Kellen, operating under the Phoenix banner, has built, owns and operates the leading gas distribution as well as gas services business in Northern Ireland. The gas network will serve up to half of the population of NI for at least the next 100 years.
A lifelong gasman, Peter Dixon began his career as an engineer in 1976 with The Gas Corporation in Liverpool, was fast tracked through the management hierarchy and played a key role in the break-up of British Gas plc in the early 90’s. Having joined Phoenix Natural Gas in its start-up phase as Commercial Director in February 1997, Peter was appointed to the Board as Chief Executive Officer in 2000. In November 2003, Peter joined the Board of East Surrey Holdings plc. Peter is a Fellow of the Institute of Energy, a Companion of the Institute Gas Engineers, Patron of the Energy & Utility Skills Council and a Lord Taverner. He holds a number of Board positions within the Kellen Holding Group. Peter is a Commissioner of Belfast Harbour and, since its inception in 2005, has been Chairman of the Energy for Children Charitable Trust. He is a Board member of Business in the Community; Men Against Cancer and the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.
The Kellen Group, trading under the Phoenix banner, is the pre-eminent natural gas business in Northern Ireland. Since 1996 Phoenix has been successful in establishing natural gas as a brand new product to an existing market and establishing a strong and vibrant supporting industry. Through the introduction of pioneering techniques, Phoenix has gained a strong international reputation for its innovative, commercial infrastructural development in a ‘greenfield’ environment. Following the development of highly successful and cost effective systems that facilitated the introduction of supply competition in natural gas for the first time in Greater Belfast, Phoenix has now divested itself from its gas supply activities to concentrate on the distribution asset in Greater Belfast, Phoenix retains responsibility for the growth and development of the market to its optimum size.
Economically, around 3,000 people are currently employed throughout the wider local natural gas industry, including within: gas installation companies, product retailers, manufacturers, distributors, merchants and training centres all operating in a coordinated way under the Phoenix banner. Around 250 employees are employed directly by Phoenix. Environmentally, the 160,000 plus properties in the Greater Belfast area that have installed leading edge natural gas equipment replacing more polluting fuels like oil and coal, has resulted in more than 3 million tonnes of CO2 being prevented from entering our atmosphere. For comparison, in terms of impact, this is the equivalent of removing almost 60,000 cars from Northern Ireland’s roads every year.
Phoenix have continued to attract delegations from senior gas industry officials from around the world who are undertaking or who are about to undertake the development of gas infrastructure on a commercial basis. The underground natural gas network throughout Greater Belfast remains one of the most modern of its kind in the world, built using the latest and most innovative engineering technologies. In recognition of its world-class expertise, Phoenix has also previously attracted similar delegations from countries as far afield as: India, Brazil, Argentina, China and Israel.
Phoenix has higher organic growth prospects than comparable UK gas distribution companies as it aims to grow gas penetration in Greater Belfast from c. 50% to levels seen in Great Britain (85%) as well as potential opportunities for expansion into new licensed areas. This will require private investment from homes and businesses in the region of £500m. Phoenix’s long-standing management team, led by Peter Dixon, has maintained and demonstrated a strong operational and market development track record since the inception of the business. Phoenix has had 14-years of unbroken growth since 2000. Since then national and international partnerships have delivered private investment of over £500 million into the Northern Ireland economy.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision prompted you to start-up your business?
The business was an opportunity developed initially by BG plc, albeit at ‘arm’s length’. The current management have run the business as owner managers since 2000. Over this time the business has grown significantly and successfully.
What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best advice was to keep the business tight and move at speed. The worst advice was to get too much advice.
How did you secure your first investment?
Initial investment was made by the parent company, since then we have raised money through: rights issue, bank debt, private equity and Investment grade bonds.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
Changing ownership from: a private tripartite Anglo-American joint venture, to a plc and then to Private Equity ownership over a period of 3 years.
What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?
Becoming a Plc through a reverse take-over allowed us to step out of the shadow of our previous owners and ‘drive ahead’. This led to Private Equity ownership and eventually an investment grade rating which gave us access to investment grade bond debt.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
We still need to double our revenue streams from investment already made. The front loaded nature of our capital investment demands that we exceed our aspirations and targets going forward.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Walking down any road in half of Northern Ireland and seeing homes and businesses enjoying natural gas as if it had always been there. Developing a new product and a new market which people now take for granted in a short period of time is very humbling.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Never give up, gather great people around you, keep yourselves tight, don’t believe your own PR and try and make the right decisions as quickly as possible.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
No – I am a servant of others. However, I have been given the privilege of working for owners who have let me invest their money in a way which has delivered significant success both as a Plc and Private company. This has allowed an Industry classified business to be entrepreneurial and extremely innovative by simply asking, why not?
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
My background is Liverpool Irish. I come from humble, if not poor, working class parents and grew up on a council estate. I left full time education at 16, with no formal qualifications, and quickly realised that no one was going help me other than myself. Coming back to live and work on the island of Ireland brings my family full circle from when they had to leave to help themselves.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Are they enthusiastic, will they work well with the rest of the team, are they robust and can they progress. All our new starts are invited to a Breakfast with the Boss meeting where I get an opportunity to meet every new recruit and I am able to identify at an early stage both problems as well as opportunities with individuals.