An experienced and respected leader in the maritime industry, Thomas Damgsgaard enrolled for the Blue MBA at Copenhagen Business School to boost his business toolkit and to help him navigate a fast-changing sector.
“I am a shipping man. I started out in 1990 and have worked with companies such as Clipper and Spliethoff in locations all over the world, but in 2015 I started to realise that I had a few gaps in my knowledge.
That realisation was good for me, and I view it as sound business insight because when you’ve been doing something for a long time – I was 46 back then – it’s easy to think that you know it all. Throughout my career, I have progressed up the ladder and have opened offices in the US, run big companies and attempted a management buyout, but I started to recognise that perhaps I was missing out on opportunities or even becoming dangerous because I didn’t actually know it all after all.
Our industry is changing quicker than ever before and I wanted to stay relevant and involved. I needed more tools in my toolbox – and so I looked to CBS. Of course, I knew about the Blue MBA already and its reputation as the leading shipping maritime MBA programme in the world, but when I started to dig a little deeper, I recognised that the course absolutely reflected the dynamic, fast-paced world that I was working in.
There’s been a shift from our traditional, asset-based mentality in the shipping world and everything, even the language that companies are using, is changing. It’s not about the ‘steel’ (or perhaps even the ‘ships’), it’s more about ‘people’ and ‘supply chains’ and that’s something that I recognise and welcome. Ours is an industry that has been around for a long time and it’s only right that we start to consider the whole ecosystem and the needs and input of everyone. It’s not what we do, but how we work together – and that can help you unlock competitive differentiators in the market.”
Many things attracted me to the Blue MBA and to Copenhagen itself, which is home to one of the world’s biggest maritime clusters. The professors embrace diversity and encourage you to think differently and I think one of the most important things I got out of the experience is to learn to ask questions. A question is a sign of strength and it is only by asking questions that you can unlock knowledge and change conversations.
That inquisitive outlook is especially true now, when there are new ways of working and new things to learn to stay relevant. Shipping has been cyclical in nature and it used to be that, if you lost one piece of work, you’d hang around and another piece would turn up. It’s not like that anymore; there are bursts of activity and you need to seize the opportunities as and when they come along because they might not be there tomorrow.
And I know it’s been said many times before, but one of the most appealing things about the course was that you’re studying alongside students from all over the world; it’s great to see things from a different perspective. The professors were engaging and drove discussions that were relevant to my everyday life and where my industry is heading.
A fresh start
When I graduated in 2017, I felt more than ready to take on a new challenge and, unexpectedly, I got headhunted to lead the world’s largest port agency. I had been a customer of theirs for a long time and they wanted me to come in and offer them a fresh perspective and to look outside the conventional way of doing thing.
My Blue MBA absolutely gave me the tools to be able to take this on and I have since instituted a programme of change that is transitioning this 170 year old company into one that is forward-looking and fit for another 170 years. It’s all about changing mindsets and I could not have done that without having had the conversations that I’d had at CBS. It’s a higher level of leadership development that has equipped me with confidence, foresight and knowledge – the competitive edge that I was looking for.”