United Arab Shipping Company (UASC) is once again on pace to outgrow its competition this year. This is an accomplishment worth taking notice, as it is something everyone in the industry can learn from. UASC’s Chief Commercial Officer, Mr. Uffe Østergaard, is a familiar face in Thailand. He was the general manager for his former employer Maersk in Thailand for over two years. Now that he is the CCO at UASC, everything he’s learned can be applied to UASC who is looking to become a leading carrier; by driving growth ahead of the market and making the business thrive.
LM was fortunate enough to speak with Mr. Østergaard recently for an exclusive interview. He began by telling us more about his life long experience in the shipping industry, what he brings to UASC and where he sees the market headed. “I’ve grown up in the industry, I originally started as a shipping trainee,” said Mr. Østergaard. “I’ve worked for 20 years in the shipping industry, in different countries, and in different roles. When I had an opportunity to meet the board and CEO of UASC, their vision of growth and change for their business is what interested me the most. The ambition to go out and invest in new vessels and containers, and striving to double the size of the company within four years is exciting. I’ve seen the desire in the company to put more of a focus on customers, while also expanding into new markets. It’s the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that attracts me.”
Mr. Østergaard is in a position to talk to some of the top exporters in a world. He has insight and knowledge into the industry at large that few have. Mr. Østergaard had this to say about the market outlook, “Rates look to continue at the historically all-time lows they are already at. This is thanks in part to the issue of an oversupply of vessels. Currently, the industry is over-saturated from introducing too much capacity over the years. The large amounts of vessels ordered are being delivered now at the worst time with the economic downturn. Carriers may begin idling their capacity by laying up some of their vessels, resulting in a lot of capacity being taken out. Also, we recently just saw a big merger between two of the top carriers, and it’s likely we could see more mergers like this in 2016. Finally, carriers will need to continue closely monitoring the market to reduce costs and look for ways to optimize their business.”
“Everyone is trying to reduce costs by implementing better business processes. For some, this can sometimes lead to less focus being placed on the customer and more on the bottom line.”
“At UASC, I believe we can improve business procedures while also improving the customer experience.”
A Balancing Act
“From our perspective, there are two elements you can’t ignore. One side of the equation is the cost; there’s no way of getting around it. You need to have a competitive cost base in order to stay in the industry. On the other hand, you must be able to deliver value to your customers, both in terms of the products offered, and also the service and accessibility. Not all customers are the same; we need to be able to cater to everyone. Having a local touch in each market is the key element. We see this as a differentiator that enables us to grow significantly ahead of the market. These offices are run by local, competent, experienced and enthusiastic individuals. It translates into better service and a more satisfied customer, without sacrificing cost.”
Mr. Østergaard has an example of how UASC is able to adapt to a customer’s needs. “One of our large customers has very strict procedures and rules, as do we, but because of the size and structure of UASC, we are able to adapt. The challenge is when you have two large companies sitting in front of each other with established procedures and protocols, trying to comply with each other can be an obstacle, with neither wanting to compromise. At UASC, we are more agile in how we operate.”
Building Trust in the System
The industry is very much driven towards process control to keep costs down. UASC seems to be keenly aware of how important these processes are, but keeps the customer experience in the forefront of their mind.
“We look at it from a strategic point of view, 80% is the process. On the backend that helps improve productivity, but you can still have a personal touch. The entire front end is still done within each country. Each office has the authority to make decisions, and they can get most problems solved right away. It helps to encourage and empower our employees, that they have the ability to solve their customers’ problems.”
“Being passionate towards customers, and having people in place that know the rules, but are flexible enough to know when to make exceptions to aid the customer is important.”
“The new state-of-the-art IT system we have in place helps execute our tasks efficiently as well. It helps us to be able to put more focus onto the client when the backend works well. We also offer client’s multiple methods to engage with UASC, be that via the web, by phone or in person. Having knowledgeable and enthusiastic people receiving these inquiries is of the utmost importance towards achieving customer satisfaction. Enabling our people to proactively solve problems on the spot is what helps to differentiate our service.”
Taking what he has learned from his many years abroad, Mr. Østergaard knows all about the differences in culture and what motivates an individual. “It’s been a huge benefit for me to be able to live on multiple continents and see how differently people, customers and markets operate. It’s shaped my view quite a bit. While we develop new concepts at the head office, we’re always aware that the concepts need to be adapted to each country and culture to work in the best way and get people on board. It helps both in terms of driving the change, but also delivering the benefit to our customers and UASC.”
Investing in Thailand and Abroad
UASC has continued to push into multiple markets, but is still investing in places they have been for years, like Thailand. They recently renovated the branch in Thailand with brand new equipment, and this environment in turn attracts the best people to run the operation. This investment is part of a larger strategy to grow and move forward into new markets. The market is still open – albeit highly competitive – which leaves room for businesses like UASC to carve out their place. Competition will still be fierce, but the right investments make a difference. For UASC, Thailand presents an opportunity to grow and create additional services. They already service all major trade lanes, with routes to North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and most recently in South America. The ambition is to continue to expand and to become a preferred carrier in Thailand.
“We are active in many markets around the world, and we just expanded into South America in a big way. Refrigerated cargo is also something we are focusing on more and more on. Last year we invested in a new fleet of 40-foot’ reefer containers, also in connection to our expansion to South America, we also started doing refrigerated cargo from Thailand. We have a very modern fleet in terms of vessels and containers that helps us to reach our ambitious environmental targets. This is something that is becoming increasingly important for many of our big customers. We have continually demonstrated this and have become a member of the Clean Cargo Working Group, which is a global body to monitor emissions. Through this we can actually see our progress in the environmental footprint area, as we are one of the best amongst all the carriers.”
Mr. Østergaard and UASC are in a unique position. They have the flexibility and reach to cater to large and small companies, but also have local offices throughout the world that are able to help customers on a one-to-one basis. Even if current trends continue, UASC looks on target to keep growing, and be capable of serving customers from around the globe. It will be interesting to see even in a few years’ time where the company stands.
“This opportunity was extremely motivating; the DNA in UASC is one of customer focus. Expanding our footprint and customer base with our strong passionate customer focus DNA is something I’ve noticed since I’ve been here. I see the passion for the work and I hope it shows in our end product. It’s something I see throughout the whole company which helps differentiate us. It enables us to expand at the rate we’re heading now. With these fantastic people and the great technology we have in place it enables us to ultimately serve the client to the best of our ability. It’s a fantastic opportunity that we are only at the beginning of; we still have a lot more markets and customers to serve. It’s a privilege to be part of this, and I hope we can all grow together.”
Watch UASC’s corporate video below or follow UASC on LinkedIn: