Blue MBA: Graduation Celebration – Class of 2015

Academia, Education and Training, Events, HR, Maritime Education and Training — By on August 11, 2015 at 4:14 PM
Group photo – Class of 2015

Group photo – Blue MBA, Class of 2015. Photo credit: Bertil Bjoerk

Blue MBA is equipping leaders in the turbulent maritime industry with superb decision-making skills, industry leaders affirm at the 2015 Graduation Day of the unique executive education programme

The 38 new graduates of the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics (the Blue MBA) course at Copenhagen Business School will bring substantial real benefit to the maritime businesses where they serve in senior positions, top-level speakers asserted during the ceremony for Graduation Day 2015  in the Danish capital.

Gaining the prized qualification known as the Blue MBA in the only part-time course of its kind in the industry was no mere “academic exercise, ” an audience of industry figures, friends and family was told.

Sitting down on the stage (l to r): Mads Petr Zacho, Tommy Thomsen, José Anselmo, Anne Steffensen, Bent Petersen, Irene Rosbeg

Sitting down on the stage (l to r): Mads Petr Zacho, Tommy Thomsen, José Anselmo, Anne Steffensen, Bent Petersen, and Irene Rosbeg. Photo credit: Bertil Bjoerk

Since its launch in 2001, the part-time two-year programme, which has accreditation from leading educational bodies, has graduated exactly 200 executives from 35 countries – the international emphasis being one of its strengths. The participants are already working at board rank in companies and organisations where they have a wide range of management duties.

Initiating proceedings before more than 250 people in the Copenhagen Business School auditorium on August 8 2015, programme director Irene Rosberg said that despite the hardships endured by the industry in recent times, the course was adventurously reaching new milestones and, thanks to the cadre of expert tutors, was opening doors of opportunity.

On the right, Christian Berg, CEO Viking Supply Ships, receives his degree.

On the right, Christian Berg, CEO Viking Supply Ships, receives his degree. Photo credit: Bertil Bjoerk

The great value of the Blue MBA programme, she said, lay in its uniqueness. It had achieved this through the diversity of its alumni, and the commitment of its international faculty, coaches and advisers. “We have come a long way since the inception of this programme, and we are now considered the best in the world, ” in executive maritime education, she said. “I consider this recognition the greatest professional honour – it belongs to all of those who helped us through the past 15 years, including the shipping community in Denmark by recognising the need for higher education, and the leadership of Copenhagen Business School by providing the environment.”

The platform party and graduates had entered the hall accompanied by a stirring performance of Scotland the Brave by the Gordon Pipes and Drums of Copenhagen. The internationally-renowned dozen-strong band had to great applause earlier entertained with traditional airs guests and graduates as they arrived in the courtyard before the hall.

Bent Petersen, associate dean of Copenhagen Business School, said that the Blue MBA had been an “ice-breaker” in terms of maritime research and teaching at CBS. The graduating Class of 2015 comprised 17 nationalities and Professor Petersen could not think of a more international programme at CBS apart from those related to advanced computer technology. The Blue MBA faculty was second to none in terms of industry expertise and experience.

Despina Panayiotou Theodossiou and Jan Michelsen

Despina Panayiotou Theodossiou and Jan Michelsen. Photo credit: Bertil Bjoerk

The major strength of the Blue MBA, added Prof Petersen, was its balance between industry-specific theory and practice. Fulfilling the programme “is a major achievement: no doubt about that. I am sure that all of you are challenged in your jobs. Shipping is a turbulent industry that requires your decision-making abilities on a daily basis, ” but undertaking the MBA “does provide you with the management tools to make the right decisions at the right time.”

Anne Steffensen, director-general of the Danish Shipowners Association, said that by facilitating trade in goods and energy supply, shipping had improved the lives of millions of people while seeking to leave the least negative footprint on the world climate, but she warned: “Life in the global shipping industry is not a walkover. There are many challenges such as over-capacity [of tonnage], low freight rates, falling prices of raw materials, lack of seafarers, and compliance with legislative goals.” Equally there were opportunities to create winning business models and changes “in ways that keep us competitive and in business.”

Now the graduates were able to add their talents, knowledge and hard work to contribute to the Danish and international shipping industry. “Your learning must continue, ” she told the graduates. “Out there is a fast-paced world that will throw fresh realities at you every morning. You must keep an open mind, never fear knowledge, make sure you ask the questions that are at the back of your mind, and share your knowledge when it can help others.”

José Anselmo, principal administrator of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Mobility and Transport, said that each student had created a vital “building block for the future.”

There had never been such a large Europe – the European Union had more than 505m people, making it the largest trading bloc in the world. Around the globe, shipping was carrying more than 90% of traded commodities, and 70% of foreign trade in Europe was carried by ship, “so we need a strong industry and strong partners, ” said Mr Anselmo.

The graduates had made a huge investment of their experience and knowledge in the industry and “we are really counting on you” to maintain Europe as a maritime power, said Mr Anselmo.

