Panos Patsadas, MD at Target Maritime Transport, reckons too many young men and women are becoming brokers for the wrong reasons.
This is a topic I have long been wanting to talk about as it is something I come across every single day. I get CVs every day with young people aspiring to be shipbrokers. Some go as far as saying it was the dream of a lifetime, although they have never tried it in a good market, let alone a bad one like the current one. Especially for the majority of the young Greeks, shipbroking seems to be implanted in their minds as the epitome of shipping. Apparently the only area that earns you respect, is associated with prestige, and a title you are proud to carry and boast about. No?
While we could easily dwell for hours on why many of the young people wanting to go into shipping are attracted to shipbroking like fish to water, I feel it is better to take it for granted and discuss its implications for the standards of the industry. Can you become a professional boxer without putting in the hours in the ring, the gym, the treadmill? So why should the same be true in shipping? I often ask the question to the young guys, “Why do you want to be a shipbroker? ” and get replies from 20-year-olds stating that they are really good with people, and have excellent negotiation skills. I will put the age factor aside here.
So, a big guy walks into a boxing gym, approaches the coach and tells him, “I have real good conditioning, I want to become the next world heavyweight champion.” –
“Have you boxed before, son?”
No! So how can you be sure you are cut out to be a boxer? Maybe you don’t have the chin, or the feet, or the heart for it.
In trying to reason with the young guys and girls, when I get such replies full of determination and enthusiasm, i often try to get out of them, what it is they really want out of shipping? I ask them, if you were given a chance and lots of money, what would you really want to do in this industry? Hesitating to start with, 9 out of 10 admit they would like to have their own ships one day. Become shipowners themselves. It is normal, that the likes of Onassis or Niarchos or a few other Greek shipping magnates, have inspired many young people to chase the dream. There is nothing more romantic or noble than wanting to go into a profession that your country is a world leader in, and one of the few remaining reasons to be proud of being a Greek these days. But how they go about it? That is where our flaws as a nation kick in.
We often, us Greeks, like to drink water, but don’t want to be the ones carrying it. We like to spend a lot, without earning as much. The same goes with shipbroking. We want to take pride in talking to the big owners or big charterers, but the only ship we’ve ever been on is the one going to the Cyclades in the summer. We like to be trusted with assets worth millions of dollars, when if fact we have no idea how these are built, or operated.
Someone might argue that we all have to start from somewhere. Yes, I fully agree. But starting in shipping as a shipbroker is a choice most young guys make, with few of them turning down operations or post fixture entry level jobs, enjoying the luxury of parental support.
Like doing anything other than chartering or shipbroking in shipping (which also is not clear in the young minds what is brokerage and what is chartering, they usually think it’s the same thing) is some sort of a failure. Well let me ask one question here. Pick any traditional Greek shipping company (not a listed one though as senior management background and skill set required may be somewhat different and more corporate) and find out who is the managing director. If it is not the owner himself, it is in 90% of cases someone with a seafaring or operations or part technical background. It is the odd exception if you find someone with a pure chartering or shipbroking background. It doesn’t happen. Why? Because shipping and shipowning have a very broad spectrum of functions, that shipbroking first, and chartering second just cannot capture well enough.
But okay, let’s assume you do choose to go into shipbroking. You are dealing with people and families who have had seamanship in their blood for generations. You are talking to young owners who would sail on their family vessels at the age of 18 in the summer, prior to disembarking for a normal holiday. You need to bring something to the table and smooth talk is not it. You will bring your exclusive account, the hot cargo to the owner. Sure! How many other brokers do you think are going to bring the exact same thing to the table? These days, I would say plenty. And because shipping is the art of anticipating what can go wrong, the owner will pick the one who will best protect his interests. The broker who has maybe been in operations and knows what the recap means. The broker who will spot the spelling error the owner made in his offer and will point it out to him prior to passing it on. Last but not least, the broker who will stand up for his principal when things go sour. The owner or the charterer does not need a post box. He can get an administrator with zero shipping knowledge to do that.
So if the ultimate prize in shipping is becoming a principal, given a chance or circumstances one day, would you not want to learn as much about it as possible? Would you buy a EUR250,000 car if you have never driven before? What I am trying to say here is that if you really have ambitions to excel in this industry and want to go for positions of seniority or becoming a principal, shipbroking is not the way. I would say you are probably selling your self short and don’t even know it, if you opt to start your shipping carrier in shipbroking given other opportunities in operations for example.
An operator can be trained to do a shipbroker’s job. The reverse however is not necessarily true. As you gain more experience, yes you can become a good broker, but going into bigger organisations, having an operational background will make you more valuable. Because you can do a broker’s job, but you can also do something else. Finally, you cannot climb to the top levels of an industry, if you don’t have a genuine love for the heart of it which in shipping is the sea and the ship. From what I have experienced, this genuine love for shipping is something that comes across more vividly in seafarers, operations or technical people, and much less with brokers. When a ship becomes the centre of your interest and not your business image, you will find your career taking unexpected turns for the better.