Holding on

One of the world’s foremost poets wrote in an unforgettable poem called If,

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

Oh great, one more literary pretender, you say. What has this got to do with anything, you sneer.

Good point, though we could do with less sneering, please. Let’s establish the context. In the past couple of months, we have seen myriad conflicting opinions on the market.

“…we may soon face a peak supply scenario. The last time this happened, oil prices rose above $100 a barrel…”

“…many of us feel like an excel spread sheet caught in a circular reference…”

“…the market is entering into a recovery phase…”

“…autonomous vessels will turn the industry on its head…”

“…for offshore in general, any recovery story that is credible needs to explain where the capital is coming from to fund projects…”

Each new opinion, uttered with unshakeable confidence and authority adds to the uncertain fog that shrouds our future.

Ha! Been there, heard that, you say. So what?

Patience, my friend. I am getting there.

The industry counts 450 offshore vessel companies, about 60 drilling companies, and myriad services and support companies. All these companies have just completed a record 45 months in the absolutely worst market ever. Equity values are non-existent, debt is compromised beyond belief, revenues have fallen like the proverbial stone, balance sheets are awash in crimson. Every new charter or contract is a struggle, a Sisyphean feat. Survival is eked, one day at a time. The wolf prowls outside the door.

At this lowest point in morale, cash balance and visibility, the increasing uncertainty tolls like a funereal dirge. How much longer, we gasp, already at the end of our tether. In 2016 the experts scanned their spreadsheets and said that the next year would bring relief. Activity is increasing. Reserves are drying. We waited, with bated breath. In 2017 the sages stroked their beards and said that 2018 will surely see the end of our woes. OPEC’s production cuts are working. Shale is plateauing. We stood, with racing pulses. Now the analysts are saying that recovery is still some way off. Of course it is sure. No question. Perhaps 2020, maybe 2021? We stagger, and clutch on to something so as not to fall to the ground weeping.

Steeling ourselves, we look into the depths of our coin purses, hands seeking comfort but finding nothing but smooth folds. And then wearily continue interminable meetings with banks, bondholders, lawyers, vendors and funds. One more year? At least a month? Please, even a week?

Somehow, we stagger on. Carrying our people, our assets, our commitments and our liabilities on sagging shoulders. And in doing so, find new depths in ourselves. Of courage, of resilience, of persistence, of sheer will. We will not give in, we promise grimly to ourselves, Or give up. We will hold on.

And thus, across offices, and yards, and supply bases, and warehouses, and rigs, and vessels, an unexpected breed of unsung heroes is emerging. A battered industry is finding succour in the indomitability of its people. Of those who lead. Of those who follow. Of those who simply serve.

We will survive, they say. We will endure. And then, we will thrive.

Ah, you say, in humbler tones. I never considered…

Yes, most of us don’t. The forest usually eclipses the trees. No, don’t blame yourself. But the next time you see him walk past, back bowed but not broken, steps slow but steady, a thousand yard stare in his eyes, please stop, doff your hat and tip your head. For, as the poet said, there goes a man, my son…

You stand frozen, moisture pooling in your eyes. Your head tilts, as if in prayer or remembrance. Then, you swipe left.

Venkatraman Sheshashayee

Venkatraman Sheshashayee (Shesh) is Managing Director of Radical Advice, a business transformation advisory based in Singapore. He has over 34 years of experience in manufacturing, shipping and offshore oil & gas. Shesh’s previous roles include CEO of Miclyn Express Offshore, CEO & ED of Jaya Holdings Limited and Managing Director of Greatship Global. In his new avatar, Shesh helps SMEs, start-ups and aspiring professionals achieve their potential.
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