Interview: Capt. Dennis Brand, Co-Founder & Managing Director, bMC
(Article originally published in Sept/Oct 2020 edition.)
In a cutthroat business, Brand’s no-nonsense approach has earned a following.
Tell us about yourself. Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in the central part of Germany, a small city called Bielefeld, far from the sea.
What attracted you to the maritime industry?
Long story. I was completely uninterested in school and more interested in sports and computers. This, in combination with my natural laziness, led to a pretty bumpy ride until the tenth grade, after which I had to decide what to do. Instead of starting a three-year job training program (standard in Germany), I decided to continue with school and joined one with business and administration as the main topics.
Then, between the twelfth and thirteenth grades, I read an old German book about the merchant navy and decided to do a six-week apprenticeship on a Hapag-Lloyd container ship trading to the U.S. Everybody onboard told me it would be crazy to go to sea as all German seafaring jobs will disappear. But I found the variety of tasks so interesting that I decided to join the merchant navy anyway.
After finishing business school I started a three-year onboard training regimen as a ship mechanic. Then I enrolled at the Polytechnic University in Bremen to study Nautical Science, which was required at the time for an unlimited master’s license.
Okay, what happened next? Tell us about your career before founding bMC Group.
There were a lot of steps along the way. After university I needed seagoing time to achieve the unlimited master’s license, so I focused on getting it as fast as possible. Even when on leave, I took relief jobs on German ferries, which my girlfriend (my wife now) did not at all appreciate. Right after I received my unlimited master’s license and became a Master Mariner, I got in contact with a German consultancy firm and started doing sea trials on newbuild ships and all sorts of other consultancy work.
During one project I was in charge of the ocean-going towage of a few large newbuild hulls from Romania to Germany and met an insurance surveyor who immediately put me in contact with his boss. This resulted in my joining the German insurance claims-handling organization, VHT, as Nautical Expert and getting involved in numerous salvage operations. One such operation was on a cruise ship north of the Polar Circle where I met the representative from TITAN Salvage. We had a difference of opinion about the cost of the project. The next thing I knew, TITAN offered me a job as Salvage Master.
I was involved in various projects around the globe with TITAN including the wreck of the bulk carrier New Flame off Gibraltar in 2007. During that project I was asked to rejoin VHT to become the Managing Director. Five years later I went back to TITAN as Commercial Director. After a fun and successful year with TITAN I decided to leave and start my own company.
What led to the founding of bMC Group in 2014?
I’m constantly looking for challenges and opportunities to prove myself. After 13 years I’d gotten plenty of experience and had my own ideas about how to manage a business and get the best out of people. It was time to put those ideas to the test.
So initially I went out alone and then Heiko Förster joined me and together we started brand MARINE CONSULTANTS (bMC). We formed a limited liability company, known in Germany as a GmbH, in 2014, and the next year opened an office in Singapore with the help of Ajay Prasad, who continues to run it today.
What was your first assignment?
It was the John I, a bulk carrier grounded off Newfoundland – in the middle of winter! I’d been elected to Lloyd’s Panel of Special Casualty Representatives (SCRs) at the end of 2013 and got my first assignment in 2014. On arrival I emptied my suitcase and wore everything but my laptop. It was a successful project, but the cold certainly gave the team some challenges!
Okay, explain for readers like me what a Special Casualty Representative (SCR) is – or does.
The primary role of an SCR is to represent all interests during an operation and support the Salvage Master with his or her best efforts to make the operation a success. At the same time, I strongly believe an SCR must give clear advice on the potential outlook of an operation and highlight any potential roadblocks. Personally, I even advise all parties involved to consider alternative contractual arrangements when I believe the standard LOF/SCOPIC contract is no longer the suitable option for the operation.
SCRs are elected to the Lloyd’s Panel by a screening committee. There’s a strict application procedure in place, and the committee meets once a year. Currently there are about 45 SCRs on the panel. There’s no mechanism for how work is distributed among those on the panel, which largely depends on the trust of the parties involved, the nature of the case and the experience of the individual SCR. With projects getting bigger and more complex, it more and more depends on the organizational structure behind the individual SCR.
At bMC today we have three appointed SCRs and have been highly successful in securing and delivering high-profile SCR projects.
What does “bMC” stand for, and why is the “b” lower case?
It stands for brand MARINE CONSULTANTS. The “brand” is lower case because I wanted to divert attention away from me in particular and toward all the people that work here and the quality of service we offer.
Tell us about those services.
We’re growing so quickly I sometimes have difficulty myself in keeping up! In essence, we offer services to or for the marine insurance industry: claims handling, P&I correspondence, marine & cargo surveying, marine engineering & machinery surveying, naval architecture, expert witness, special casualty representative (SCR) as well as consultancy in areas such as salvage, wreck removal, spill response, and machinery maintenance & damage.
What are some of the more challenging assignments you’ve had?
Where to begin? Certainly part of what keeps me so engaged with this industry is the huge variation and the challenges that suddenly get thrown at you. A few stand out:
The first one that comes to mind is certainly a fully laden container ship that grounded in Tripoli in the middle of a war zone. The project ended up in a wreck removal and lasted more than a year. Our team experienced remote drone and rocket attacks in the middle of the city and an emergency escape plan was always on the table!
In India we were engaged with another fully loaded container ship near Kolkata Port. It took fire and grounded on the outer banks. This was also a full wreck removal. In the end we helped our clients to significantly minimize costs and remove the entire wreck in just 42 days, which beat all risk-analysis predictions and was in line with our internal project timeline.
We recently worked on an inland water vessel that collided with a lock gate in France while carrying 2,300 metric tons of vinyl chloride monomer gas. The vessel broke its back, resulting in cargo escape and direct danger of explosion. The local fire brigade installed an evacuation zone of 1,000 meters. It took a huge effort to contain the risk, stabilize the vessel and discharge the cargo to another gas carrier.
The coronavirus has affected all of us and especially the shipping industry. What adjustments have you made to deal with it?
Our workplaces were already set up for remote access – smart phones, laptops and servers with backed up Internet connections – so we were prepared from that perspective. And because of the strategic location of our offices around the world we were able to continue most of our projects locally.
But travel restrictions made it necessary to find new partners in certain areas. We had to charter planes and arrange remote assistance and find partners for COVID-19 tests. But our biggest line of defense – and greatest strength – is our team, which was willing to travel for even longer periods of times to bridge gaps.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
With the business getting bigger and bigger, our biggest challenge is to let go of things. We – especially me and my partners Heiko Förster and Ajay Prasad – must accept that there are many ways to Rome and we cannot micromanage the business. Setting up the Senior Leadership Team with Alex Leonard and Kieran Hopkins was therefore an important step for the business. And I’m glad we found people who are brave enough to push back when we have a silly idea and contribute their own ideas!
Where would you like to see bMC Group in, say, five years? What’s your vision for the company?
I would love to get more great people on board with all sorts of different backgrounds. We’re constantly trying to find more talent to enter new markets. At the moment we’re trying to enter the automotive market and are in talks with the respective insurers already. Key to our success is diversification, and we’re working hard to keep it that way – especially given the decline in salvage jobs.
Tony Munoz is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Maritime Executive Magazine.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.