John Hague is the senior vice president and managing director for the Middle East and North Africa region at AspenTech, a provider of software and services to the process industries. He speaks about why innovation is everybody's responsibility in the company, which has offices in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Oman.
AspenTech was formed as a result of work done at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. What was the work?
There was a project there run by Larry Evans, who was the first chief executive of AspenTech. At that time he was a professor in chemical engineering and the project was around building modelling prototypes for coal gasification projects. Back when Ronald Reagan took over (as president of the US), one of his biggest things was to move projects out of the public sector, and this was funded in part by government grants to the university. So Larry took the project private and it became a company in August 1981.
How long have you had a presence in the Middle East?
We have worked with the customers here for the best part of the past 20 years. Up until about six years ago or so we had an office in Dubai at that time, but then we formed a partnership with a third party to provide our products and services into the region. So we had that relationship for about five years and then based on the feedback that came from our customers we made the decision in 2009 to go back in a direct way into the region, so we established our office in October 2009.
Innovation is obviously crucial for a company such as AspenTech. Who is responsible for it?
Pretty much everybody. Innovation takes form in everything we do in the company. For instance we work with about 800 different universities who are using our tools to educate the chemical engineers who are coming out of the university systems around the world. We have three [research and development] centres around the world, focused around the engineering, manufacturing and supply chain, as well as our quality control that we do on the project.
How much did you spend on R&D last year?
Just short of US$50 million, $48.2 million (Dh177m).
What percentage of your revenues was that?
Our revenues last year were about $200m, so within this space we spend a higher percentage of our revenues on R&D than anyone else. A big part of our acquisition strategy back in the 1990s was to acquire best-in-class technology - and the best-in-class technologies are the ones that are going to create the greatest value for the customers. Our intellectual property and our capability within our products is the heart and soul of this business, so we feel that's the best place to invest our money.
How many patents does the company own?
We've got about 60, either patents or patents pending at this time … (which) is a lot in the software industry, given the relative age of the software industry.