Inchcape Shipping Services – Start of a new era of growth

Inchcape Shipping Services has come under new ownership, greatly enhancing its core port agency business.

This is a special year for Inchcape Shipping Services. The maritime service provider, primarily focusing on port agency, is celebrating 175 years of business in 2022. In those 175 years, Inchcape Shipping Services has grown to employ over 3,000 people, across 240 offices in 60 countries.

But that is not the only reason that 2022 is a special year for the company. It also marks Inchcape Shipping Service’s first year under its new owners, the London-based private equity firm, Epiris.

“Inchcape has arguably the largest and most extensive port agency network in the world,” explains company CEO, Frank Olsen. “Literally wherever you might have a ship calling, almost regardless of the services you require, we’re there on the ground and can support your business. We offer a global platform of governance, compliance, ethics, health and safety, and of course ESG where the E becomes more and more important. It is a seamless global network.”

Inchcape is capable of serving vessels from every sector imaginable, including cruise ships, container vessels, tankers and military vessels. Whether customers are looking for support with their crew, cargo, or the vessels themselves, Inchcape is ready to provide support.

Rolling with the Changes

That wide array of services has also ensured that Inchcape has remained robust in the face of repeated global crises.

“Serving all these customer segments means we are well protected against swings within specific markets, often leaving us unaffected by events like financial crises, Covid, and geopolitical turmoil,” Olsen points out. “Having a global network and being activity agnostic means we’re well-suited to always deliver good results despite the market.”

Even with 175 years of history behind it, Inchcape Shipping Services has faced few periods quite as eventful as our current times.

“There is a tremendous amount of noise in the shipping market and the world in general,” Olsen admits. “There is tension, the war in Ukraine, political unrest, we are in a high inflation market and the macro-economic outlook is very uncertain. The global supply chain is to a large extent broken and struggles to recover, and covid continues to affect a large part of the world. So that combination of noise and uncertainty and tension is a challenge for everyone.”

Inchcape in particular has been navigating challenges around Covid restrictions in North Asian countries, as well as a high inflation environment where 90% of the firm’s operating costs are in manpower.

“When it comes to Covid restrictions- unfortunately, we now have well over two years’ experience dealing with that. We are used to navigating the various restrictions and have learned to adapt and deal with those challenges,” Olsen points out. “We actively advise our customers on how to perform crew changes and other vessel-related operations. That is almost business-as-usual by now, but it still creates complexity. In terms of inflation, there is not much we can do but constantly look at how to work more efficiently. We increase the efficiency of our network, but primarily we are focusing on how to add new business, and new revenue, without increasing our headcount.”

A Bird in the Hand

While Inchcape is not looking to increase its workforce by more than necessary, it is clear from talking to Olsen that holding onto the company’s existing talent is one of his top priorities.

“The most important task is retaining the good people we have in the company,” he says. “There is a lot of attrition right now. People are moving jobs and it is a tight labour market. So, it is important not to lose someone who might go to a competitor. We focus on providing a fair and attractive salary and remuneration, but also continuous learning, development, and career progression so that people feel they’re developing while they’re with us. If someone is with us on a salary, the cost of replacing them is higher. So, retention is crucial.”

To ensure Inchcape remains an appealing place to work, the company has adopted flexible working and hybrid working solutions, offering employees a certain amount of freedom in how much they work from home, and how much they work in the office.

“Home working is part of the new way of working,” Olsen acknowledges.

Of course, recruitment remains an essential task in a competitive employment market, and to meet those needs Inchcape is trying something new.

“We have hired several internal recruiters, something we’ve never done before,” Olsen says. “Previously, we relied on recruiting agencies. We have now added two recruiters and plan to recruit two more, and we are actively marketing ourselves as an employer.”

While Inchcape still uses agencies, Olsen wants to build an in-house pool of talent, while welcoming speculative CVs and keeping a database of candidates who have expressed an interest in joining Inchcape.

“However, we still have a few key recruitment agencies we know and have worked with who understand our culture for senior positions,” Olsen points out.

An Eye on the Future

As well as attracting and nurturing talent within the company, Inchcape aims to empower its people, and its customers, with the latest technology.

“We’re not a technology company and never will be, but we need to leverage technology and digital solutions to drive increasing value in our network,” Olsen says. “When we talk and think about technology, we focus on making it easier to do business with us, improving productivity and quality so that we can provide superior service.”

It is an approach that prioritises transparency, information, data collection and analytics.

“If we get all of this right the ambition is to provide a high level of predictability. If a customer contracts Inchcape we can provide a good estimation of what is going to happen before it happens,” Olsen tells us. “We handle a tremendous amount of port calls, more than 100,000 port service jobs per annum, so we are using technology to give customers a clear picture of what will and might happen in the future.”

Olsen, meanwhile, has his own opinions about Inchcape Shipping Services’ future.

“With new ownership, private equity-backed as of July, we see a strong focus on growth from three main pillars,” he says. “The first is organic growth, growing with existing customers, and winning new business, closely linked to our value proposition and unique attributes as a global network. Secondly, we see growth and additional revenue from new services and product offerings. We are expanding our service portfolio in and around the port. The third and final pillar is inorganic growth through acquisitions.”

With 175 years of history and a new owner behind it, and a clear vision of the future, Inchcape is ready for the next 175 years.

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