Dorothea Ioannou – on top of what’s trending in P&I

Interviews, P and I Clubs, Person Profiles — By on December 23, 2017 at 9:01 PM

Dorothea Ioannou.

Dorothea Ioannou – on top of what’s trending in P&I

By James Brewer

Trending on social media is one thing; trending in the marine insurance arena is another.

In the latter, it means keeping up – on a global scale – with what shipowners require from their insurers. This is a crucial responsibility for those who provide protection and indemnity cover, who need to be in constant listening mode with their demanding membership base.

Dorothea Ioannou, global business development director at the American P&I Club, says that while there is a trending business development function in most industries, it has taken a while for the marine insurance sector to recognise the importance of this function through formalisation of the role.

Underwriters evaluate specific risks; Dorothea Ioannou covers the globe in terms of gauging shipowner and charterer perspective and the sort of solutions and service they are looking for.

When the club’s managing company – which has offices in New York, London, Piraeus, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Houston – appointed Ms Ioannou to her current post, no other club had envisioned that exact title and role.

Perhaps that was because the concept is so intangible – business development in this context creates the strategy for marketing and growth – but it is no less exciting to the committed and energetic Ms Ioannou.

Ms Ioannou with (left) Vince Solarino and Joe Hughes.

The business development function is something than cannot fully be learned in a classroom environment or on a course, but a thriving mutual such as the American Club and its co-managed insurers need to take ownership of it.

Ms Ioannou reflects: “It is not something you can define easily: it is a role that involves and co-ordinates all the functions of the organisation to implement the strategy. The idea is to maximise all resources within the organisation that can lead to growth opportunity. This involves not only the traditional sales team of underwriters, but also claims, technical, surveys, support staff and even finance. The claims managers for example can assist with member maintenance and open the door to more relationships through excellent after-sales claims service.

“It means pre-sales work, research and investigating who would be a good fit as a potential client member… and once you [introduce] a member, following through with the retention model which is how you maintain them, and how do you keep them.” In other words, earning loyalty.

In this many-sided challenge, Ms Ioannou has the advantage of having been with the club’s management since 2005, starting in the Greek office where she rose to being responsible for regional business development.

She has been a key figure in helping the club increase impressively in recent times its entered tonnage and its premium which have bolstered financial stability.

Joe Hughes speaking at American Club’s London reception on December 5, 2017.

While partisan for her employer, Ms Ioannou has become popular throughout the marine insurance sector for her close involvement with and knowledge of the latest shipping topics, her willingness to address and participate in gatherings, and her warm but business-like personality. In her earlier claims manager capacity, she was a frequent speaker at conferences, gaining the reputation of being an industry voice on the claims side – and “I would sometimes be requested to consult for non-members claims.”

A one-time colleague described her as “one of the sharpest minds in the P&I world,” adding: “Her vision, spark, drive and confidence, even during difficult times were a great asset for me and helped me grow professionally and personally.”

Her standing was justly recognised by the wider industry when she won the Next Generation Shipping Award at the Lloyd’s List Global Awards 2017 ceremony in London. The award is for a rising shipping industry leader “who has made an outstanding contribution to the industry” and the nominees needed to be men and women “brimming with fresh ideas, new priorities and genuine potential.”

Her focus is coordinating business development endeavours across all regions of the world, helping strengthen current relationships and generating initiatives for the American Club, its Eagle Ocean Marine fixed premium facility, and American Hellenic Hull Insurance Company Ltd. She spends her time mainly in New York and Greece, but travels to Asia, London and Houston too, and is a member of the executive committee of Shipowners Claims Bureau.

Of Greek Cypriot background, she was born in New York, and studied law, being admitted to practice in the state of New York.

Moving to Greece in 1997, she worked in local law firms in several fields including EU commercial law and Greek maritime law, finding the latter field intriguing. “Despite having no connections in the country or the industry, I chose shipping,” she said, and she joined an insurance broking firm, rising to lead its claims and legal department.

A meeting some years ago in the New York headquarters of Shipowners Claims Bureau brought her to the attention of Vince Solarino, president and chief operating officer, who offered her a post just about on the spot.

She later took up employment in 2005 with SCB (Hellas), the Piraeus office, where she became deputy claims manager in 2008, assuming a year later the dual post of claims manager and managing director of the office. With European interests providing today 51% of the club’s total tonnage, and Greek domicile management interests representing the majority of this percentage, these were pivotal roles. Since that time, the Piraeus office has been known for its preponderance of female staff (at one point, all but one employee was female), chosen, she emphasises, on merit not gender.

