Co-Founder & Managing Director, AEGIR-Marine
(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2015 edition.)
***From Jan-Feb 2015 Edition of The Maritime Executive magazine***
“Only promise what you can deliver, then deliver more than you promised” is Muis’s mantra. Customers love it.
In 2000 you co-founded AEGIR-Marine along with Hans Dekker. Tell us about your career up to that point.
I graduated from the Marine Academy and sailed as an engineer on ocean-going tugs and offshore vessels for companies such as Smit International, Smit-Lloyd and JP Knight. After my seafaring career I joined John Crane Marine-Lips as a service rep for stern seals. I later moved to sales, where I met Hans Dekker. When the company was sold to an investment firm, Hans and I both independently decided to leave. I worked for about a year and a half for a Dutch manufacturer of air compressors while Hans joined a service company for gearbox repairs. During a marine exhibition in 1999 we were approached by several of our former customers, who suggested we start our own maker-independent service company for stern seals and bearings as they were not satisfied with the service they were receiving from other sources.
How are responsibilities divided?
My business card says Managing Director while Hans’s says Sales Director. In reality we make decisions together. However, Hans’s main focus is sales where I tend to be more involved in the general management of the company.
Are you the sole owners?
Yes, Hans and I each own 50 percent of the company. In 2008 we founded a sister company, AEGIR-Marine Propulsion Service, offering maker-independent service on propulsion systems. This company is jointly owned by AEGIR-Marine and Martin Visser, former service and production manager with Lips Propellers.
Which business is bigger – stern seals or propulsion?
At the moment the stern seal business is still bigger. However, growth rates of over 30 percent annually in the propulsion business will balance this out over time. In North America propulsion is already comparable in turnover to seal service.
Where does the name “AEGIR” come from?
AEGIR is the name of the Norwegian God of the Sea. In 2000 when we founded the company it was fashionable to use Greek and Latin names, so we considered Neptune and Mercury. However, there are a lot of companies named after these well-known gods of the sea and trade. When we found a comparison between Greek and Norwegian mythology, we discovered AEGIR. The fact that the name starts with an “A” is also beneficial as it always puts us high in an alphabetical list of company names.
“We do things differently” has been your philosophy from the beginning. What does it mean?
It means different as compared to what has become common practice nowadays in many industries. We have internally defined it as our AEGIR DNA, which means Quality, Service, Teamwork, Knowledge and Honesty. However, you can also shorten it to “Always try to put yourself in the customer’s position.” Think from his perspective and try to exceed his expectations. When you enter our premises, you will see a sign that reads “Only promise what you can deliver, then deliver more than you promised.” That seems simple, but it’s a serious challenge if you really mean it.
The company has been built on a series of “strategic choices.” These include a service orientation, a focus on existing vessels and not newbuilds, and “maker-independency” – servicing all makes and models. What was the thinking behind each of these decisions?
That again came more from our customers than from any strategic decision. In an age when many companies choose to broaden their product range, there is great demand for specialization and one-stop service within that specialty. That is what we created, and it has proven to satisfy our customers’ requests every day.
Who are your major customers, and what types of vessels do you service?
Our customers come mainly from the commercial ocean-going fleet. We have thousands of regular customers, both companies that are among the 10 largest in the world and typical captain/owner companies. It proves that our service focus is appreciated by firms of all sizes. In the last couple of years we have also been awarded major service contracts within both the cruise and offshore industries.
Explain for our non-technical readers what a stern seal does.
A propulsion shaft connects the inboard engine or turbine to the propeller. The shaft needs a lubricant for the bearings supporting the shaft within the ship’s hull, and the shaft needs to penetrate the hull. In order to keep the lubricant in and the seawater out, seals are needed. One seal is typically fitted in the engine room while the other is mounted between the propeller and the stern tube. This is underwater and outboard. Under normal circumstances this seal can only be reached during a drydocking of the vessel. It is therefore critical that the seal function properly between scheduled drydockings. Failure of the seal can cause both technical and environmental damage and will seriously interfere with the vessel’s operating performance.
How large is the company in terms of employees, offices and revenues?
The AEGIR group has offices in the Netherlands, Singapore, Shanghai and Walvis Bay, Namibia. We have a legal office in the U.S. but service the American market from Europe at the moment. All together AEGIR employs over 70 people with sales in excess of €20 million this year.
