Blue MBA graduation ceremony reminded of urgent industry need for high degree of talent

Academia, Events, HR, Logistics, Maritime Education and Training, News, People and Places, Shipmanagement, Shipping Centers, Story of the Month — By on August 17, 2017 at 4:52 PM

The Graduates, Class of 2017 of the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics

Prominent maritime personalities, including a leader at the world’s largest container shipping company and a key figure in the marine insurance sector, were among those congratulating graduates from the Class of 2017 of the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics, a programme based at Copenhagen Business School.

In an emotional ceremony on August 12, 2017, the gowned participants in the course – known as the Blue MBA – were cheered by an audience of family, friends and colleagues as they were granted permission to switch the tassel from the right to the left side of their academic caps, signifying their lauded achievement.

Søren Toft.

Among the speakers, Søren Toft, chief operating officer of the redoubtable Maersk Line since 2014, emphasised that “we very much need” talent in the shipping business. His explanation of “why we need to get great people to overcome the challenges of tomorrow: remember we are first and foremost in a service industry. Yes, we need assets – but it all really starts with the customers.”

He declared: “Our industry needs talent, it needs passion and a bit of bravery to overcome challenges.”

The “old fashioned industry” was seeking ways to renovate itself. In an implicit reference to the painful market downturn of the last few years, Søren Toft said that the very fragmented maritime industry was “seeing some growth rebound” as more consolidation took place “towards a more sane industry.”

One such step is the planned acquisition by Maersk Line of Hamburg Süd, and Mr Toft said: “We are doing this because we believe consolidation is good for the industry and it gives the opportunity to offer to our customers better products. We need to find a way to offer more service” and to embrace technology: “we need skillsets we did not have before. It is for that reason we need to attract the brightest minds to enter a truly international work setting.”

As to that last point, he underlined that at his company’s headquarters more than 70 nationalities were working – “something not only unique in Denmark, but unique in the world. We are on a journey not only business-wise, but on a journey culture-wise.”

He recognised the sacrifice of private time that the Blue MBA graduates had made, but recalled from his study for an executive MBA (from IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland) that the experience could be “a lot of fun.” Mr Toft joined the Maersk Group in 1994 as a management trainee, and has had leadership roles in Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Germany and the Netherlands. Maersk Line operates 630 boxships, has 7,600 seafarers and 22,400 land-based employees at 306 offices in 114 countries.

Irene Rosberg.

Addressing some 250 guests at the event in the Copenhagen Business School auditorium, Blue MBA programme director Irene Rosberg said that the past two years had brought difficulties for the industry and many who worked in it. Graduation day though was “a time of celebration for all the hard work that has been done” by the course participants.

Ms Rosberg praised the Blue MBA’s “world class faculty and coaches, its supporters and advisers,” and expressed pride in the professional and cultural diversity of the Class. “We have come a long way since the inception [in 2001] of this programme” which was now considered globally the best part-time executive MBA programme serving the maritime sector.

Ms Rosberg extended special thanks to the shipping community in Denmark which had long ago recognised the need for top-quality higher management education.

Helle Hammer.

Helle Hammer, managing director of Cefor (the Nordic Association of Marine Insurers), stressed the need for all in the industry to prepare for a series of uncertainties. Insurance was based on what had happened previously, “but we need to understand that changes are happening.” Geopolitics – nation against nation, insurgent groups, lots of insecurity issues – were prominent factors.

Insurers and others were having to deal with trade sanctions having become a tool of foreign policy; the fact that China was a new leader of world trade; and what would happen with Brexit, given that a big part of the insurance market operated from London. Environmental solutions were essential for many issues. There were more complex systems on board ship, and as to cyber risk – “we have only seen the start of it.” At some point, fully autonomous vessels would be introduced and this and other challenges called for appropriate regulation, certification and standards, said Ms Hammer.

Poul Hedegaard, CBS MBA director, referred to “the great reputation all round the world” that the Blue MBA had earned. He spoke of “a story of big and rapid change” in the business world under shareholder pressure, and the need for greater efficiency and higher service levels.

Mr Hedegaard recalled being told by one of his mentors 25 years ago that “nothing will ever be as tough in your professional life as doing your MBA. Looking back, I know he was right.”

Bent Petersen, associate dean of Copenhagen Business School, said: “Your class is the largest MBA class so far, and your celebration coincides with the celebration of the 100th birthday of the CBS.” A centenary gala dinner in March had been honoured with the presence of Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, ministers and representatives from the business community.

[For the 2016 CBS academic year, there were 22,829 students, 673 full-time faculty and 649 administrative staff – the institution in its first year 1917 had just 168 students enrolled].

