ShippingWatch

Meldgaard is the CEO it is hard not to listen to

People have written Jacob Meldgaard off on several occasions but have always been proven wrong. Torm continues to exist and Meldgaard continues to be CEO. ShippingWatch portrays a maritime executive to whom some people owe their careers, while others find him hard to read.

There are loud people in the tanker market. This includes those with a positive message as well as those who are trying to hide that they have no good news.

Many parties would be led to believe that Euronav CEO, Paddy Rodgers, is a talkative chief exec with proof to back up his story. One example was when he sparked debate in London earlier this year by criticizing the South Korean government for holding a hand under the country's large-scale shipyards and sending heaps of new vessels on the market.

Another CEO of this type could be Scorpio Tankers CEO, Robert Bugbee, who is likewise a master of words and rhetoric. Last year, he opened a session at Marine Money to the iconic melody of Mozart's requiem, while expressing disappointment in his countrymen over Brexit, and in the same breath mentioning his wife's newly acquired PhD in psychology.

History and facts

And then there are those who only state the bare minimum and prefer to stick to history and facts about development on the market. Jacob Meldgaard is this type of CEO. Where Rodgers took the opportunity to reprimand South Korea, Meldgaard simply called 2017 an interesting year during the panel discussion.

In this article, ShippingWatch portrays one of Danish shipping's top executives, who has been one of "the big four" in recent decades in Copenhagen. He also saved the life of 127-year-old Torm, even though most analysts had already started writing the carrier's obituary, but he is not one to take the spotlight in the public eye.

To me there's a clear difference between the public and private spheres, and I'd like to maintain it even though I have a job that means that some might wish me to say more"

Jacob Meldgaard in 2011 on his personal nature

Many co-workers and former colleagues look up to him as a leader and would be happy to work for him again, although he is not necessarily the type of person whose company is relaxing.

Perhaps you could call him very private or maybe even awkward. When asking people in the Danish shipping world, very few know exactly what Meldgaard does when he is not working on shipping. Maybe he is mostly work, one person tells ShippingWatch.

However, they can all agree that it is worth listening when Meldgaard presents a game plan.

To the rescue

Instead of just talk, he delivers via results and not by sitting on stage explaining how great things are. What is written about him, or even about Torm, does not motivate him, says one person, who knows him very well.

But spreadsheets, analysis, and structure are being motivators. Several people mention his analytical skill and his ability to quickly decipher development on the shipping market. The last seven years have been about Torm. Not least dragging the carrier out of the fire and reducing a debt burden of billions of Danish kroner, which had been accumulated under former owner and majority shareholder, Greek Gabriel Panayotides.

The protracted and complicated rescue of Torm is clearly the biggest achievement of Meldgaard's career. Over the years, he has been part of the elite in Danish shipping, trained at Maersk Group, and did a stint at J. Lauritzen, before settling down at Norden, where he worked in close collaboration with then-CEO Carsten Mortensen for over a decade.

In 2015 the major reconstruction work on Torm was completed, after many parties had given up hope. Photo: Torm

At age 40, Meldgaard was offered the CEO position at Torm in 2008 and he took up the job 18 months later, after his competition clause from Norden expired. The move shocked some, as dry bulk had been Meldgaard's specialty. But also because Norden and Torm had been rivals for many years, as Greek Panayotides had attempted a hostile takeover of Norden with no success.

People, who know Meldgaard, describe him as ambitious and dedicated, and there is agreement that his abilities were crucial for being able to settle the massive work of composing a rescue for Torm, which came under American ownership two years ago in the equity fund Oaktree.

It takes a good eagle eye perspective and the ability to handle huge databases of details to navigate the often tactical positions of different investors. Not least in convincing them that it was the right decision to take the often considerable losses that were discussed during the reconstruction, state several parties.

Quietly networking

With Oaktree, a demanding owner joined the company bringing expectations of reports every month. Some might hate this system, but it seems to suit Meldgaard's style and love of numbers. Several parties state that he has a good partnership with the owners, including Chairman Christopher Helmut Boehringer.

Among observers, it had been expected that Meldgaard's time as CEO after Oaktree's takeover might be limited. Maybe he would leave the carrier with a sizeable bonus after his successful rescue. Maybe he would not mesh well with the more strict style that equity funds are known to bring to operating businesses. These were speculations in the industry, but after two years, Meldgaard is still steering the ship.

Even though mild-mannered Meldgaard is not one for small talk, he has found his own subtle way to navigate the top of the industry. One source calls him a "sweet talker", while another describes him as possessing "coolness". It takes something special to withstand a storm, and Torm definitely faced headwinds for years, the source tells ShippingWatch.

Not least when considering that alongside his CEO job, he has served on several boards for Danish Shipping, the Danish Maritime Fund, and most recently Danish Ship Finance, where he joined this summer.

Private person

Yet it seems that knowledge of Meldgaard dries up when it comes to life outside of Torm. Although he has held a prominent position for many years in Danish shipping, there are several parties who have known him for a long time as a colleague, who still know very little about him. Talks rarely extend beyond professional subjects and the shipping industry, although 49-year-old Meldgaard is supposedly a big fan of Copenhagen soccer club FC Copenhagen.

Another key figure in Danish shipping notes that the only thing that comes to mind is that the CEO drives a "a huge, cool" Mercedes.

While Meldgaard has steered Torm out of the crisis, he has also, as a family man, been managing three kids, and he is married to Benedikte Krabbe, daughter of late former Norden CEO Steen R. Krabbe. As skilled as he is at grasping numbers and bottom lines, he is less willing to discuss private matters or engage in what some might describe as chitchat.

He is the chief exec who many love to serve, some look up to and would like to work for again if the chance arises, but he is not one for small talk with around the office, several people tell ShippingWatch.

Meldgaard himself has not been shy about the fact that he prefers to stay out of the limelight in terms of his personal life.

"To me there's a clear difference between the public and private spheres, and I'd like to maintain it even though I have a job that means that some might wish me to say more," he told Danish media Berlingske Business a few years ago.

In the professional arena, there is no doubt as what constitutes the next target: completing an IPO for Torm in New York, so that Oaktree can cash in. Until then, focus is on daily operations and, as is the case right now, buying new vessels.

Meldgaard alone know what is next for him after the IPO, and the top priority right now is to achieve better results than the other product tanker carriers, which are similarly eying IPO's or sales.

"I could easily imagine him establishing a carrier with a few vessels," says one source who knows him well.

English Edit: Gretchen Deverell Pedersen

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