Is there a profit-sharing plan for employees?
AEGIR has implemented a bonus system that is based on sales, profits and personal goals. It applies to everybody within the company, regardless of position. Goals are mutually agreed upon with each employee at the end of the year.
Is Europe your biggest market?
Because we started in the Netherlands, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) is still responsible for our biggest sales. Having said that, both Asia (established in 2009) and the Americas (established in 2012) contribute considerably to our success.
When did you introduce AEGIR-Marine PRIME PARTS®?
We introduced the Prime Parts® product line in 2004. Until then we offered service only, and customers purchased parts from another supplier. More and more we were asked to offer a total solution, both parts and service. For a period of time we purchased parts from third parties. However, in order to ensure the required availability, we had to be able to do it ourselves. The reaction was positive from day one. We always use external, independent authorities for testing and analyzing purposes, and we do all engineering in house. Our products are manufactured exclusively in Western Europe, and German certifying authority TÜV confirms their origin. And all Prime Parts® come with class approval from every major class society.
You have a very active blog on your webpage with lots of interesting news about the company. Whose idea was that, and who writes the blog?
As we started out very small, we needed a channel to quickly reach large groups of potential customers. The Internet is ideal for that. But if we marketed that way, it had to be complementary to the heart and soul of the company. Being “different” should therefore also reflect in our marketing. We believe that marketing should highlight what a company actually is and not be used simply as an image-builder. I have always been fascinated by good marketing. However, we use a professional third party to guarantee a high-level and consistent marketing strategy. The blogs are based on internal stories from people within the company. Based on their input, our marketing partner makes them suitable for publication on the Internet or in newsletters.
AEGIR’s culture seems centered around service, including service to the community. Tell us about some of the company’s outreach activities.
AEGIR’s hometown is a small, active community in the center of the Netherlands. It is essential that local initiatives like festivals and clubs are supported by the local businesses. This we have done from the very early days. We also have a corporate responsibility program and reserve a percentage of our profits for projects to support the less fortunate. Projects must have a clear beginning and end, and there must be the possibility for active participation by our employees. Although Hans and I make the resources available, we are not involved in the selection of the projects. This is done by employees on our social responsibility committee, which changes members annually. They propose a number of projects each year, and all colleagues decide which will be supported in the year ahead.
Examples of projects we have supported are the conversion of the stern seals and service on the propulsion systems for Mercy Ships; the building of a replica of a historical wooden boat, partially by early school drop-outs; the construction of a school in Gambia, and an entrepreneurs program for youngsters in the Philippines. All of these projects have been visited by our employees, who work alongside local volunteers to turn them into a success.
What is the biggest challenge facing the company – and the industry – right now?
With the company growing, our main focus is to maintain direct and personal contact with our customers to ensure that our DNA remains the basis of everything we do and to keep on asking our customers what we can do better. For this reason we have conducted a regular customer satisfaction survey for some years now. Although our goal will always be to score 10 out of 10, we have made it so far to 8.5. That is definitely better than my average score when I was in school!
For the industry as a whole, including AEGIR, the availability of qualified and trained staff is a major concern. Let’s face it: Youngsters have so many options to choose from that a seafaring career is not always the first thing that pops into their minds. It is a common responsibility of everyone in our industry to invest in promotion, education and training. Youngsters are willing to listen when we tell them about the dynamics of our industry, the opportunities, challenges and job options. But we have to go out and spread the word as they will not come to us automatically. And yes, that can mean we might invest in someone who will work for another company, maybe a competitor even, at the end of the day. But individual companies cannot achieve anything considerable if they are not prepared to act beyond their own interest alone.
Where would you like to see the company in five years?
I would be very happy if, in five years’ time, customers still see us as a top service provider that adds value to their daily operation, although we may be considerably bigger in size compared to today. That means maintaining our DNA as the driving force in our day-to-day business. Of course we have set financial goals internally, but the strategic aims are much more important as these will ensure the stable and sustainable growth of the company and jobs for our employees. Achieving our strategic goals will lead to hitting our financial goals. That is the way it must be, never the other way around. – MarEx
Jack O’Connell is Senior Editor of The Maritime Executive.
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The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.