Simon Ransom, Group Director Middle East, Groupe F

As Simon Ransom embarks on a new challenge at Groupe F, TPMEA catches up with him to find out more…

After 12 years of “rewarding, challenging, fun, difficult and fulfilling times” working with what was first eclipse then later became Encore, on 1 January 2023, former Encore Group Director, Middle East, Simon Ransom resigned from the company to take a full-time role with multidisciplinary pyro production company, Groupe F.

Heading up the French firm’s Middle East operation, Ransom will oversee the current operations in the UAE and Saudi Arabia while supporting the expansion of the company in response to strong demand in the region. Here, he tells TPMEA how the move came about and reveals his high hopes and expectations for his new role.

How did your relationship with Groupe F begin?

I’ve known the guys at Groupe F since the late Nineties when we met working on various projects together in Dubai. I became a customer of theirs in 2005, and since then I stayed in contact with them and started consulting for them on projects across the region, mainly looking after the administrative side of the business in the Middle East.

Demand has figuratively and literally exploded for them in the region over the past couple of years. Around the middle of last year, we did some number crunching, and it became clear that in order to help grow the business to its full potential in the region, I should move over to Groupe F full-time.

What will your role entail?

I’m taking on a role similar to the one I took on when I started with Mark Brown at eclipse – to help structure the business to be bigger, more efficient, and able to manage a bigger workload than it currently is.

The guys at Groupe F are all crazy creative – you just have to look at the results of their projects. Christophe Berthonneau, CEO and Creative Director, Francois Montel, Managing Director and the whole team are all amazing at what they do, but they’re being asked to do a lot more than they were a few years ago. It’s not one Olympic Games-sized show every four years; it’s an Olympic Games-sized show 20 or 30 times a year.

I’ve come in to work with Christophe and Francois to see how we can grow the Middle East business even further than it already has in the past few years. There has been a massive upturn in interest – especially in Saudi Arabia – and it’s part of my remit to manage that growth and make sure that we’re going about it in the right way.

Where will you be based?

I’m still based in the UAE, but I’ll be spending quite a lot of time in Saudi Arabia, too, since KSA represents a large percentage of what we’re doing.

Groupe F’s UAE base has grown massively over the past few years – the warehousing has quadrupled and is set to double again later this year. We’ve built up a large stock of inert items such as mortars, boats, and ancillary firing systems – some of which we will soon be moving into the Kingdom to service the demand. We will end up with significant stocks in both the UAE and KSA that would be more than capable of handling shows that are even bigger than we’ve ever taken on in the history of the company.

We’ve also doubled the size of the permanent Middle East team in the past few months, and we continue to have the ability to call upon a vast network of freelancers based on project demands.

What recent developments at Groupe F are you particularly excited about?

One area that is developing rapidly and where Groupe F is leading the way is the use of drones as vehicles to launch fireworks. There are a couple of different ways that we’re doing it, and it makes for some unique and crazy effects that I’ve never seen before.

The ability to launch fireworks from 1km into the sky gives them a whole new life compared to launching them from the ground. The New Year’s Eve show in Ras Al Khaimah, which broke several Guinness World Records for drone-launched fireworks, is a great recent example – it was breath-taking to see.

What do you anticipate your biggest challenges will be?

The transporting of fireworks around the world is getting tougher and tougher year on year. With Saudi being a core market, moving explosives into the country will remain a challenge that we have to come up with solutions for.

We’re also looking to continue to push the boundaries creatively. Groupe F is a leader in terms of coming up with different ideas, doing new things and evolving the show in ways never seen before. So, our goal is to stay that one step ahead.

How much of a focus will there be on training local talent?

Saudization doesn’t scare us at all. We need to be able to respond to short lead time demands, so we will be training and growing a base in the country to do just that. We will be investing in and supporting Vision 2030 goals by training Saudis and having them as an important part of the organisation as it grows. There’s a large population that is ready and willing to work, and we just need to tap into that.

What are your goals in the short and long term?

The next year is about evolving the structure of Groupe F to be able to take on even more work than we’re taking on today. The key word in everything that Groupe F does is safety. So, it’s not just about being able to take on more and more work, but we will first ensure that everything is built on a foundation of safety. The creativity and fun the company is known for then follows.

There’s so much room for growth in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is of course a focus, but we have many great clients throughout the region who we’ve worked with for decades that are equally important. The most important thing for us is to support our clients in what they want to do.

Photos: Groupe F