Tommy Thomsen, chief executive of the Danish Maritime Foundation, which provides financial support to initiatives to develop and promote Danish shipping and shipbuilding, recalled the Foundation’s decision in January 2012 to finance 100 maritime MBA scholarships over a period of five years. To date the Foundation had approved 87 applicants and dispensed funding totalling more than DKr28m, involving 15 MBA programmes (including the Blue MBA) and seven universities.

Since the Foundation was established in 2005, it had committed DKr400m to industrial development projects in ‘Blue Denmark’ involving 200 companies, universities and public authorities. Urging the graduates to maintain their commitment to the maritime sector, Mr Thomsen said: “You may check out temporarily, but you can never leave shipping.  It will forever be in your blood.”

The following speaker, Mads Peter Zacho, referred to the difficulties he had to confront when he was appointed chief financial officer of product tanker and dry bulk carrier operator Torm. For two years the company had been labelled as ‘struggling Torm’ and ‘troubled Torm’ because of its heavy debt load. “That has been really tough, ” but after a restructuring agreement was concluded just a few weeks ago, “it is nice once again to be just referred to as ‘Torm shipping company.’”

Mr Zacho had made use of practically every single page of the business text book in putting the company back on track, and “I am very pleased to have had the foresight in preparing myself well. By doing so, I have added some very important [strategic] tools to my toolbox.” He told the graduates: “Your challenges will be tough, but you have just taken a very important step [in having completed the Blue MBA programme] in preparing yourself.” Over the past 24 months, the graduates had shown energy and inspiration, and now they had their MBA.

Mr Zacho said that when he accepted the finance chief appointment at Torm which was in a precarious state, his friends and family asked: “Are you crazy? What if the company fails?” but he had the feeling that this was the time to make a real difference, and the company had everything to win.

In their careers, a doctor, teacher or lawyer would have a defined methodology to follow, said Mr Zacho, but “it is not so in business.” Success in senior management “combines equal amounts of witchcraft and snake oil. Some business managers will say it is all about getting the job done, or cutting to the bone. From other texts, you will get some fanciful recipes. But I do not think there is any fixed formula for what leadership is. Each one of you will have to go out and decide what kind of leader you have got to be. Develop your own leadership style and make some serious change!”

On behalf of the students, Jan Michelsen declared: “A lot of hard work is behind us, but we stand here with a strong motivation to take on even greater challenges.” Mr Michelsen, who is vice-president of the maritime business unit Cobham Satcom, part of the Cobham group,   has been Class Representative for the men and women of the 2015 Blue MBA.

Fascinating experiences during the course listed by Mr Michelsen had included a reception at the London residence of the ambassador of Peru [the South American nation has a key but little-heralded maritime role], a visit to the world’s largest containership [the 18, 000 teu Triple-E ship Majestic Maersk] and a cruise on the River Elbe during a course module in Hamburg.

Varied places of business of participants in the Blue MBA underlined that shipping was truly a global business, with several people flying long distances to take part in modules, “and we are also extremely diverse at a sector level, ” said Mr Michelsen. The success of the MBA venture was a testament to the support of Copenhagen Business School and especially to the qualities of Ms Rosberg, who “has travelled the world to promote the Blue MBA for many years. CBS should be extremely grateful for having you [Ms Rosberg] on board, firmly navigating the vessel and keeping it on a safe and steady course.”

Mr Michelsen paid tribute to the families of students who had spent a great deal of time on coursework. “Many of us have been away for many, many hours.” One of the graduates, Despina Panayiotou-Theodosiou of Cyprus, had pursued the course while becoming a mother.

The Class of 2017 who would begin work in September 2015 would find things tough, said Mr Michelsen, “but at the end you will be rewarded… and remember to have some fun to keep you going through stormy weathers, ” he advised.

A few weeks ago, Mr Michelsen was appointed the first Blue MBA Ambassador with responsibility for the sphere of technology and innovation. Blue MBA Ambassadors serve as leaders, advocates and liaison contacts for former, present and future alumni of the programme.

One of the new graduates is Reynir Gislason who has become the first Latin American Ambassador for the Blue MBA. A highly experienced executive, he has been president of IFS Group, one of the largest international freight forwarding firms in Peru, since 2008. Mr Gislason vowed to work hard to promote the Blue MBA which “is absolutely fantastic.“

Mr Gislason added: “Fellow students, I am really proud of your written assignments, to be friends with you, to have mentored each other. I am very sad to leave this programme. I have used many of the assignments to teach others within my company – it has created tremendous value within my company.”

On behalf of the examining panel, Herbert Kotzab of Bremen University announced the winner of the prize for the best master’s thesis, known as the Integrated Strategy Project, in which theoretical and practical resources are to be applied to generate findings directly relevant to a particular business. The award went to Søren Westerskov for his paper entitled ”Will DanPilot be present beyond 2020?” DanPilot is an independent public enterprise under the Danish Ministry of Business and Growth, and which has the Danish Maritime Authority as its supervising authority.

Professor Kotzab said that the Blue MBA ethos required the development of methodology and models to suggest solutions to problems. He had been asked if the Integrated Strategy Project was just an academic exercise, to which he answered: ”No – these exercises are going to influence the future of companies.”

The next Blue MBA class begins in September 2015. Further information is available from the programme director Irene Rosberg at ir.mba@cbs.dk

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