All the same, her rise through the ranks was a signal achievement for a woman in a male-dominated sector– there remain few women at senior level throughout the 13-member businesses of the International Group of P&I Clubs.

Claims, claims, claims… in her career Ms Ioannou has handled and advised on all varieties, from P&I, to freight demurrage and defence, strike cover, loss of hire and hull and machinery.

From her Piraeus base, Ms Ioannou became business development director for a vast region encompassing Europe, the Middle East and Africa, proving so effective that soon afterwards, in 2015, she was promoted to her present position, with overall responsibility for the club’s business development.

The overarching role is challenging because “it was easier to create a strategy for the microcosm of the Greek market, where it had been rooted initially in a maintenance strategy of after-sales claims service.”

One of the main focuses is to make sure the club does not lose business, by reinforcing “maintenance” – making sure the relationships are cultivated after members join, that service meets expectations and all the members are generally taken care of.

The maintenance strategy has blossomed into a growth formula, speaking with the underwriters about risk evaluation and the type of business they were looking for. “When that started to work in the Greek market, we thought about taking it to a global level.”

Mr Solarino commented: “In the traditional insurance pattern, be it in the International Group or any insurance operation, the underwriter was the focal point as the main arbiter of risk assessment and targeted marketing. The underwriter maintained ‘control’ over the entire process.

“Because we saw how much Dorothea was embedded in the Greek market, it made a lot of sense that she and her staff would be part of the development and maintenance of the membership. “

The global strategy did not come about overnight, said Mr Solarino. “We instituted the regional structure in 2013. When we began to see the results, we wanted the ability to interconnect the regional strategy with all the other region and departments. The only way to have a fully cooperative structure was to create a position so that Dorothea could reach all the functions. Of course, she is a brilliant multi-tasker.”

Joe Hughes, chairman and chief executive of Shipowners Claims Bureau, added that through this approach “we have generated a huge amount of goodwill and very useful information in all the regions.  We have a global business development summit at the end of September just after the board meeting, and over two or three days there is a very useful interface and generation of new strategies.”

For Ms Ioannou, it is a question of identifying who and where the ‘tools’ are to gain ground in what is “not a simple market. The people you use must have credibility in the market. In the P&I business it is all about relationships, and the relationships have to be about expressing that credibility.”

Mr Hughes said: “I think Greece is an extraordinarily good proving ground because the market is demanding, catering for service. That raises the standards. It is a very fluid market, and the insights may not be so easy to gather. You get caught up in the realities and rough and tumble of the market more intensely. It is an excellent school for the development of this kind of service.

“Even though we are the smallest club [in the International Group] we have gained a reputation for being one of the top service providers. We ask: what else can I do? How can I help the underwriters? We create a model and then implement the model in the other offices”.

Mr Solarino again: “Greece was a great template to use because it was successful.  Not everyone expects the same service, they want it in different ways.”

Since the implementation of the enhanced global business development initiative in 2015 which also incorporated the club’s diversification plan, the club has seen tonnage grow overall by some 24%.

Since February 2017 alone entered tonnage at the American Club for P&I has grown 10%, for freight demurrage and defence 11%, and charterers’ business has increased by about 20%, all classes bringing in more premium income. On an International Group level, since February insured tonnage has increased by just 5%.

The club is keen to win on the right terms both established and fresh business through new shipping operations and management companies. Its meticulously close involvement in the market assists in identifying new opportunities.

With the products of three insurance providers on offer, the managers can share news internally of new opportunities. “We try and offer as many of the products as we can,” said Ms Ioannou.

Shipowners are taking a closer interest in who provides their P&I, and there are sometimes direct talks and relationships, but Ms Ioannou insists that “the broker is always key. The relationship rests very heavily with the broking community.  That is part of our research, investigation and relationship building ethos.”

On the thorny topic of gender, Ms Ioannou allows that hers is the kind of role to which women may be best suited: “they are very good at networking, with an instinctive ability to build and cultivate relationships.”

She says that the Greek community is an example of the versatility and resilience of the shipping industry: it has managed to stay on top even during the long recession.

Ms Ioannou’s links with Greece will be increasingly important.  Ten of the 13 mutuals in the International Group of P&I Clubs now have offices in Piraeus or Athens, and a further major club is likely to establish a presence by the end of 2018. At least for the foreseeable future, she will be the only high-ranking P&I executive of Greek-Cypriot and Greek-American heritage at global strategy level.

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