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SeaFocus celebrates the brains and the glamour of the maritime sector

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SeaFocus celebrates the brains and the glamour of the maritime sector 

By James Brewer

A flourishing career in maritime business has spurred in Ulla Keino the ambition to help make the sector “the sexiest industry in the world.”

Ms Keino with her team at SeaFocus Executive Maritime Business Platform are doing their utmost to get shipping more widely recognised as one of the most glamourous specialities. Ulla Keino, who has over 30 years of experience of supply chain management and logistics, has a passion for the maritime industry.

She established SeaFocus with like-minded partners and is its chairman and managing director. Founded in 2006 and administered from Helsinki, SeaFocus has expanded from a once-a-year conference to an independent “platform of expertise and knowledge.”

Ms Keino facilitates SeaFocus annual executive meeting, February 2017. Photo by Eetu Keino.

With a high-profile list of corporate partners, SeaFocus organises annual events open to global executive participants, smaller tailored events by invitation only, business ‘dating’ and one-to-one discussions in specifically maritime surroundings – sometimes aboard sophisticated, modern ships moored in port.

​Much of what SeaFocus does is geared to management education, and education in general. “Our vision,” said Ms Keino, “is that one day the maritime industry will be seen as the sexiest industry in the world, where the top students fight to get into great positions, and where universities compete to provide specialised programmes for the shipping industry.

“A main idea of SeaFocus is to bring maritime back among those industries in which young university professionals will start seeking to be employed and building their careers.”

Delegates at SeaFocus annual executive meeting 2017. Photo by Eetu Keino.

The strong emphasis on the value of education runs in tandem with the business drive of SeaFocus. “Management education is extremely important as it provides a possibility to see one’s own work and the company with new eyes. Taken away from everyday routines, a manager can focus on strategic thinking and see their perhaps earlier less-than fascinating employer in a new light,” said Ms Keino. “The Blue MBA [the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics at Copenhagen Business School] is a fascinating example of specialised education for maritime leaders.”

Ms Keino views SeaFocus as unique in being a fully independent, neutral body, which seeks to work for the benefit of the whole sector. “As a private company run by ‘waterproof’ entrepreneurs, SeaFocus can react quicker than anyone else. Given a great idea with a financially viable implementation plan – we are IN! We have a motto: think big, and think positive. We do not share negative news as we believe in the power of good news. Who would buy from a person looking down, depressed or visibly upset?”

Jury deliberations at Intelligence Hunt.

SeaFocus events are teasers or get-togethers, mainly the latter, and the aim is “to have fun, with substance”. Ms Keino remarked: “The work we do in between [formal events] is the thing that seems to fascinate our partners and stakeholders. As a high-level ex-management consultant, I am used to personally identifying quickly new partners to our stakeholders and new business opportunities as well as potential areas for some cost savings. It is up to the experts in the companies to implement; we just open the doors for them.”

This reflects a big switch in tack as SeaFocus has evolved. “In 2007, when we in our previous structure had our first conference, I told my partners we should aim to have SeaFocus as the best and most sought-after conference in the whole of Europe in 20 years’ time. Our strategy has completely changed. We want to be the door-openers to new businesses, and new clientele, and thus the conference has become secondary to our daily active work.”

“SeaFocus has a role to find more business opportunities for its partners.” This involves “networking, introducing people from our huge, wide network to each other. Sometimes if one sales contact does not work, another one can be tried. We work mainly with the top management and can always identify who is the right person to contact to get things sorted out.”

Teamworking at Intelligence Hunt May 2017.

High-quality social media activity is important. “We follow what is going on in the shipping world and want to share the top news. We want to be known as ‘doers.’ We talk a lot, but do much more.”

SeaFocus has just launched a venture called Intelligence Hunt, #intelligencehunt. Now Ms Keino and her colleagues are working with companies involved in #intelligencehunt case studies and students to develop the project concept further.

The Intelligence Hunt brings together companies and universities to work on real cases in what is described as a novel, out-of-the box concept. It is a two-month project which culminates with the finals in the third week of November. International students from various faculties are welcomed to apply as candidates, and the cases cover a variety of maritime business areas or current interests, up to the core logistics challenges of the shippers. “The students who take part seem to think this is rock’n roll! Our pilot event in the spring was surprisingly cheerful, inspiring and productive. Let us see what the #intelligencehunt2 will bring,” enthused Ms Keino.

Intelligence Hunt participants, May 2017.

Save The 7 Seas (#SaveThe7Seas) is a both a theme for the second #intelligencehunt and a project with a target of raising funds each year for a nominated cause “that has the clear aim to save our planet by saving our oceans. Our scope for the coming autumn will be in environmental awareness and how to keep business running and profitable in the regulatory world.”

