We caught up once again with experienced maritime executive and MBA Blue alumnus, Thomas Damsgaard, to find out just how much the sector has evolved in recent months – and how his Blue MBA equips him to adapt to such a rapidly shifting marketplace.
“Shipping used to be seen as a cyclical industry, with bursts and microbursts of opportunity that you need to grasp if you want to survive. But we’ve started to see a shift from a more traditional cyclical asset-based mindset to one recognizing that the human side of how the assets are used are increasingly important. Global shipping and logistics is changing more rapidly than anyone anticipated.”
“The biggest challenges currently are around sustainability and green shipping. While new building order books are at an all-time high, mainly fuelled by the lucrative freight market, there is still a question around how to meet 2050 zero emissions targets and the propulsion systems required.
“Just six months ago we were entertaining the use of LNGs, but even in that short time LNG has fallen out of favour, with hydrogen and ammonia becoming the preferred options. Change is happening rapidly across the board, it’s not a regional challenge or a company challenge, it’s one that need resolution on a global industry scale.
“And as opportunities are being flushed out, it’s attracting big capital investors wanting in on the game. It will be interesting to see how it all settles into place as decisions begin to be made.”
A forced change
“We’re also seeing huge change in the way people are employed within the shipping industry, moving away from the traditional approach. Schedules and working hours have become more flexible, requiring a more innovative, creative way of working.
“Perhaps this is thanks to the situation in the past 18 months. Things changed so dramatically so quickly, we had no choice if we wanted to survive as an industry. Sometimes breaking those physical parameters allows us to become more mentally agile. We’ve seen a change of mindset within the industry in a very short time, one that allows for deeper, more transformational conversations.
“What’s more this agile business model is becoming recognized as a core competitive differentiator, not just towards clients but employees and other stakeholders, both upstream and downstream in the supply chain.
“Coming out of the pandemic we’re seeing huge demand on shipping. Caused by the lack of transportation capacity impacted by the global slowdown, constraints in the deeper supply chain, increased demand for products and a number of other factors, driving freight rates sky high.
“Inspired by the incredible returns we’re seeing and the realization that the rapid progress within the shipping and maritime industry presents a huge opportunity, we’ve seen an exciting number of mergers and acquisition activities within the industry over the last 6-7 months.”
An MBA toolset
“For the last 6 months that’s what I’ve been involved with, helping private equity to identify target acquisitions, do due diligence and redefine strategies relevant for the emerging opportunities. And in order to confidently do the analysis required I’ve been very much diving back into my Blue MBA toolset.
“One of my motivations for taking the MBA a few years ago, was to expand that specific toolbox. I was becoming exposed to a world that I didn’t quite understand and realized I didn’t have the language to stand up confidently in the room. But now I can and am absolutely able to engage at the level I need to. The timing couldn’t have been better and I also have the benefit of a global network to support me and vice versa.”
The pace of change
“Despite push back from some factions of the industry, when we reflect on the pace of change as a Blue MBA graduate, we welcome it. After all, we went back to add more tools to our toolset specifically because we are the ones out there pushing for change and leading transformation. We recognize that if we don’t disrupt the industry, it won’t move forward. And it needs to be done through conversation and collaboration with stakeholders up and down the value chain.
“I feel I’ve gone full circle being invited in with private equity to discuss target opportunities. But that’s what they’re looking for, maritime professionals to come out and demonstrate a deep level of industry understanding to flush out these opportunities. And they want to identify the target companies who should participate, after all, not all of them are ready, willing and able to transform.
A crystal ball
“In the short term? The biggest potential comes from digitalisation. In the longer term though, what’s happening around green shipping, sustainability and zero emissions is sure to have a big impact on the way we engineer our ships and re-design the maritime value chain. If we look to history, we have not seen comparable change since we moved from sail to mechanical propulsion so it’s a really interesting time to be in shipping.
“I think also we have to begin to consider the human side of business more across the industry. Both at an executive level – developing as market-leading professionals – seeking opportunities to grow and develop, through the CBS Blue MBA for example. But also looking after our seafarers. They need to become our power assets, not our ships.
“Covid taught us that we need to get humanity back into shipping, our people were not treated well enough during the crisis, often being forced to stay at sea for unreasonable amounts of time in adverse conditions. We can’t let that continue. Only by developing and motivating our people better can we as an industry hope to build a better and more sustainable future.
These are exciting times.”