Prof Petersen said: “After many years as the ‘ugly duckling,’ CBS has grown to be the most international university in this country, and the largest business school in Europe. CBS needs excellent programmes such as the Blue MBA to keep strong and strengthen its international position.”

He said: “The maritime sector is a turbulent one – turbulence is, so to say, the normal.” This was exemplified by what might be called a perfect storm – developments including setbacks in the offshore industry, the bankruptcy of South Korea’s Hanjin Shipping, consolidation in the container market, trade wars and increasingly malicious cyber-attacks. All this pointed to the need for management with the ability to navigate their companies through the troubled waters.

The strength of the Blue MBA programme was its mix of industry-related theory and practice, and finding the right balance of these complementary elements was necessary for its continued success. Prof Petersen told the graduates: “Your fulfilment of the MBA programme is an impressive achievement. I trust that the programme has equipped you with the [management] tools to make the right decisions and on time.”

Jan Norgaard Lauridsen, managing partner, Scandinavia, for Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search company for transport, logistics, infrastructure and energy, advised the graduates on their professional path to avail themselves of lessons from the school of life and “take whatever opportunities come.” He said “there is only one thing that is important, it is people. You can have the most beautiful assets in the world [and still fail to make the grade]. I have seen far too many people who want to be CEOs but who have no plans. You have sacrificed things for your MBA, but it is not going to stop. Be ambitious but be realistic. Have opinions but be humble.”

Mr Lauridsen spoke from experience of the maritime world.  He was formerly managing director Asia Pacific for product tanker and dry bulk company Torm, and before that was with Inchcape Shipping Services and American President Lines. He moved back to Denmark 18 months ago from Singapore.

His current firm, Chicago-based and Nasdaq-listed Heidrick & Struggles, says that it pioneered the profession of executive search more than 60 years ago.

On behalf of the graduating Class, Thomas Damsgaard, ‎vice-president for marine services North America at Inchcape Shipping Services, Houston, said that he and his fellow students, whom he dubbed “the fab 48,” had been on a phenomenal journey. “The personal growth over the last 24 months has made us stronger, smarter and more confident.  How sweet it is to be wearing this cap and gown today.

“I feel like we have been given a box of Lego [the popular construction toy] to build a house – to build a rocket-ship – whatever the imagination desires or needs. The true measure of success now is how we apply our learning… not just in business but in our communities and in life as a whole.”

Sharing the last two years of study with excellent people meant that “there are 47 individuals I can call on if I need support, or face challenges.”

Mr Damsgaard paid tribute to the MBA coaches, colleagues in company offices who covered for the students while they were attending lectures, and to families for their commitment, support and loyalty, and to the significant and invaluable role of programme director Irene Rosberg.

“We are the Class of 17 – the class that can and will change the industry! Now, let us go out and make a difference,” urged Mr Damsgaard.

Alexandros Chiotopoulos, award winner.

For the examining panel, Herbert Kotzab of Bremen University announced the winner of the best master’s thesis, known as the Integrated Strategy Project, which calls for theoretical and practical knowledge developed during the MBA course to be applied for the benefit of the candidate’s business. The award went to Alexandros Chiotopoulos, key account manager with classification society DNV GL. In his career to date, Mr Chiotopoulos has been involved with business development, client relationships, helping the shipping industry develop a greener profile and commercial consultancy on technical aspects of liquefied natural gas carriage.

Prof Kotzab said that all the papers submitted were great, but the one presented by Mr Chiotopoulos was outstanding because it “truly represented what the ISP is meant to be. Its analysis used real data related to the participant’s company.” It showed the requisite rigour “and the project will change the way the company is going to act in the future, in the particular market.” The company was part of a group active in more than 100 countries and the proposals by Mr Chiotopoulos showed how customer relations could be more fully exploited.

Packed hall for the ceremony.

The main premises of Copenhagen Business School are in Frederiksberg, a suburb of the Danish capital, and noted for its Frederiksberg estate, which a couple of minutes’ walk away is one of the most beautiful public parks in Europe. The platform party and graduates had proceeded from the CBS courtyard into the hall to the stirring music of the Gordon Pipes and Drums of Copenhagen. The sound of the disciplined dozen-strong band has become a tradition of Blue MBA graduation day.

The highly-regarded MBA programme consists of eight modules mainly in Copenhagen, with one each in London and Hamburg. Participants, who hold senior rank in their companies or organisations, graduate after completing all modules and the final master thesis.

The Class of 2019 begins work in September 2017. Further information is available from programme director Irene Rosberg



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