The second #intelligencehunt, on November 14, 2017, will take place on the Tallink Silja luxury cruise ferry Silja Serenade in the port of Helsinki. The first Intelligence Hunt on May 18, 2017, had 38 international students beavering away on 13 real case studies. “The outcome of their work surprised us all with its innovativeness, great ambition and yet realistic approaches,” said Ms Keino. In addition to the students working on the cases and the company representatives, #intelligencehunt attracted students and people from other companies to the audience. In tackling everyday issues of the business world, the students worked in teams of people who were previously unknown to each other.

Tallink Silja is an important partner of SeaFocus and a strong supporter of the Intelligence Hunt student competition concept.

Håkan Fagerström, group head of cargo, Tallink Group, said before the first Intelligence Hunt in May: “Far too many people tend to focus on the problem, not the solution and further more struggle to focus on the problem within their own area of expertise. We think that to overcome specific problems, fresh thinking and thinking out of the box is required. As an Intelligence Hunt event partner, Tallink Silja wants to share the good experience of open brainstorming events and is looking forward to interesting discussions, innovative solutions and ideas for all parties involved in this event.”

Designed to be “behind closed doors” are the current affairs workshops: smaller events or meetings, organised several times a year, in different regions, based on the needs of a network, and of the individual partners. SeaFocus will identify the key persons to participate, and prepare and facilitate the workshops.

That began in 2016. The idea is that SeaFocus partners assign SeaFocus to elaborate a crucial or current issue and recommend experts from various companies to work together with a common theme. “Our aim is to widen the contact points in different companies, that is, beyond the key account managers, and thus increase possibilities to sell. Sales sales sales, this is what is needed, in addition to advanced technology and professional engineering skills and products,” said the SeaFocus leader.

“One great theme I have in mind for the near future will be a discussion of value chain leadership, where we would also invite the shippers to the workshops. As a former top-level consultant of supply chain management and distribution strategies, I dare to challenge the whole industry to quit talking about just sea freight levels, and to change their focus to the end-customer’s product price and attractive total solution offerings. In these which the single seafreight actually plays a small role, compared to, for example, working capital tied in a process not optimally managed or the costs of failure in the operational chain on an annual level. We would like our partners’ clients to see the value of shipping and related solutions to bring additional value to the sales, and minimise the headaches from their end customers.

A separate concept is to be developed for a charity event, annually positioned “to somewhere which does not clash with other events – not ours nor those of our competitors. “We see competitors as future partners. No one can do everything alone.”

SeaFocus serves the global maritime business, and there are great possibilities for extending its geographical reach. “We can expand our business without a problem to China, Hong Kong especially, also Europe is within our comfort zone. The Nordic region is a home ground and Russia as well. We work anyway daily with Skype and have negotiations some days with partners and clients in eight different countries. “A one hour meeting is enough always. If you cannot get your message through in less than 60 minutes, the message is not right. With our entrepreneurial approach and fully outsourced organisation we can move very, very fast.”

The SeaFocus Annual Executive Meeting (#SFAEM) is a closed meeting each May for maritime executives by invitation only. The invited executives are chosen to represent the highest professional expertise in the theme of the year, as business owners, clients, or other stakeholders. SeaFocus partners have a special quota of own management and clients’ seats.

Theme for 2018 – in fact for the whole year, as far as SeaFocus is concerned – will be Intelligent Port, and details of annual meeting date and venue are being finalised. “We shall organise several events and projects next year trying to get across the idea of a port being a point of added value, not a bottleneck. We will look at the ports from the shippers’ and the passengers’ point of view.  And involve all the players in the chain.”

The annual meeting theme of 2017 “Merchant Shipping Scenarios 2030” sought to throw light on the top maritime leaders´ visions of where the industry will be in 13 years’ time. Speakers included specialists in entrepreneurship, science, education, shipbroking, automotive, digital, blockchain, fuel, shipping, shipbuilding, crew and ship management, ports, aviation, business intelligence, podcasting, ferry and containershipping, and supply chain. Sixty executives with 10 different nationalities attended, from 11 countries.

​Discussions ranged over such subjects as autonomous vessels, automated ports, big data, open data, digitalisation and environmental regulations. The questions posed were: what are the roles of different players today and in the future? Who will survive and how to survive and by what means? Who will be targets of acquisitions or inevitable consolidation plans and who will be the winner in this chess?

While 2017 has been focusing on the shipowners and shipping companies’ business, in 2016 the organisation was focusing on shipbuilding, design and marine engineering business.

In mid-2017, SeaFocus began offering companies help in finding suitable candidates to work in the maritime industry. The aim is “with our committed and active organisation” to promote vacancies “beyond the job announcement.  We promote the jobs available on an ongoing basis in the social media and in practice in our daily business activities.”

Another facility is the SeaFocus “virtual lounge” which contains professional high-quality articles and space to share experiences and views on maritime issues.

An advisory board underpins all the work, with each board member bringing specific expertise.

