Better an empty chair in the corner office than the wrong person in that chair. This seems to be the approach taken by shipping companies when hiring senior execs in recent years.
"There is certainly activity but the boards are looking more thoroughly for the right candidate, even internally, to see if there is any real need for new hires," says Mark Charman, CEO of Faststream Recruitment Group, which as a headhunting firm is specialized in the maritime sector.
At competitor Red the Consultancy, Managing Director Tracey Shearer also feels that the industry's financial difficulties have influence on replacements at the top level:
"Many parties are reassessing their organizational structure and their expenses. When companies hire someone, they are very careful. This is to ensure that the candidate is the right match for the place. They can't afford to make mistakes," she stresses when ShippingWatch meets her at the office in downtown Singapore.
Mark Charman adds:
"It's not easy. The wish list from shipping companies is very specific with very concrete requirements. This makes it difficult sometimes to find just a few candidates because they don't meet the demands 100 percent," he explains:
"The general perception in the shipping industry is definitely that it's a buyer's market so they can afford to be picky."
The requirements vary from position to position and from company to company, they both explain. But here in Asia, international experience and understanding are typically pivotal:
"It has to be a cultural match. Here in Singapore, there are so many different nationalities and cultures in one place, which puts big demands on an executive to be able to tackle and cooperate with international teams," Tracey Shearer describes. For the past eight years, she has worked with recruitment for the shipping industry in Singapore.
"In general, there are very few companies willing to take a chance and so we see positions remain unfilled for long periods of time. There is no rush if there is any doubt as to whether or not the candidate is the right person," she says.
Uncertainty makes people seek security
On the other hand, it is not always easy to lure shipping people to a new place of employment, Mark Charman points out:
"Of course, some people want change if they feel that the position at their current employer is uncertain and maybe going through hard times," he says, but highlights that this is a minority:
"In many sectors, especially at the executive level, it's very hard to get people to change jobs. They are hesitant because of the uncertainties that exist in the industry and globally. Most recently Brexit. People become unsure of the future so many senior level employees stick to their safe havens to withstand the turbulence."
Tracey Shearer adds that a slightly bigger paycheck is not enough:
"People will not move for small amounts. If the pay where they are is stable and competitive, then they would rather stay."