North Wales rocks have been quarried for hundreds of years. In 1961 a quarrying group, Kneeshaw-Lupton, was being advised by a Glasgow University Lecturer in Geology, Dr Robert H Cummings, assisting them locate the best grades of Carboniferous limestone for their customers. So successful was his consulting support that he was offered full time employment.
Initially not wishing to be enticed away from academia, he was eventually persuaded by the Robertson family, owners of Kneeshaw-Lupton and with other interests in shipping and banking, to establish a non-profit making organisation, Robertson Research Company Limited, which would both service the quarries and also undertake contract research in various geotechnical disciplines.
Dr Cummings established the first Robertson offices and laboratory in pre-fabricated facilities in a quarry in Llandulas, on the North Wales coast, just to the east of Colwyn Bay. In the first few years of its existence, Robertson undertook laboratory analytical work for civil engineering, quarrying, minerals and petroleum purposes.
The petroleum sector was not, at the outset, seen as the leading business line but, following the influx of significant business from Ireland and Libya and the first exploration drilling in the North Sea, it became clear that petroleum was to be an important part of the future. By the end 1960s the staff compliment had risen to 150, the company was now a fully profit-making organisation, and was rapidly outgrowing its facilities. The search for identity during the early years had resulted in petroleum and minerals emerging as the principal Robertson businesses.
The 1970s saw significant expansion. As international opportunities opened up it established new offices in Australia (1969), Singapore (1970), Canada (1971), Indonesia (1975) and the United States (1978).
In 1970 the company relocated to its present facilities, originally an 1850s country house built by a Liverpool timber merchant and, just before the turn of the century, taken over by the Birmingham Hospital Trust as a convalescent home. Extensive renovation and, later, new construction, was undertaken to provide the facilities you see today.
Financing the expansion became a challenge for the company and it became necessary to seek capital injection, a role filled by SNC, one of Canada"s leading engineering companies. During the 1970s turnover rose from £0.5m to £4m: profits improved and the staff compliment topped 250. The group entered the 1980s caught up in the greatest "boom" the oil industry had experienced and this fuelled financial performance sufficient for the company to float on the London stock market in 1984. The flotation provided a market for the shares of both old and more recent investors. As the Robertson Research Group plc (later Robertson Group plc), there then commenced a twelve year period as a plc, requiring a new discipline and management style. Dr Cummings eventually retired in 1986 and was succeeded by Dr H R (Roy) Bichan as Managing Director of the Group. Older businesses such as surveying, engineering and geologging had by now been disposed of and 75% of the Group" revenues were now from the petroleum industry.
In 1986 the oil price crash devastated the petroleum service sector around the world. Robertson was fortuitously protected from the worst effects by virtue of a good portfolio of long term contracts but, nonetheless, the Group determined that its revenues were too heavily dependent upon petroleum and a diversification strategy was adopted. A cash rich period in the early/mid 1980s financed the acquisition of a dozen companies or parts of companies as the Group expanded into new sectors connected with natural resources including agriculture, water, environment and publishing. By 1990 Group turnover peaked at £45 million and there were 1130 employees worldwide. The Company was organised into four divisions Petroleum, Environment, Minerals and Mapping, and Rural Development.
But the diversification strategy unravelled as new acquisitions were not successfully integrated into the group and financial expectations not realised. Ultimately, the group faced the inevitability of takeover and in 1991 was acquired by Simon Engineering plc in a transaction valued at £53 million. The Robertson Environmental Division was incorporated within various parts of the Simon organisation while the Petroleum Division was brought together with a previously existing petroleum business in Simon to launch Simon Petroleum Technology (SPT).
SPT"s three internal divisions were Exploration (essentially the old Robertson Petroleum Division), Reservoir and Production (built upon ERC-Energy Resource Consultants, a reservoir engineering consultancy co-founded by Robertson in 1978 and fully acquired in 1984) and Geophysics (built from Horizon Exploration acquired by Simon in 1987). SPT's strategy of becoming Britain's sole integrated petroleum services organisation foundered in the recession-hit early 90s and because of internal incompatibility of services/consulting and contracting entities. Meanwhile some of Simon Engineering's other business had deteriorated forcing it to restructure. Non-core businesses were put up for sale including SPT.
Components of SPT were disposed of: the Reservoir and Production Division and the part of Geophysical Services connected with seismic acquisition, leaving Exploration Services together with seismic data processing.
Ultimately, in the early part of 1996, this remaining part of SPT was sold to a group of directors in a debt-financed management buy-out in which Simon remained as a shareholder. The new company re-adopted the Robertson name and refocussed itself on its core petroleum technology strengths.
The "new" Robertson Research International Limited is the company you will learn about in this website.