Maersk Line: External leaders strengthen bottom line

Maersk Line does not benchmark its 350 most promising executives with competitors, but with the world's Blue Chip companies. More top executives are also recruited from the outside, the carrier tells ShippingWatch. There's one good reason in particular for this approach.

The world's largest container shipping company Maersk Line is increasingly looking for candidates who do not have their roots in the shipping industry, says the carrier's Head of Human Resources, Michael Chivers, in an interview with ShippingWatch.

As part of the company's new management plan launched three years ago, Maersk Line places increasing value on hiring external candidates to fill senior vacancies. These could be people from within the industry or outright competitors - though it is becoming increasingly frequent to see executives brought in from completely different industries, such as retail or IT. And this happens more and more often.

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Partly motivating the trend is the company's need to get in people with different qualifications, rather than traditional profiles with roots in the maritime world. And partly, according to Michael Chivers, it has also shown to have a financial effect to have a more diverse representation of leaders with different backgrounds.

"We have moved away from lifetime employment for shipping managers. We've needed people from other sectors to fill the gaps we had, for example in IT or Finance. We needed skills that we've been missing. In this way, we have brought in numerous of the kinds of executives that every any Blue Chip company would greatly value, and these have also been one of the reasons that we've been able to improve our finances so clearly over the last three years," says Chivers.

Headhunter: New requirements for the maritime CEO 

Photo: Maersk Line
Photo: Maersk Line

Torm's CEO Jacob Meldgaard and maritime executive headhunter Jan N. Lauridsen, managing partner in Heidrick & Struggles, will be interviewed Tuesday, October 6th, in Copenhagen about "The New Maritime CEO", as part of Danish Maritime Days. Learn more and sign up here.

Inspired by Jack Welch

Michael Chivers came to Maersk Line three years ago and describes his job as the "best in the world," in which he through systematic selection and training of the company's own aspiring leaders and potential executives - as well as taking on external recruitment - works to ensure future leadership capacity for the organization. Michael Chivers himself is inspired by the leadership icon Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric.

This rise in external recruitment is evident in the changes to leadership positions on what the group calls its "Top 35". Here, roughly half of the names have been replaced within the last three years, divided equally between internal and external replacements. And the new external names on the list come mainly from industries other than the traditional shipping sector.

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"We've broadened our recruitment efforts. One can sometimes have a tendency to look for candidates who are similar to the people already working at the company, or those that are similar to yourself. We've changed that. You might say that we're looking more through the windshield than the rear view mirror," as Michael Chivers says.

He does, however, believe that it is crucial to maintain shipping at the core of the organization, so that potential managers and employees consist of a blend of the traditional maritime people who often represent the history of the company as well as people from other industries.

"It should ideally provide the best of both worlds."

Systematic leadership development

Internally, Maersk Line is undergoing the systematic development of its most promising managers, with between 350 and 400 managers undertaking courses which prepare them to – potentially - become the company's next CEO. Leaders meet one week per year while also participating in individual meetings and annual career development courses in groups of around 30. The entire process takes place in a program run by Maersk Line together with LMD. The goal, above all, is to ensure that everyone within the global leadership group, the so-called "Global Management Team" knows the ins-and-outs of the corporate strategy and culture, while the company at the same time develops its own leadership potential.

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Every six months, the Maersk Group executive board meet for two days to review the potential of the Global Management Team, a process that includes an assessment of the candidates in relation to leaders at other major global companies. This is the so-called C-view:

"Every month we do a reality check. Additionally, executive management uses four days per year to go through all the profiles. This ensures full alignment with our strategy and values, no matter where you are in the world, and it helps us to make the leadership grow," says Michael Chivers.

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