"To me, it was a little surprising."
These are the words from Herman Billung, who after 11 years as CEO of dry bulk carrier Golden Ocean, controlled by Norwegian shipping magnate John Fredriksen, was told last week that the board was looking for a new capacity to take the helm of the carrier.
Former Chief Financial Officer, Birgitte Ringstad Vartdal, has already taken over as CEO, but Herman Billung will be available to advise her until the end of May. Then, a few weeks after the notice from the board, he will have had the opportunity to "let it settle in and think things through".
"Now, I think that it can be pretty healthy and exciting for me to find something new," he says.
The 11 years at one of the industry's largest dry bulk carriers has brought many different challenges. Herman Billung describes his early days at Golden Ocean in the middle of the 00s as fantastic, with an IPO and a solid market. Then came a number of years with normal conditions, followed by two to three difficult years building up to the current situation.
"I feel that I have learned a lot and I have worked with very professional owners. It has been incredibly exciting and so I am really just grateful," he says and adds:
"It has been my whole life. I don't even have a personal e-mail address."
Wants to stay in dry bulk
Now a new chapter awaits head. The former CEO claims that he does not have any concrete plans for the future, so it remains far from certain what will happen. One thing seems clear, however. It will be in dry bulk.
I am pleased that Birgitte is the one to take over. I never regretted hiring her for one second because apart from being sympathetic, she is an intelligent, dedicated and analytical person, who will definitely do a good job.
"This is what I know how to do. I have worked with dry bulk for 27 years, I think it's incredibly exciting, this is where I have my whole network and I know the market. That's what I want and I can't just start up in tanker now that I'm 58 years old," he says, adding that the market holds exciting challenges at the moment.
"It's an exciting time to enter dry bulk. I have to see if anyone can benefit from my experiences."
Have you considered becoming independent or do you see yourself as part of an established company?
"I don't know. It's so new that I haven't thought it through that extensively myself. I have to really think about it, talk to some people, and then we'll see what happens."
Hired his own replacement
Herman Billung is bidding farewell to a company which in February 2016 distinguished itself by generating about USD 200 million in fresh capital in just 24 hours, in an industry that otherwise is not receiving great support from investors. A company in which the oldest owned vessel in the fleet is from 2008 and which has obtained deferrals on payments for the next 2.5 years.
The departing CEO also highlights the positive capitalization as the first thing, when he is asked to describe the company he is now leaving on friendly terms.
"There is a fantastic circle of shareholders, good relations with the bank, and very good employees. So I think that the company is in a better position than many other dry bulk companies," he says, adding that he has considered keeping his own shares in the carrier.
Furthermore, he notes the continuity which Golden Ocean will benefit from, as his replacement for the position already is very familiar with the business. This will be good for the company, he says, and he speaks highly of his successor.
Herman Billung is indeed very familiar with Birgitte Ringstad Vartdal. The two worked together at Klaveness before Billung came to Golden Ocean. And he was involved in hiring her when Golden Ocean needed a new CFO.
"I am pleased that Birgitte is the one to take over. I never regretted hiring her for one second, because apart from being sympathetic, she is an intelligent, dedicated and analytical person, who will definitely do a good job. And so it is nice that when I'm leaving, I'm leaving the job to someone who I appreciate."