Extracts from the interview…
Greetings, sir, what brings you to India?
(Laughs) Actually, I don’t need a reason to come to your country, which is well known for its diversity and hospitality. This time I am here for two engagements in Chennai. The first is at AMET University and the other one is KLSM’s in-house seminar.
What is on the agenda for the seminar this time?
We start on December 10 and finish at the end of the next day. The seminar will include Deck and Engine officers from all across India, as well as their families. These officers will get a chance to gain knowledge and to interact with the management within our Group.
As always, training and efficiency will remain the key aspects of our meeting, wherein the officers will also be updated about the latest developments in the industry, as well as within our Company. In addition, we will upgrade their skills, taking them to the next professional level. Many officers missed our last seminar in March, because they were on board and on the job at that time; this Seminar will be especially useful for them.
It is good to know that family members are also invited. Is there a special reason?
Well, business is not everything to us. Relationships are more important. In line with the K-Line culture, we value families as much as we treasure our seafarers. Unless the family is happy, the sailor will not be in the right frame of mind or perform to optimum levels.
The growing concern across the globe is the shortage of officers. How is K Line tackling this challenge?
In my opinion, there is no shortage of officers. The matter of concern here is qualified and efficient officers, which is what our industry lacks. We have a clear cut solution to tackle this issue, which is to train and retrain. We are determined to instill values of quality and excellence amongst our officers.
That is a refreshing view. What do you think about the recent market crash and industry worries at the falling freight rates?
Shipping is certainly hit quite badly worldwide, more so because the crash has been very sudden. Although it all started with the subprime crisis in the USA, cargo volumes are now getting affected, including in the bulk and container business. Many ship owners are distressed by cancelled orders and they may be forced to lay up ships eventually. We at K Line are more concerned about container carriers that are now in the line of fire.
Many charterers are slowing down. I will not be surprised to see some of them switching businesses. The next two years will be testing times for the shipping industry. We will see the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory in action.
What is K Line’s game plan? How are you gearing up to meet this challenge?
Firstly, we lay a lot of emphasis on planning and do not indulge in speculation. At K Line, we work for long term results.
Secondly, our company’s vision and mission is of utmost importance to us. We want to be known for safety, quality, training, and as efficient ship managers. I am glad that so far, we have not had any cancellation of orders.
If we go back a little, the shipping industry went through a very rough patch between 1982 and 1987. Many people from the industry discontinued training programmes and did not bother to upgrade seamen in various skills. This in turn led to the shortage of well trained and qualified officers. We must make it a point not to commit the same mistakes again otherwise disastrous times lie ahead.
Have the recent terrible attacks in Mumbai made any difference to your expansion plans in India?
Not at all. We stand by the people of India and will continue to come here. Moreover, India will continue to remain a major source of officers for K Line.
Is there any serious concern you have regarding the officers who are sailing today?
I am overall quite satisfied with the men we have aboard at K Line. There is one worry, however, and it is a thorn in the flesh. I call it ‘Early promotions’, and it is certainly a matter of concern. Some juniors want to be promoted too soon, even when the time is not right or even when they are not ‘ripe’. A few even end up giving up their jobs for better options elsewhere. Then there are those who, for a few more dollars, do not remain loyal to the Group. The manning industry is also responsible for this state of affairs.
We have to be strict at times and, sadly, even crack the whip. The Company’s principles come first. ‘Early promotions’ are justified only on very rare exceptional occasions.
Is your immediate family linked to the industry too?
No. Keiko, my wife, is a homemaker. My son, Yuki, is a business consultant with a world renowned automotive company, whereas Aki, my daughter, is a part of the Human Resources team of a well known company.
Finally, is there anything special that you would like to share with our readers?
Shipping is the backbone of the world’s economy. We can achieve a lot together even in these difficult times. I want to reiterate that we must lay emphasis on training and excellence that will undoubtedly help us progress, not only individually but also as an industry.
For our Group, our policies and principles remain unchanging. The management urges everyone at K Line to support us in these testing times, and I am sure we will see good times yet again.