At a time when every dollar counts in the shipping business, Frew’s goal is to ensure BIMCO’s members get the value they expect and the services they want.
By Tony Munoz
Tell us about the early history of BIMCO.
We were established in 1905 and it was effectively a cartel, or “conference” as they called it, that was managing the shipment of timber out of the Baltic and White Seas. The timber was shipped down to the Mediterranean and places like that. So in 1913, in Paris, they had their first meeting, what we would describe now as the documentary committee, and that was to start drafting a standard charter party.
And so the thing we remain most famous for is our work on documents, on contracts and clauses on behalf of the shipping industry. And the point is to drive standardization and efficiency but also to reduce the number of disputes. Obviously we didn’t continue to be a cartel or conference, and so over the years we evolved and changed our name a few times to what is now BIMCO.
Aside from being the largest and most prestigious organization of its kind, how does BIMCO differ from other industry groups like Intertanko or the International Chamber of Shipping?
It depends on who you compare us with. We have a broad range of services and a broad range of members. So if you compare us with, for instance, the International Chamber of Shipping, we’re at the grassroots level where our members are the shipowners themselves and all the professionals who work in the industry whereas the International Chamber of Shipping is an association of associations. They have somewhere over 40 national associations that form their membership. We’re also much more practical in our approach whereas the ICS is more political. But then we work very closely with them, and it’s actually a good combination having their political astuteness and our knowing the practical side of how things actually work on ships.
And then if you look at other organizations like INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO, they represent a single shipping sector. We as an organization cover all sectors of shipping. You would find that, for instance, a very large proportion of INTERCARGO and INTERTANKO members are also members of BIMCO.
What products and services does BIMCO offer?
We group them under four headings. One is products, which are our contracts and clauses and our Internet contract writer called IDEA, which is like a one-stop digital shop that lets users know they’re using an original version of a BIMCO contract and can amend or alter it as they wish. The product category also includes the shipping KPIs, which is a way for shipowners to benchmark their performance against industry averages and identify areas for improvement.
A second area is training. We conduct all sorts of training programs not only on the contracts side but also on operational and regulatory issues. We run webinars that all our members can sign into and ask questions on a particular topic.
A third area is regulations. We got involved with the IMO from early on and continue to be very involved there because we share a common goal: shaping regulations on behalf of the shipping industry so that we retain a level playing field and the regulations themselves are simple and workable. We sit on their committees and subcommittees, and we have a very strong relationship with the Secretary General and his team. Shipping is a global industry and therefore needs global regulation. We think the IMO is the body that must be in charge of regulation for the shipping industry, and we support it wholeheartedly in that.
We also work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as with the E.U. and the European Commission.
And last but not least, we provide a lot of information and advice. We have a help desk for our members that offers guidance on environmental, safety and navigational issues. We also provide a lot of information on the commercial side including market and sector analyses and large port and cargo databases that members can go into and check whether it’s safe to carry this or that cargo and how it should be handled.
And you do all of this with 55 people in three offices?
We do! We sort of have an expanded workforce since we do a huge amount of it with experts from our member organizations, who work with us on our committees and working groups. So we delegate a lot of the work, and we’re sort of a collective institution.
How would you define BIMCO’s mission?
Our vision is to be the chosen partner trusted to provide leadership to the global shipping industry. Our members regard us as a trusted partner, and we need to maintain that trust. That’s so important. We have somewhere around 20 members that have been with us for over 100 years.
Is that what the new corporate identity is all about – maintaining members’ trust?
Yes, that’s exactly it. We need to ensure that we continue to earn their trust, to remain relevant and respond to their changing needs by give them the information they want and helping them to succeed in the marketplace. Particularly in these difficult times, it’s critical that we continue to deliver value, and even increase our value by anticipating issues before they arise and expanding our services.
And so that’s why we undertook to survey our members last year, to really understand what they found of value and the areas where we can improve. And the person that did the research was quite astonished at the level of trust and also the loyalty our members have. They rated our services very highly, and part of that trustworthiness had to do with membership itself: “If you’re a member of BIMCO, you can be seen as a trusted partner.”
But we also found that we needed to refresh the image. Members said what we could do better was our website, which was not very user-friendly. With such a broad membership, the website is our key way to communicate, so extremely important. And strangely enough, some members weren’t aware of all the services we provided and said we probably could be more proactive on the communications front and get our advice out a little quicker.
So we sat down and figured out how to communicate in a clearer and more timely way and how to better publicize the range of services we provide and how to improve the website. And by the time you go to press the program will likely have been launched and your readers can see the results.
Wow, that sounds very exciting. Will the logo change too?
A revised corporate identity is part of the program, but if I told you any more I would have to shoot you.
Okay, let’s talk about you now. Are you Scottish or English?
I’m half Scottish, but my heart is in England. I was brought up in England and I went to an English public school, which of course is a private school, but it’s quaintly British to get it the wrong way round. And then I read chemistry in one of the top U.K. universities, Durham. And then I qualified as a Chartered Accountant although to me it’s really been a business degree rather than an accounting qualification per se. And then I was the senior finance officer in a number of small but very entrepreneurial businesses in the U.K.
I eventually joined the alcoholic beverage industry and ended up living in Tokyo and running Diageo’s Japanese business, and then I moved from Diageo to Seagram where I was based in Prague and ran a region covering most of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, Poland and Hungary. Soon after – it was in 2002 – I received an offer to join the shipping industry and become President of GE Seaco, one of the largest container leasing companies and a joint venture between GE Capital and Sea Containers. And that meant going from running a region to running a global business with annual turnover in excess of $350 million. So it was a step up the ladder, a career progression that took me into shipping.
In 2009 I took over as Chief Executive of the U.K. Chamber of Shipping, and then I joined BIMCO in 2013. I am also a director of a NYSE-listed company that owns 18 container ships, Global Ship Lease, Inc.
Impressive, and you traveled the world in the process. You lived almost everywhere.
Yes, I lived in Prague and I lived in Tokyo and now obviously Copenhagen. All my roles over the last 26 years have been international, so I have traveled pretty far and wide.
How would you describe your management style?
I’m analytical. If I make any decision I like to make it on facts and analysis rather than which way I feel the wind is blowing today. But I think a very important part is actually bringing everyone along with you. So where possible, I look for consensus. Consensus decisions are much more effective because everyone understands why you made the decision. Some may not agree, but they realize why it is being made and they can get on and generally feel more involved.
What gives you the most satisfaction on the job?
Identifying a new issue that no one’s thought of before or suddenly finding a new way of doing something – that to me is exciting, not sitting around doing routine work or writing reports.
How about your spare time? Are you a jogger or a sailor?
Not jogging, the knees have given up. But I ski, snow skiing. I love playing golf. I’m living in Denmark, the land of the bicycle, so I actually do enjoy cycling and I cycle to work frequently. And of course living in Copenhagen I love the sea and I like getting out on my boat.
Do you read management books or mysteries?
Oh, I hate management books. I like detective stories. The Scottish writer Ian Rankin, who writes a lot with the character Inspector Rebus, I have read the whole series from beginning to end. I also really like the Scandinavian crime thrillers, so there’s Stieg Larsson, who did The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest. I enjoy those.
What would you like your legacy to be at BIMCO?
To ensure that BIMCO continues to lead the shipping industry alongside the International Chamber of Shipping. To achieve 70 percent or more of global tonnage in our membership. To maintain a 90 percent satisfaction rating with our members, and to perpetuate the BIMCO brand as the most trusted in the industry. That would be a legacy worth striving for. – MarEx