ROSS BROWN used to go to work wearing a bullet proof vest surrounded by armed guards.
Now he’s a partner in a scaffolding company that’s shooting its way to the top.
Fife-based Brown is one of the brains behind Newmains United’s back of away shirt sponsor I-scaff Access Solutions.
The company has gone from strength to strength since he and business partner David Campbell set it up just three years ago.
That was shortly after the pair both left their jobs following the prices of oil and gas crashing.
For the previous three-and-a-half years Brown had been a sub-contractor scaffolding superintendent for giants Shell.
Danger lingered in the air most days yet Brown insists he enjoyed every moment soaking up a different lifestyle and never felt threatened.
He said: “Back then I looked after four oil refineries and one off-shore terminal that was getting renovated.
“I was on a 28/28 rotation. Shell really look after their staff so you’d be picked up at the house and fly Emirates business class.
“It was good to get out there and experience different cultures. When I first told my wife I was going to Iraq, the thought of me going to work with a bullet proof vest on didn’t go down well!
“You wore it there and you had armed guards 24/7. Everywhere you travelled there was a convoy of four cars with AK47s in the door pocket.
“It was actually strange how quickly you got used to it. For the first few days you’d be taken aback every time you saw someone with a gun.
“Then before you knew it it just became normal. To be fair the whole experience was a great one. There was never one bad thing and I never met one bad person.
“We were based south Basra, seven or eight miles from the Kuwaiti border. We were away from all the stuff that was going on elsewhere but Shell’s security was top standard too.
“I never once felt in any danger at all and it was pretty enjoyable. But then oil and gas prices took a crash and they took away the sub-contractors.
“They were tightening their belts. It reached the point where risk against reward wasn’t there. I decided the best thing was to come back on a permanent basis.”
That was when Brown and Campbell got their heads together and spotted a gap in the market.
Brown said: “David had actually got into scaffolding through my dad then we worked together in the shipyards and gas plants.
“He then went to work off-shore in the North Sea but then he got made redundant too.
“Coming back from overseas work you kind of get seen as the big money chaser and someone who’s always waiting on your next overseas gig.
“A lot of companies aren’t willing to take on people who have been working away in the oil and gas industry for such a long time.
“I had a couple of months off and I noticed there was a bit of a demand for a more quality health and safety driven scaffolding company that is more interested in the quality of product they supply rather than the quantity of scaffolding they can put up.
“We had to hit the market and try and get out there. It was a risky business going for a different avenue from so many companies in the area.
“We picked a different brand of scaffolding from the norm to go with in Layher but with the product support we got from them it was worth the risk.
“The company is doing really well. Eight months in, I got a call from a guy I used to work with in the Middle East in 2007 asking if I was still doing stuff overseas.
“I told him I didn’t work overseas anymore. He said he had a job in the Philippines. It was an off the cuff comment I didn’t think would go anywhere.
“But next thing we knew we had four supervisors out there and we employed 39 local scaffolders. We took a 12-week shutdown on a power station out there.
“The initial enquiry actually came through a Facebook message. Before I knew it I was flying out to Manila. Seven days later we submitted the prices for the work and we’d won the contract.
“That was in March last year and we flew everyone out.”
Brown has ambitions for where he’d like to take the firm but has been pleased with the way things have progressed so far.
He added: “While we’re based in Fife we pick up work in Glasgow and Edinburgh too. We tend to specialise in industrial scaffolding.
“But when you’re starting a new business you can’t be too picky or knock anything back. There is a difference between domestic, commercial and industrial scaffolding.
“They say you should stick to what you know and my business partner and I have 15 years of experience in the oil and gas industry.
“We’ve picked up work in breweries and doing work for Scottish Power. On the back of the Philippines job we started to branch into off shore work.
“We picked up 12 rigs in Saudi Arabia and another 14 in Abu Dhabi for two major oil companies. So it’s gone from one extreme to another.
“We’re kind of running two businesses in one. We’ve had to open an office in Dubai to facilitate that. It’s been a whirlwind couple of years but it’s been fantastic too.”