P&J Article

From the Granite City to the Golden State, Alastair Caithness has achieved a long-held ambition to run his own company. Born in Inverness, Alastair spent several years working in Aberdeen before making the move to sunny California.

He now runs Scottish-American oil and energy firm, Ziyen. Founded in the US in 2016, the company has since opened offices in Aberdeen and Inverness and is on track to be listed on the NASDAQ Stock Market in 2018.

After leaving school aged 17, I began a degree in Business Studies at Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology (RGIT) – now the Robert Gordon University.

During my time there, my two favourite professors were Charlie Weir and Bob Gammie as they gave me an insight for business, taught me to be inquisitive and understand the positives of always looking for solutions rather than problems.

Following graduation, I decided to go back-packing and spent 18 months travelling across Australia and parts of Asia; picking up jobs along the way such as barman, fruit picker and minibus driver – anything that could keep the cash flow coming in.

When I returned home, I set up an events and PR distribution business which proved successful. Clients included T in the Park, Scottish Homelands and Aberdeen City Council.

For several years, we organised a music collective event in Aberdeen with students from Gray’s School of Art called ‘Kia-Aura’.

We then moved onto setting up a vinyl record label, producing music from UK and US artists with the undoubted highlight being asked to organise a party for Smirnoff at the Miami Winter Music Conference. 

The music business is a tough racket, where most people do it for the love of the music and very few make a lot of money. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to start a job in the oil industry with Mike Knox and work on a new portal for the power cable industry, called ‘The Cable Directory’.

I was friends with Mike’s son, Chris – now a board member at Ziyen Inc., who helped get me the job and I will always be very thankful for the education Mike gave me; not only about oil and gas, but business in general.

He sent me on numerous trips to the oil hubs across the world, including Dubai, Stavanger, Abu Dhabi and Houston.

Every day was a school day with Mike. On Fridays, he would make me read the Upstream newspaper and then test me on the news, the deals, and the importance of always increasing your knowledge.

But it’s the little things I think of when looking back, and I can still remember always enjoying the Friday fish and chips and liquid lunch sessions in the Fittie Bar followed by a game of pool.

Mike has been the most important mentor in my life so far. Sadly, he has passed away and I only wish he was here to see the progress we have made so far with Ziyen stateside. There is hardly a day that goes by without me thinking about Mike, and all the lessons he taught me.

I spent seven years working for Mike, before joining Millstream Associates – an e-procurement company based on Queen’s Road, Aberdeen as head of sales and marketing. As the company operated government procurement portals, it increased my knowledge of the procurement process and understanding of how different governments spend their money.

My wife hails from San Diego so, once we had our second boy, she wanted to move back to America to be closer to her family. It also gave me the opportunity to set up my own business.

Initially, the company was set up as a software and information business focused on the oil and gas sector in the Middle East. However, when we appointed Shane Fraser as director of oil intelligence, we pivoted the business; creating a specialist division, Ziyen Energy, and positioning the company to be a domestic US oil and gas operator.

Shane is also from Inverness and is a highly experienced oilfield engineer with over 28 years’ experience, including more than 20 years working for Shell in the North Sea and Syria.

In the same way that Aberdeen is a hub for oil and gas companies, California, and San Diego in particular, is a hub for tech, defence and renewable energy companies.

Therefore, it may seem a bit backwards that I have come to California to establish an oil and energy company but maybe I just can’t move away from my Scottish roots!

The move to California has had a massive impact on my career. I’m now the CEO of a company that is heading towards the NASDAQ. The business is on track to be listed on the Stock Market in 2018 – pending approval of its initial public offering (IPO).

It has meant a steep learning curve for me personally and I’m building a company of key personnel who can help grow the business in a positive way.

Ever since moving to California, the first place I wanted to open a UK division was in Aberdeen. The first two hires in the Aberdeen office, Greg Simpson and Cameron Murray, are also former colleagues that I’ve worked with in the past, so we already have a good working relationship.

The company currently has over 300 investors in the company, with over half coming from Scotland. We never want to forget our Scottish roots, and that is one of the reasons our tagline is ‘A Scottish-American company bringing business back to the USA.’

In 2018, we opened our operations in Indiana, USA to allow us to have personnel close to our existing oil leases and future leases – each producing oil which will be extracted by our team using the latest in sustainable technology.

I always missed my time working in oil and gas, so I must say that I’m happy life has sent me back into this sector. We have ambitious plans to grow the domestic oil production of Ziyen Energy in the Illinois Basin and expand within the United States energy market throughout 2018 and beyond.