The year 2019 has been a landmark one for Kishore Rajvanshy, the veteran managing director of Hong Kong’s Fleet Management. The company he has been at the helm of since its establishment turned 25 and its fleet swelled to around 500 ships, while for Rajvanshy himself there was also another personal milestone, his 70th birthday.
Such a landmark brings inevitable retirement questions from Maritime CEO, something the Indian national is quick to dismiss.
“Age is only a number,” Rajvanshy insists, and to be fair, he has a point – coming to work everyday clearly suits him; he looks much younger than someone embarking on their eighth decade. “Most important is what and how much you are contributing to the growth of the company,” he says. “Only when you realise you are no longer able to contribute to the company in any meaningful manner, you know it’s time to retire. For me, that time has as yet not arrived.”
Succession planning at the Banga family controlled shipmanagement firm is not a topic for discussion just yet.
Rajvanshy’s career is a great example of what can happen to the truly determined. Raised in the Thar Desert region of Rajahastan in western India, Rajvanshy joined the Shipping Corporation of India in the late 1960s. 15 years later he moved to Hong Kong to start work for Captain Charles Vanderperre’s Univan Ship Management, a company that has produced many of the leading names in shipmanagement over the years.
In 1994, Harry Banga – another Indian seafarer turned good – tapped Rajvanshy to launch Fleet Management. The pair have been very close ever since, latterly under the Caravel banner.
The 25 years that have passed however have seen third-party shipmanagement change beyond all recognition and Rajvanshy admits starting out again as a new shipmanager in 2019 would be a far more daunting prospect than it was in the mid-1990s.
“The market has matured and become extremely competitive with the bulk of third-party managed ships in the hands of a dozen large companies – each of whom manage more than 100 ships,” Rajvanshy explains. “Margins continue to be squeezed while requirements on infrastructure for first class global service are now high – global network of offices, training institutes with simulators, more head count to deal with regulations and security challenges, cutting edge ERP system, etc. As a start-up you need to push much harder than 25 years ago.”
A key trend of the sector over the past decade has been consolidation, something Rajvanshy does not think has reached its end game yet, even going so far as to predict more shipmanagement mergers within the next few months.
“I believe the trend of consolidation will continue, and we will see more of it happening in the coming months,” he says. “More than the need of the sector itself, this will essentially be driven by investment banks and private equity investors, who see value in the service industry.”
As to what’s immediately on the horizon – the global sulphur cap, now just three weeks away – Rajvanshy, who has presided over many a new regulation in his 50+ year career is sanguine.
“The sulphur cap changeover will not only be smooth but a non-event,” Rajvanshy predicts. No doubt, he’ll be in the office come January 1 to make sure that prediction comes true.