Svitzer – Marine Services for a Bespoke Era

Svitzer shows us how the marine service industry is shifting from standard products to bespoke service.

Svitzer is a leading global player in the marine services industry. It has survived both World Wars, multiple recessions and most recently the Covid pandemic in its 188-year history.

As Svitzer’s CCO for the AMEA region, Pankaj Kankan, tells us, “We must be doing something right to have survived that long!”

Svitzer was founded in 1833 and acquired by Maersk in 1979. The firm operates in over 30 countries and is one of the biggest tug owners in the world. Today Svitzer is serving shipping companies, is present in over 120 ports and serves yet more oil and gas terminals across Europe, Australia the Americas and AMEA.

“We form an important link in business and trade, connecting ships in the terminal and taking them out, which is essential for the movement of trade,” says Kankan.

A Triple Threat

Naturally, a company of Svitzer’s size has a number of unique things to offer, but Kankan narrows the list down to three key selling points.

“The three most profound differentiators are our global ownership advantage, localisation, although honestly, I prefer to call it ‘in-country value’, and that we can be a marine services integrator,” he explains. “With global ownership, the idea is about making sure customers benefit from our size and global footprint. Our footprint means we’re able to make the best use of our assets and offer the most flexible, efficient and reliable service to our customer.”

Svitzer’s goal is to combine the company’s many years of experience all over the world with the local knowledge of its people and convert that into a tailor-made solution for its customers.

“On the localisation side of things, you remember I said we must have done some things right?” Kankan asks. “Localisation is one of those. Our modus operandi throughout our history has been to bring our global experience and partner it with the development of local expertise. This is why we prefer to say ‘in-country value’. It means local skill and talent development, developing local industry suppliers and service providers, and facilitating trade through our presence.”

The ultimate goal is for Svitzer to enable each territory to indigenise its services.

“There are places where we’ve worked long-term and done the training with the intention of passing on knowledge and expertise locally,” says Kankan. “We’ve done this successfully all over the world, for example, in Egypt and Oman, that way we contribute to the prosperity and continuous growth of the country.”

Svitzer’s capabilities as a marine service integrator are the final ingredient, combining all the different components of Svitzer’s approach to offer the customer the precise solution they need.

“Every customer needs a different solution, but more than that, every customer and every location needs a different solution,” Kankan says.

A New World

Like most businesses, Svitzer’s big challenge is to remain relevant and competitive to its customers.

“The world is transforming at a rate of knots. Two or three decades ago things were transforming gradually but over the last 20 years that has accelerated,” points out Kankan. “Look at Covid- we have now suddenly defined a new normal, a recalibration of how business is done. This will change customer demands and put businesses under pressure to rethink how we work and how we can become an integrated part of the value chain. The conventional style of doing business may not work anymore. Everyone needs a cost-effective, tailor-made solution and finding those and innovating is one of our challenges.”

This means looking at the specific needs of each customer and developing unique solutions for each.

“We have moved away from a world of standardisation. The one-size-fits-all approach has moved on to a specific and bespoke era of solutions providers,” Kankan explains. “At Svitzer we do this by enhancing our engagement with the customer to better understand their business, their goal and their visions. That way we can co-create with our customers and tailor-make solutions that fit their specific needs.”

It’s an approach that involves the use of structured tools, including a key account management structure, which entails assigning resources to stay close to the customers and understand the solutions they need.

To do this successfully, Svitzer needs the right people on board. That’s why Svitzer follows a very structured approach in employing its staff. The company is divided into two divisions. There is the shore staff, who carry out support, service or strategy work, and then most of Svitzer’s people are driving or running its fleet of ships and tugs. Svitzer calls these its front-line group.

“For the crew, we source them through nautical colleges and training facilities and the schools where we operate. Most of the countries where we operate have a maritime fraternity, so we source people from there and invest a lot of time in their training and development,” says Kankan. “There have been many examples where our crew start at entry-level, complete exams, then move through the ranks on a ship. If a candidate has spent an ample amount of time on the tugs and ships, they will make a move to a shore position. We call it the ship-to-shore program. We have a lot of crew in the shore organisation who have been through this. In Egypt, one of our tug captains is now the contract manager in our operations in Port Said at the Suez Canal. So training and development is an investment in our people rather than a cost.”

Different Kinds of Growth

Looking to the future, Svitzer has growth ambitions through both organic growth and acquisition.

“We’re open to looking at different ways of growing our business. The AMEA region is going to be one of the biggest contributors to growth for Svitzer worldwide but it’s important to highlight what that means,” Kankan insists. “It includes growing revenue but more importantly it means growth for our people in terms of new opportunities and new skills as well as growth for our customers. We will grow, develop our solutions, and contribute to reducing the environmental footprint of shipping. We will continue to meet our customers changing demands for example by making the business more sustainable and greener, and by improving safety and efficiency in our operations. So you can say that we’re looking at holistic growth.”

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