First member of the board (for finance and investment) was Christer Antson, who is a partner and board member of Nexia Oy, a member firm of Nexia International, a worldwide network of independent accounting and consulting firms. Mr Antson is among other responsibilities an advisor on transport and logistics for NewCorp Corporate Finance, a board member of Norsepower Oy (a start-up in energy saving solutions for vessels). Mr Antson is the vice chairman of the board of the Shipowner´s Fund in Finland, one of the institutional partners of SeaFocus.

In the legal and risk management category, SeaFocus has Andrei Gusev, managing partner of Borenius Russia. Borenius Attorneys is also an expert partner of the project #intelligencehunt2.

Technology and shipbuilding is the area of Esko Mustamäki, who has worked as managing director for Arctech Helsinki Shipyard, an enterprise that specialises in building icebreakers and other Arctic offshore and special vessels. Arctech has long experience in building Arctic vessels. Helsinki Shipyard was established in 1865 and since then more than 500 ships have been built there. The shipyard has delivered the majority of icebreakers in operation around the world. Not only does the yard have a proud history, it is a forerunner in developing and applying technological innovations. Arctech Helsinki Shipyard is a corporate partner of SeaFocus.

The offshore and Arctic advisory board member is Mikko Niini. After retiring as chief executive of Aker Arctic Technology in 2014, he now works at his Arctic and maritime consultancy Vientistrategit Oy and serves as chairman of Navidom, a Finnish government-owned company for national strategic tankers. Mr Niini is chairman of the Finnish Maritime Association, one of the institutional partners of SeaFocus.

The other SeaFocus institutional partners are the National Emergency Safety Agency and the Finnish Shipowners’ Association.

Maritime security is overseen by William Crews, president and owner of Security & Resilience Consulting LLC in Houston, US.

The shipper and consignor point of view is represented by Mats Johansson, head of transport at petroleum refiner Neste. Neste is one of the companies participating in the Intelligence Hunt student awards.

Commercial shipping brings to the board Thomas Doepel, head of group purchasing and member of the executive committee of Finnlines. Finnlines is a strategic partner of SeaFocus since 2016 and was a long-term partner since the establishment of SeaFocus in 2006.

Education advisory member is Irene Rosberg, programme director of the Executive MBA in Shipping & Logistics (the Blue MBA), which is endowed with enviable international status.

Environment and sustainability is covered by Marthe Lamp Sandvik, a shipbroker at Oslo-headquartered Lorentzen & Stemoco, a firm which has a presence too in New York City, London, Athens, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

To increase understanding of the Asian market, the advisory board has welcomed Chen Feng, managing director and chief executive of Cosco Shipping Lines Finland Oy.

Maritime partners of SeaFocus “have an active role in developing SeaFocus further and SeaFocus has a role to find more business opportunities to its partners,” according to the website.

​The partnership concept is tailored to each individual partner. One of the latest corporate partners to join is Stockholm-based Climeon AB, whose projects include turning waste heat into clean electricity, and which features for example Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson in its company video. Seafocus aims to find new suppliers for its partners.

Ms Keino’s experience of shipping started with Metsä Group in 1985, following eight years in the Stora Enso Group (formerly Enso Plc). At Stora Enso Group she was responsible for short sea shipping and internal waterway shipments of forest products, paper, paperboard, timber and pulp. Her business was an important customer for German, Finnish and Russian shipowners and shipbrokers. In the last years at Stora Enso she also acted as a deputy to the director of logistics and had strategic logistics planning among her responsibilities. While still young, she held important positions in several Finnish industries and government-initiated projects and was part of the decision-making related to forest industry logistics and governmental maritime infrastructure including feasibility studies for the location of the new port of Helsinki.

She was an executive director of the Finnish Waterways Association before moving to Hong Kong, and UK, returning to Finland in 2001. Immediately after her return, she was invited to lend her expertise to European Union projects and corporate maritime and port and port infrastructure and real estate development projects.

Ms Keino has also been a general director of the Strategic Management Society in Finland.

SeaFocus, said Ms Keino, is well on the way to providing an extensive, evaluated and qualified network of specialists from different areas of expertise, from maritime, legal, energy saving, environmental and infrastructure specialists, to financial, insurance, and risk management, digital transformation to name but some.

Last but not least, in our interview Ms Keino emphasised the importance of team spirit and commitment in the SeaFocus organisation. Key role in keeping all the SeaFocus activities together falls to the SeaFocus chief operating officer and board member Heli Koukkula-Teixeira, at the right hand of Ms Keino. It is recognised that without Ms Koukkula-Teixeira’s persistence and operational efficiency the timetabling would be hard to meet. Operations in the Nordic region will be supported by Mariika Virrankoski-Poulsen. Mrs Virrankoski-Poulsen, who is regional manager in Denmark for SeaFocus, holds an LLM degree in maritime law and she is a graduate of the Blue MBA.

For more information, please see www.seafocus.fi


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