Seven Books to Better Understand the Shipping Industry
At Octopi, one of our core values is Intellectual Curiosity. We strive to create a company culture of people who are always learning about the world around us. When we started our journey in the shipping and maritime industry, our goal was to learn as much as possible about cargo port terminal operations and the shipping and maritime industry as a whole.
To accomplish this, one of our Key Performance Indicators (KPI) was the number of port terminal visits. That number is displayed in our Miami offices on a KPI dashboard screen so that our team is always paying attention to it and is always scheduling new terminal visits.
Whether you are part of our engineering, sales, or design teams, we require all of our employees to spend some time at a terminal to understand the challenges and pain points of cargo terminal operators. These visits (along with the countless interviews and conversations we have with stevedores, port authorities, terminal operators, dockworkers, equipment operators, etc.) drive most of our learning.
In addition to these visits, we rely heavily on books to increase our knowledge of the shipping and maritime world. We are well-read on the subject and have compiled a list of our favorite books. If you are new to this industry, or if you have been working it in for 20 years and believe that learning should be constant, we highly recommend reading the following books.
1. The Docks by Bill Sharpsteen
Focusing on the Port of Los Angeles, The Docks delves into the unseen world of this highly successful enterprise. Author Bill Sharpsteen paints a picture of the port’s origins, zeroing in on the people that helped contribute to its economic prosperity. While Sharpsteen emphasizes the Port’s success, he also talks about its vulnerability with security and labor, while including personal stories from industry insiders. One perspective he includes is that of one of the first women longshoremen. The Docks demonstrates the energy behind this incredible port through dramatic photographs and personal perspectives.
2. The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger by Marc Levinson
The Box tells the story of the container and its beginnings. What started as a simple box, changed the future of the shipping and transportation industries collectively. The container idea was slow on the uptake and economist Mark Levinson tells the story of how, after a decade of struggle, it came to fruition and changed the transport industry for good. Levinson includes key notes about how the inclusion of the “box” brought some ports back to life, whereas others suffered with its implementation. Thanks to this extraordinary box, costs were cut in the transport sector and the global economy is able to thrive, today.
3. Port Management and Operations by Maria G. Burns
Port Management and Operations has created a manual filled with insights and strategies into the world of shipping. Through examination of port management practices on a global level and deconstructing them on commercial and technological levels, this manual provides readers with a new set of skills and perspective. Port Management and Operations touches on 4 themes: “Port Strategy and Structure, Legal and Regulatory Framework, Input: Factors of Production, and Output and Economic Framework.” This book also identifies strategies and provides insight into the future of shipping.
4. Port Business by Jurgen Sorgenfrei
For veterans or those just starting out in the shipping industry, this book breaks down the meaning of ports and explains the role they play in the global supply chain. With globalization, exporting has increased exponentially, and the shipping market is changing. Port Business breaks down and analyzes the struggles for small to mega-sized ports, providing insight into the industry’s future.
5. The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli
Through the perspective of a T-shirt, this narrative has a lot to say about globalization and international business. Following a T-shirt from Texas to Africa, author Pietra Rivoli reveals political, cultural, economic, and moral issues associated with international business. The reader is challenged to view trade through an unconventional perspective while evaluating the complex layers of business crossing borders.
6.The Shipping Man by Matthew McCleery
Matthew McCleery tells the story of a hedge fund manager turned shipping man. After deciding to buy a ship on a whim, Robert Fairchild enters the complex world of shipping. A stark contrast to his New York life, Fairchild embarks on a journey where he learns about everything from Somali pirates to the wealthy folk of Wall Street. Though he ends up losing his hedge fund, he gains the title of shipping man along with the knowledge associated with it.
7. Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
Ninety Percent of Everything unveils the invisible world of shipping to the commoner’s eye. Author Rose George divulges the secrets of the “invisible industry” through her incredible adventure sailing from southern England to Singapore. Five weeks aboard The Maersk Kendal and countless miles later, George lets readers into the shipping industry from the perspective of someone with little experience. Her objective in writing this tell-all piece is to shed light on the otherwise closed-door industry and to inform consumers about the shipping life and all that entails.
Luc Castera is the founder of Octopi.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.