A look back on LISW 2017...

Posted on 19th September 2017 | Latest News

Well that went quickly. Another two years in the shipping industry passes us by in a flash but culminates in a week of events that celebrated the good work done by all in the industry in what have possibly been the most uncertain times for the sector since the crash of 2008. Despite lingering challenges in the containers sector due to legacy issues around over-supply, a slow return to growth in dry-bulk and ongoing uncertainty in the wider global picture, it was encouraging to hear so many senior shipping leaders talking about growth and innovation. I spent the week like most going from event to event, soaking up the abundance of educational opportunities that were available for anyone who cared to explore them and what struck me the most was the sheer optimism across the market despite all of the questions that still hang over what lies ahead. Here are the main themes that I took away from the week...

Consolidation

My week began with the 4th Annual Shipowning & Shipmanaging Summit at Norton Rose Fullbright. Having attended the summit two years prior and listened to Clive Richardson the then CEO of V-Group talk about the role of private-equity in salvaging the bank's role as enablers for the shipping industry through recession, it was interesting this time to hear more talk of consolidation following V-Group's acquisition of Bibby Ship Management in between times. It would appear that for the ship management sector at least, continuing consolidation will be the trend in the coming years, as will further integration of services as the majors face increasing pressure to provide optimum value for the owners. CEO of Wallem Group and client of Sherrington Associates Simon Doughty said at the end of the summit, that ship managers are increasingly seeking to innovate to differentiate themselves from the competition, even if this means working with competitors to collaborate over value-adding solutions that create an overall more efficient solution for the client.  However it wasn't just in the ship management sector where consolidation seemed to be the theme of the day. Later in the week I visited the DSEI exhibition at London's ExCel Centre where I talked to the new Vice President of Survitec's defence business about the aftermath of the recent acquisition of Wilhelmsen's Ships Service. It would appear that in defence safety and survival as within ship management the sector is rapidly evolving and the dominance of the majors is becoming unstoppable. The trend will no doubt continue and it will be interesting to see the shape of things in two years when we descend on London once more.

Innovation

Monday's summit also focused on a subject that seems to have gained an increasingly more prominent seat at the table for the industry over the last decade. We were lucky enough to listen to an eclectic panel made up of both industry captains as well as provocative thought leaders from outside of the sector. What emerged was a lively debate that asked what role innovation is playing in shaping the future landscape of the shipping industry. Autonomous vessels, improved connectivity for crew and other technological advancements were all part of a lively discussion on the wider subject of innovation, however the conversation again turned to how the industry could innovate it's services to improve value for customers. Several competing viewpoints were projected by delegates from around the globe, but all seemed to agree that disruptive thinking and superior innovation would be the currency of success for all sides of the industry in an increasingly VUCA world over the next twenty years. 

Tuesday night saw me darting between the Peel Ports 'Mersey Links With Drinks' event at the top of the Lloyd's Building and the London Propeller Club annual reception at the Naval Club in Mayfair. Whilst I probably didn't stay at the former for as long as I'd have liked to due to my haste to get to the latter on time, I was lucky enough to listen to Peel's latest tale of innovation as they unveiled their new container rail service in Liverpool. Clearly a new 'added value' solution for their container customers and one that was warmly received by a small but high profile audience including Peel customers, a variety of Mersey Maritime delegates and an ever chirpy former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Compliance

In an increasingly litigious world and one fraught with all kinds of new challenges from the physical to the virtual to the environmental, it was no surprise that high on people's agenda this year was the subject of compliance. With increasing regimen around environmental issues such as ballast water and fuel, I was very much expecting these to be some of the hot potatoes of the week, however these were over-shadowed by the subject of data compliance and the new challenges posed by GDPR adherence. Arguably the ramifications from a planetary standpoint are far more worrying if the sector fails to adhere to forthcoming  legislation surrounding environmental issues, however the threat of significant financial penalties for failing to heed new data compliance laws coming into play next year appeared to take centre stage at the owners / managers summit. The delegation listened intently as maritime lawyer and legal expert Ian MacLean of Hill Dickinson elaborated on the ticking time bomb of GDPR and spelled out the consequences of failure to act. 

People

On Tuesday we joined friends from the North West to listen to a panel hosted by Louise Minchin of BBC News fame discuss how the nationwide skills-gap in science and engineering was still inhibiting growth and poses a major threat for the future competitiveness of Great Britain in the maritime industry. Chairman of Carnival UK and Chairman of Maritime UK David Dingle gave a rousing speech to rally the audience, citing collaboration as the key to addressing the challenge of skills. Whilst the issue has been discussed to death for as long as I can remember it does seem that industry is finally becoming more proactive when it comes to focusing on the root of the problem as evidenced in Siemens new 'Curiosity Project' an initiative aimed at lower schools to promote the many exciting options that a STEM education can offer. Whilst the world of executive search doesn't necessarily feel the pains that the skills-gap issue might present for let's say a technical engineering recruiter, the sector has it's own issues when it comes to hiring talent in the maritime space. The maritime industry has been notoriously slow to adapt to 'out-of-sector' hiring strategies for it's executive boards than it's more progressive counterparts in other sectors. However organisations like Carnival seem to be bucking the trend with senior executives being appointed from other adjacent spaces such as the aviation sector. Could this be the sign of things to come? Possibly. It was encouraging to talk to a number of senior executives throughout the week who had joined the industry in recent years from outside of the sector including a CEO of a major port who'd come into ports from the world of facilities management and the newly elected Chairman of a multinational marine products manufacturer who had moved over from the automotive sector. Bringing in new talent from fresh pastures like this is the only way the shipping industry will be able to compete with other industries in the innovation stakes so it was good to hear the subject being spoken about across a number of events during the week.

The week concluded early for me as I had to return to the North West for business on the Thursday, but the three days presented a plethora of new opportunities to cogitate over on the train home. One thing's for sure, there will have been more work done last week than there was in the rest of the year for many of the firms who came to London. I'm looking forward to working with many of the people I met last week in the very near future.

Rob McKay - Managing Director, Sherrington Associates.

Brochures Pic
Peel Photo Lloyds Building Lisw17
Ian Hill Dicks
Innovation Guy
Louise Minchin
Scottish Maritime
Me At Lloyds
Trading Floor

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