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Wallem: A first interview with Frank Coles

In unveiling Frank Coles as his next CEO yesterday, Wallem chairman Nigel Hill commented: “The shipping services sector is grappling with a wide range of challenges and opportunities at present. We are confident that we have found the right person to ensure that Wallem stays in the forefront of delivering first class maritime solutions to its customers, as it has done throughout its long history.”

Coles, formerly with Transas and prior to that Inmarsat, is a left field choice to head up the 115-year-old Hong Kong-based shipping services company, but Hill’s comments suggest Wallem is gearing up to go down a more digital path. Coles is one of the most famous proponents of digitalisation in shipping.

Coles is no stranger to Hong Kong. He worked in the former British colony from 1995 to 1998 and still retains an affection for the place, a city with conservative shipping values that he is no doubt about to shake up.

Coles is set to replace Simon Doughty as group CEO at Wallem at the end of next month.

“I feel like I have unfinsihed business in Hong Kong,” Coles tells Maritime CEO in his first interview since the Wallem announcement on Wednesday.

He says his initial priorities will be to raise the Wallem brand a bit, as well as modernising the company, while remembering Wallem’s position as a “traditional, capable and competent” company.

“We live in a world that is changing fast and we need a new perspective,” Coles says.

While Wallem is best known for shipmanagement, the former Transas boss is keen to stress that the group is involved in plenty more besides. “It’s a shipping solutions company,” he says. Admitting that he is entering a very competitive arena, Coles says his priority will be to find a niche in terms of the quality of services Wallem can offer. Size, he says, is not the be all and end all for Wallem.

And then there is, of course, the digitalisation aspect that Wallem’s owner clearly sees Coles bringing to the company.

“This whole conversation about digitalisation is a just a case of moving with the times,” says the Wallem incumbent, described last week by UK shipping website Lloyd’s List as a “digital provocateur”.

“Leveraging technology to be more efficient is the persepecive I can bring from the other side and putting it in place correctly,” Coles concludes.


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