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What key behaviours and attributes make a successful shipping mogul?

Ahead of the publication of the latest MarPoll survey conducted by this site here’s my perspective as a recruiter on one of the study’s central questions: What is the most important characteristic of a successful shipping mogul?

An early snapshot of the latest MarPoll survey results has shown that voters ranked vision, followed by technical ability, as the top two characteristics of a successful shipping mogul. While the term ‘mogul’ could be used to describe several individuals in leadership positions – from CEOs to managing directors, entrepreneurs, and founders – few would disagree that those at the top of maritime firms are facing greater demands than ever before. If shipping leaders are to succeed now and, in the future, they must possess a set of truly exceptional traits.

Is vision key?

In the survey, voters identified having a defined vision as a primary place for shipping leaders to start, with real success achieved by those who could adapt their vision after sustained and careful consideration of external and internal influences.

From economic, through to political, digital and environmental issues, the pace of global change is moving faster than ever before and requires highly energetic leaders with adaptability and agility.

There is widespread consensus that “business as usual” will not meet the demands now placed on the shipping industry.

This means leaders must look to developments both inside and outside the sector, championing those which their organisations can benefit from and use to their benefit. Integral to this learning mindset is a genuine desire to disrupt where necessary and to do so effectively to benefit the individual business and consequently the industry at large.

What about technical ability?

Technical skill and an ability to ‘talk the same language’ as colleagues, partners and customers, has rightly always been highly sought after and rewarded in the maritime industry. To hone their ability to communicate effectively with stakeholders, many successful leaders will have gained experience working in a wide range of roles across departments, and organisations, in the maritime sector. Once they have this experience ‘on board’, they will likely possess an in-depth understanding of the genuine make-up of the business, rather than a purely commercial perspective, which is commonly seen in many shipping businesses today.

Notwithstanding technical prowess and vision, leaders must be inclusive, tapping into and fully utilising the best asset any shipping leader has – their people. To achieve this requires a sustained effort to develop working cultures where employees feel inspired to produce their best work and to work together to support and develop the organisation in which they are situated.

Where will our leaders come from?

In the face of challenges that are both plentiful and complex, many now agree that the shipping industry cannot face the future alone. We urgently need input from leaders from outside our sector, if we are to drive the innovations required to deliver a safe, sustainable and profitable future for shipping.

As an industry, shipping does not struggle to attract non-traditional leaders, but it does find it hard to retain them. This is for two key reasons. Firstly, if individuals have no experience of shipping there is a perceived lack of credibility which can only be overcome by an individual with a phenomenal vision and communication capabilities. Secondly, the perception of being given a relatively blank piece of paper from which to drive a business is often not the reality. With business owners and boards often shying away from the very ideas that they brought these people in to deliver; new ideas often seen as too radical and too far removed from the ‘norm’.

Shipping is already lagging behind other industries when it comes to recruiting and retaining non-conventional leaders. If not addressed, this gap will only widen as more millennial and Gen-Z leaders target senior roles, bringing with them a less conventional approach than current c-suite management, which embraces flexibility and technology with immediate access to data.

We need to draw in and encourage those from outside the shipping industry with roles that allow them to apply their experience to facilitate and deliver whatever the objectives may be, for example, growth, digitalisation, rationalisation.

So, what are the key ingredients a mogul needs to succeed?

While the definition of a mogul is open to interpretation, the term is generally used to describe a leader that possesses innovative ideas, a willingness to take risks, and the business acumen that is necessary to transform their ideas into a reality and risks profitable. For the maritime industry to identify and foster such individuals in 2020, and beyond, there needs to be a willingness by all in the sector to be more open minded, willing to embrace change and be more collaborative. In turn, those joining the industry should be made fully aware of the lack of evolution, cautiousness and reluctance to consider any form of change. With educating people on the benefits of proposed changes, and getting buy in at all levels, key to facilitating change. What’s more, it can only be achieved through the development of inclusive environments which by their very nature transform into higher performing, more creative and overall more attractive workplaces.

Heidi Heseltine

Heidi Heseltine is the CEO of Halcyon Recruitment and co-founder of the Diversity Study Group. Her past career saw her work for shipowners, brokers as well as Levelseas.


  1. As a young entrepreneur finding my way to lead my business, I must thank you for your article, which has been an eye opener for steering my thoughts and energy in the right direction.

    Also, I would be pleased to know where I can find more of your articles

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