was really a team effort. We were able to attract a team of a multi-disciplinary skill set, which really allowed us to grow. We’ve got good commercial guys, good technical guys, good financial guys.”
His team is “second to none.”
He lavished praise on the operators, the rig crews and others because they work seven days a week “and I truly believe that without them, I would not be able to stand up here and say ‘we produce 4,000 barrels per day.”
He said: “Our team brought us here and 99 per cent of our staff are Trinidadian, so really and truly it’s a testament to what Trinidadians can do. What we’ve done as a team is that we’ve created a company that everyone has bought into, and bought into the vision, and it’s the first company ever to list on a major stock exchange, in the history of T&T, not just an oil company, by the way. And that really says a lot.”
Never negotiated a salary
On his personal philosophy, Pemberton, who believes people should be doing for a living what they like doing, said he never negotiated a salary. He considers who he will be working with, what he will be working toward, and accepts or rejects what is offered as compensation.
He said when he left his safe and secure job with the bank to go exploring for oil with Dingwall, his father thought he did not know what he was doing because it was a big risk. It meant he would have to move to San Fernando, forego a salary increase, and move into a smaller office. His father thought he was crazy, but Pemberton said: “To be honest, I was at one of my happiest points career wise. I was happy. I would actually get up at five in the morning.”
He said leaving Ernst and Young in 2003 was also big for him: “I left Ernst and Young after 14 years. It was almost like a divorce.”
Asked if a CEO of an oil company is better prepared with a background in engineering or accounting, he said, “It does not matter. It depends on the attitude of the person.” Pemberton said it’s important to have a solid first degree, but that foundation could be in law, engineering, accounting or another discipline. However, understanding the numbers is very important.
On his personal goals for the future, he said over the years, he has learnt one big lesson: “The one thing about this journey is that we don’t know exactly where we’ll end up.” He said a year ago he would not have been able to predict Trinity’s reverse takeover of Bayfield.
The main thing in business, he said, is to work “to grow it, and to spot the opportunities, and it will grow.
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