Fred van Beers, CEO, Blohm+Voss
Van Beers has revived the “pioneering spirit” at Blohm+Voss and is taking the Hamburg-based company to new heights.
By Tony Munoz
Blohm+Voss has a long and distinguished history dating back to 1877. How does a company stay in business that long?
Our shipyard has a history dating back almost 140 years. To be able to stay in business for this long, a company has to listen very closely to its customers’ changing requirements and has to constantly reinvent itself. When I started at Blohm+Voss just over a year ago, I talked to many of our customers and business partners. They gave me a lot to think about from a customer service perspective. Their questions ranged from “What is Blohm+Voss actually doing today?” to “Why is the approach in repair so different from newbuild?”
Did you make any changes as a result?
Yes. We took their thoughts very seriously and have adapted our organization accordingly. In April we merged our two legal entities, Blohm+Voss Shipyards GmbH and Blohm+Voss Repair GmbH, into one Blohm+Voss GmbH. To speed communication both internally and externally, we moved our engineering team from Kiel to Hamburg where our shipyard, our sales and our project management teams are based. Last but not least, we increased the efficiency of our cost base by reducing overhead and simultaneously increasing our sales force and engineering capacity.
By taking these three steps, we located everything under one roof and put the focus of our efforts where it belongs – on product and business innovation and service delivery. Our combined newbuild and refit experience, strong engineering assets and solid financial situation create an ideal environment in which to develop true lifecycle support solutions for our customers. Lifecycle management is a key part of our growth strategy.
How many people work at the Hamburg yard?
We currently employ about 1,000 specialists in four business units: Mega Yachts, Ship Services, Production Services and Power Plants+Marine Services. Our docks are located in the heart of Hamburg, and our quays have a total length of more than two kilometers. Blohm+Voss stands for shipbuilding and ship repair: That is what we are good at. Our premises, our people and our competencies are all geared toward building and repairing mega yachts of 80 meters in length and up as well as navy surface vessels, and refitting and repairing cruise ships and merchant ships. Our only limitation is the size of our docks. The largest is 351 meters by 59 meters, so you see we can handle quite sizeable vessels!
We have a great workforce, and we “Blohmers” are service providers at heart. We offer a highly professional team with German quality and on-time delivery. In our business this is extremely important as even the most complex projects need to be executed in a very short timeframe.
Where would you like the company to be in five years?
We have a very clear vision of where we want to be in five years. We want to be one of the most innovative and thriving shipyards worldwide and our customer’s first choice. Between now and 2020 we will substantially increase our productivity and double our annual sales with sustainable profits. To get there, we will put renewed emphasis on our core competencies, fill our docks and grow the business. Everything we do revolves around our customer.
What are some of the major issues facing the global shipbuilding industry?
The shipbuilding industry in general has been facing big changes for many years now. With the oil and gas sector and merchant shipping in heavy weather, we feel blessed to have good positions in both the booming cruise sector and the expanding refit market for mega yachts. It’s no secret that we have been less successful in getting our share of the ever-growing mega yacht newbuild sector. But based on the actions we have taken and the exciting new BV80 design, I am convinced this will change. I believe Blohm+Voss will earn a position in the newbuild market for mega yachts, and this year should prove me right!
Can European yards compete with low-cost Asian builders?
We do not try to compete with Asian builders as they have a completely different business model and act in different market segments. To me, the biggest mistake we can make is to try to fight the low-cost builders. Instead, we need to build on our own competencies. As long as we are able to meet our customers’ requirements, we will have a long and healthy future ahead of us in the European market. We are not the cheapest and never will be, but we offer competitive prices and compelling value for the project as a whole. This is important for anyone who has a complex project where German engineering and quality standards, outstanding customer service and reliable, on-time delivery are crucial.
Tell us about yourself. You are a qualified marine engineer and went to sea for four years.
Yes, I studied at the Nautical College in Flushing in the Netherlands where I graduated as a ship engineer in 1988. After that, I spent five years at sea with Nedlloyd Lines. I chose this profession simply because I was fascinated by the sea and fascinated by the stories my father told me from the days when he was a sailor himself.
What I learned at sea is that there is a solution to any problem. Why? Simply because you have to! You can’t call a service engineer in the middle of the ocean so you have to fix things yourself. The second thing I learned is that you achieve very little when you don’t work as one team. When you are sailing in a storm over 1,000 miles from shore you value the power of trust in your teammates. This has been on top of my mind ever since. A team needs a leader, but the leader needs to be part of the team in order for it to excel!
How would you describe your management style?
I’m a team player. I consider myself part of a team and a facilitator for my colleagues so that they can do their work to the best of their ability. Internally, we have weekly management meetings, and my door is always open to anyone in the company who has an idea or needs advice. I like to challenge my team and I want all of my 1,000 team members to challenge me as well. As a team we strive to exceed customer expectations. That is why one of my most important roles is also to stay in touch with customers and suppliers as much as possible. We can’t do without them!
What do you like best about your job?
I thoroughly enjoy my job and the variety of business areas that we cover. I’ve been in the industry for more than 20 years, but it’s never been this diverse. On a normal business day I might spend the morning talking to the representative of a customer who is interested in building a mega yacht with us. At mid-day I will take a look at a cruise ship that is currently undergoing a refit in our docks and in the afternoon meet with one of our partner companies or talk to my colleagues on the docks and in the workshops about the work on the new F125 frigates, the largest ever built for the German navy.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have been passionate about the sea, boats and ships since I was four years old. And I still enjoy my time on the sea today, sailing with family and friends. To me, sailing is not much different than leading a company. You need a solid boat, a great team and a clear head. You need to know where you want to go and then figure out how you will get there. There might be currents and strong winds along the way, but if you act smartly and stay flexible, you will make your way and weather the storm.
Do you have other hobbies?
Being Dutch, I obviously enjoy riding my bike. I cycle to the shipyard every morning. That way I get some exercise before my workday starts. Besides, it is a beautiful ride through the city of Hamburg and through the 100-year-old and over 400-meter-long tunnel that runs under the river Elbe and connects our shipyard to the center of Hamburg. I like sports in general and also play the saxophone, although I must admit my job doesn’t allow much time for the latter as I also want to spend valuable time with my family! – MarEx
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.