When you’ve got a notion for the ocean …
After 24 years at the helm of Hydrosphere, Andy Reid hoists the mainsail and heads for retirement.
Finding a calling for the sea when aged just 17, former merchant navy officer Andy’s strategic vision took Hydrosphere through rough seas all the way into the 21st century. With his company carving a reputation in the ultra-competitive marine industry for excellence in product quality and sales services we spoke to Andy about his thoughts on retirement and being a maritime entrepreneur.
What makes Hydrosphere different to the other suppliers?
“The people in key sales positions (David, Jeff and myself) all started in the Merchant Navy. This gives us an understanding of how a mariner views and uses a navigation buoy or light. Most of the harbourmasters have been at sea and appreciate our background experience as well as our product knowledge. We’re not just there to take their money, we are there to find the best solution.”
You’ve got a telling accent – growing up in Edinburgh. How did you end up in the South East?
“I was brought up near Edinburgh and went to school in Fife. After I left the Merchant Navy, it was tough finding a job in Scotland and I ended up moving to Rugby to work for GEC selling dynamic positioning systems. GEC was really interesting as the products we were selling were state of the art and selling to the oil industry was a challenge. However, working for a large organisation didn’t suit me and I left to work for a smaller company. I had a few jobs mainly selling oceanographic and hydrographic monitoring products before I decided that I really wanted to work for myself.
I started Hydrosphere Systems and Services in 1993 because of that classic entrepreneurial desire: I wanted to do it better and make the profit myself. I felt I had the sea-faring background to do it and spoke the language of the maritime industry. Why not take a chance?”
What’s a stand out moment for you over the years?
“The early years were tough, and it took a long time before we felt we were properly competing against some of the well-established companies. A stand out moment would be when the sales manager of one of those established companies told me that we were considered the biggest company in terms of sales of navigation lights and buoys in the UK.
Other stand out moments would be when we won the tender to the UK Met Office to start replacing all their Ocean Data Acquisition System (ODAS) buoys. The Met Office have shown faith in the product by renewing the contract for a second time. Also winning the contract to supply the navigation buoys for the Gabbard Offshore Wind Farm was real coup and our biggest contract to date.”
Andy’s sage wisdom and level-headed stoicism saw the company through many large projects over the years. About customers, Andy says; “…make sure they’re happy. Look after them. Sort out any problems. At the core of Hydrosphere is the way we do all the customer service things people say to do, (but not everyone does it).” Keeping faith with all the fantastic people he’s met and worked with over the years is important to Andy, who is staying on as a board director. “I’m grateful for all the support I’ve had from hundreds of customers and people I’ve worked with – and the messages from retirement well-wishers.”
Andy plans to travel to the Far East, wishing to spend some time in Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia. I plan to hang around a load of beaches, drink cold beer, eat lots of curry and meet some interesting people. Being by the sea still holds the same fascination it did when he was young. “It’s revitalising but demands requires respect.”
One last thing, your ‘desert island’ question – just for fun, you’re stranded at sea. What’s the ideal rescue vessel you’d like to see pulling up?
“Have you ever seen the film clip for ‘Rio’ by Duran Duran? The gorgeous William Fife ketch, Eilean, a 22 metre yacht built in 1936 on the west coast of Scotland. I want it to turn up to collect me, just like on the video, but without Duran Duran and the film crew on board.”
And a final thought; “When I look back, I’ve always worked in jobs to do with the sea. It is a huge call on my life. Retirement’s going to be different but I’m sure I can put up with it.”
All the best, Andy.