Why Second Engineer? Why Technical Superintendent? Why Fleet manager? No, Seriously!

To the young, old age is a distant rumor. We flock along merrily in our daily chores unaware or worse, pretending to be unaware, that time will catch up with all of us eventually. But what do we really seek out of a career in Shipping? Really?

An ideal candidate in my position who had just won three consecutive promotions is not supposed to question the career ladder. He is supposed to climb, more and more. A 3rd Engineer becomes a 2nd. A 2nd becomes a chief and so on until one becomes a Technical Superintendent in a shipping Company at 35, who ironically gets paid as much as a 23 Year old MBA in today’s India. From there on before hitting the glass ‘Asian’, ‘Technical’, “’Engineer must be a micromanager” , “Non-Scandinavian” ceiling, one may advance to the level of a Vice President- Technical. This is probably the highest post that 99% of Shippies will get to. Why?

Beyond that are the posts of “EVP –Technical” who may either go on to become a “COO” or a “CEO”. But in the entire history of Maritime Industry you will find, after doing my research I tell you, hardly ten Superintendents or Fleet managers or even Vice President Technical who has made that successful transition to Executive Vice President. I am not saying it is impossible. I am saying it is improbable, unless you are one- in- a- million talented enough to overcome the stereotypical obstacles AND you are extra-ordinarily zealous about the shipping industry, in which case you probably deserve to revolutionize shipping.

But if you are a 25 year old plotting to become a CEO or a COO or even a Executive Vice president I would suggest you to have a “green-to-tee” thinking or “to keep the end in mind” thinking.  In golf, the great ones, plot their moves backwards, from the hole to the green to the tee. Not from the tee to the greens.

When you keep the end in mind and traverse you will find in your research that  most, if not all , EVPs, CEOs, COOs of shipping companies arise from a Ship operators’ role or a chartering role. Very few will make it from the role of a Master or a Chief Engineer. Again, it is not impossible, only improbable. The reason is that while Ship operators and Charterers handle the shipping business and the people involved in it, at a macro level from the very beginning, while the people on-board start from a microscopic level and by the time they graduate to handling business issues at the level of Vice president, they have gobbled up a good twenty years of their career, a position which a young shipping trainee in the operations department gets to in five years of his starting out. Uneven playing field? You bet.

So what would I suggest? If you are keen on shipping as a career, move to

1) Operations role

2) Chartering role

3)Get an MBA from a top notch American /European school (Harvard/ Wharton/ Stanford/ LBS/ Insead)


The first two roles are straight forward. You move up the ladder, perform very well, build industry networks, leverage them and advance to the C-suite.

The third is a visionary tactic because Shipping is increasingly becoming a commodity business where the price wars have been raging on and off and the boom(2000-2007) and the bust ( 2008 – 2016??)  cycles of the shipping market are appearing faster and faster. Hence, a third generation shipping skill is coming to the fore.

While the first generation shipping magnates where  founders running a close family-only business, the second generation brought in professional managers and operators to run the business in a more professional manner. Hence as is natural in any industry, which is 300+ years old, it is now becoming more and more a finance game.

Hence the third generation Shipping executive would most necessarily possess a strong financial background. The best breeding place for such executives who have large fund-raising connections are from the hallowed corridors of Shipping focused Investment banks and Private Equity managers. They would be hired as VP/EVP Finance and gradually move to the the fore as CFOs, only to dominate in the coming years, transitioning into the CEO role.

As is evident from the fund-raising challenges and equity gluts of many large shipping firms recently, it is only obvious that shipping is going to increasingly value fund-raising and financial restructuring capabilities in the future, as the industry gets increasingly commoditized.

So the ambitious and the visionary Shipping executive would get a MBA in Finance, move to Wall Street/Canary Wharf for a while to a shipping focused bank/PE Portfolio and then head into the Shipping industry as a VP Corporate finance or a VP M&A, then transition to EVP- Corporate finance to CFO to CEO.  That shall be the most prudent path into the C-suite in the forthcoming wave of finance focused Shipping. The industry is moving eastward to lower cost regions and hence managers are bound to be non-Scandinavian in a few years and hence an Asian candidate with the ideal financial skill-set may be the choice to grow the next generation shipping companies.

As always, I don’t claim to be the authority on Shipping careers or trends. My views are very personal , mere observations and pattern recognitions as a fan of logic and may/may not be biased. Take what you may and leave what you think should be left, prudently. 🙂

PS: I did my research a couple of years ago, on the basis of the careers and backgrounds of the people listed below. So these generalizations have not been pulled out of thin air.:)  Feel free to Google each one of them to see ‘where they come from’

Andreas Nordseth, CEO, Danish Maritime Authority 
• Birgit Sølling Olsen, Deputy Director-General, Danish Maritime Authority 
• Carsten Mortensen, CEO Norden 
• Claes Devantier, Senior Vice President, Maersk Broker 
• Eivind Kolding, CEO Container Business, 
  A.P. Moller – Maersk 
• Frank G. Jensen, Partner, Chairman and CEO, Clipper 
• Henrik Ramskov, Managing Director, Handytankers 
• Jacob Melgaard, CEO, TORM 
• Jens Martin Jensen, Managing Director and CEO, 
Frontline Management AS 
• Kim Ullman, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategic Officer, Stena Bulk 
• Klaus Kjærulff, Chairman of the Board 
• Lars Pedersen, Head of Fleet Management, 
Höegh Fleet Services 
• Mikael Skov, CEO, Tankers inc. 
• Niels Smedegaard, President and CEO, DFDS 
• Per Gullestrup, Partner, CEO Clipper Ferries/Ro-Ro 
• Peter Lorange, Professor, International shipping expert 
• Robert M. Uggla, Managing Director, Broström 
• Roland M. Andersen, CFO TORM 
• Tommy Thomsen, CEO, Nordic Tankers 
• Tony Fang, PhD – International Business 
• Torben Janholt, CEO, J. Lauritzen 
• Trond H. Klaveness, President and CEO, The Torvald Klaveness Group

P.S. As always, I do like my gullible opinions challenged, so fire away if you think am wrong.

About V

Tried building a sky scrapper. Now Re-building it again with worn out tools.
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4 Responses to Why Second Engineer? Why Technical Superintendent? Why Fleet manager? No, Seriously!

  1. Jude says:

    And not every 23 year old MBA candidate gets a good sum if I’m not wrong.

  2. Kashif Raza says:

    Good going & Gr8 Thinking. All Job Well Done Mr. D..I agree wid u….Keep up all the good work

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