Netflix said it best: Death to 2020.
This time last year, we were looking towards the decade ahead, with personal goals, business aspirations and product developments. A quick look at my calendar reminded me of a meeting with a strategic partner that took place on January 29th, 2020; COVID was just starting to dominate the conversation, and they decided to temporarily realign business plans to reduce exposure to the Chinese market. And that was just the start.
This year truly had all of it – travel bans, lockdowns, remote working, change of business plans and practices – creating paradigm shifts across all aspects of our lives.
And yet, life still goes on, and this has been especially evident across the maritime industry.
While the world faced (and still faces) a global pandemic, the maritime ecosystem continued to operate. In fact, everything in the maritime space seems to have accelerated.
Hin Leong collapsed, and $700M of financing from the world’s top institutions triggered a significant credit crunch across commodity traders globally; The United States took things to a new level, specifically pressuring Venezuela and Iran through the release of new compliance advisories on deceptive shipping practices. The advisories, which are more far-reaching than ever before, triggered new workflows across the biggest energy companies and financial institutions around the world; While this happened, oil prices collapsed causing mass reorganizations across the energy world (some companies let go 25% of their workforce as a result); IMO 2020 was *supposed* to change the bunkering and shipping business radically, however, it ended up being the “Y2K” of shipping.
And let’s not forget that all this happened while we were socially distancing and wearing masks.
Good things also happened during this time; market leaders have finally taken decarbonization seriously (something that our chairman, Lord Browne, had called for in 1997 in his famous Stanford Speech), and many energy companies shifted policies to recognize this. bp launched their Net Zero strategy, and important initiatives such as the Sea Cargo Charter and the Poseidon Principles took center stage.
And still – what did we learn?
When things drastically change our way of life and when tectonic shifts occur in the global markets, we remember, as a whole, that we are not alone; we remember that we need to trust one another and work together for a greater good.
This past year we saw a rapid acceleration of partnerships and collaborations in the maritime space with more companies looking to create greater value for their customers, together. Instead of competing on the same piece of value, each company can bring a piece to the pie and provide true meaning.
We also learned a lesson in rapid digitalization. Digitalization was already in everyone’s minds; According to the GMF, digitalization was identified as one of the top three challenges maritime leaders faced, and there is no doubt that COVID accelerated it significantly. A McKinsey report affirmed this, saying that the recent global pandemic led companies to rapidly adjust their operations and digitalize processes in ways previously unimagined.
Maritime was, of course, a part of this rapid digitalization. According to Gartner, by 2023 over 50% of the BCOs, freight forwarders and other players in the maritime supply chain will be investing in real-time visibility solutions.
This year was also the first time the rubber has hit the road on digitalization, and market leaders finally understood the value and importance of productization. Industry leaders were forced to provide answers to the question: “what does it mean for me”?
This year was also the year where artificial intelligence (AI) was no longer just a buzzword. Professionals across the board have internalized the need for AI and have begun asking tough questions. The market leaders no longer talk the talk, but also walk the walk, and the world will be a better place for it. It was the year when the “culture speak”, maybe best represented by Ben Horowitz’ “What you do is who you are,” met reality.
As a whole, we realized that when you bring a team together, align values and perspectives and work towards a clear mission, the rubber really hits the road and great things can be accomplished.
By recognizing the importance of striking the right balance between executing a plan and adapting it to reality, we have been able to change. I personally realized that more times than I can count this year. Even as the CEO of a company, I cannot push things beyond capability. Some projects and deep research just take time and there is nothing we can do about that. Other times, we need to be flexible and adapt to market needs. All of this is just a lesson in perseverance.
Ultimately, the one lesson we learned, and we must take with us no matter what comes next, is the value of positivity.
Positive leaders were able to put on a genuine smile, keep their heads up, and guide their teams throughout the bumpy ride that was 2020.
While the vaccine will hopefully let us return to our mask-free hug-filled friend-full lives, there is no vaccine for uncertainty and unpredictability, and those are the lessons that will stay with us for years to come. In all of this uncertainty, there are few important constants that we have learned to strengthen: Culture, Clarity of goals, and Team; that will set the foundation for strong sustainable growth.
If we have these three, we will weather any storm and reach our port of call