Although first presented on paper in 2003, the five Maersk Core Values have been a part of the business for more than 110 years. In an exclusive interview, Chairman of the A.P. Møller Foundation, Ane Mærsk Mc-Kinney Uggla, expresses how the Values are the load-bearing pillars of Maersk.
We meet Ane Uggla in the sand-coloured villa opposite the Maersk Group headquarters in Copenhagen. The blue walls of her Foundation’s office are decorated with family portraits, and there is an atmosphere in the room that reminds the visitor of history and shipping.
When Ane Uggla speaks, she speaks on her own behalf but also as a representative of 110 years of family ownership. It is therefore with great thoughtfulness that she addresses the Group Core Values.
“We all grew up with values, but how does one also communicate the aspects that have been passed on implicitly?” Ane Uggla asks, while welcoming the challenge of focusing on the family values that her father so very carefully refined into five passphrases: Constant Care, Humbleness, Uprightness, Our Employees, Our Name.
Leaving the bridge
These five guiding rules were handed over on a special day in December 2003, when her father invited the top 50 leaders of the company to his private home north of Copenhagen. Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller had decided to leave the bridge but, as he put it, retain his cabin, as he stepped down as Chairman of the A.P. Møller – Mærsk A/S Board of Directors but remained Chairman of the Foundation.
“It was an emotionally strong moment for my father and for everyone present to witness how he passed on his lifelong calling, his lifeblood to future generations. It was sincere and reflected his passion for the company. The Values are governing principles that have carried the business for more than a century, and I believe they have the strength to carry the business into the future,” Ane Uggla says.
If you hit Our Name, the entire house could fall. We are really respected globally – and I’m proud of that. This is what the family, together with our leaders and employees, have built. And it’s what we must not destroy: Our Name.
According to Ane Uggla, there is no doubt that the Values have existed in the Group since the very beginning in 1904, emanating from the family home.
“They were first formalised in 2003 but they have been lived out without being explicitly expressed from the very beginning. This is what makes them authentic, genuine, valid and integrated into the business.”
Ane Uggla responds quickly when asked to give an example from her own upbringing as to how the Values were lived out in the family.
“Uprightness, ‘our word is our bond’ are the words that first come to mind when the family and I think of our father. He was trustworthy as a person and a personification of that value as a father. He demanded no more from others than he was willing to do himself.”
Another episode illustrates a family value never to become complacent.
“I remember asking my father whether he was happy and content after his return from the United States, where he had been given major and difficult managerial responsibilities that he had embraced with flying colours. But no, he was hardly ever content – he was always looking ahead,” Ane Uggla says.
Humbleness was also at the core of her father’s interaction with competitors – and this is one of the lessons that Ane Uggla draws from in her own capacity as Vice Chairman of the A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S Board of Directors.
“Never underestimate our competitors. Even though times can be difficult in the businesses in which we operate, resulting momentarily in bad figures for some of our competitors, we can be certain that they are doing something about it. And the same problems may hit us later. We should refrain from thinking that we are the best in the world. We are skilled within certain areas – but we must never become complacent.”
Don’t be smart in the negative sense
When Ane Uggla talks about the Values, she refers to her great-grandparents and her sons in what appears to be almost the same sentence. It becomes clear that the Values have not only played an important part in Ane Uggla’s own upbringing but have also been passed on to Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller’s broader family and grandchildren.
“One value that my father deliberately imprinted on my own sons is: Don’t be smart in the negative sense of the word. Don’t go for the quick win if it isn’t a sound option for the long run. Otherwise it may impact Our Name, the company.”
"Our Employees are the ones who will execute the first three Values (Constant Care, Humbleness and Uprightness), and Our Name is the whole that will summarise it all. When big decisions are under way and one does not pay enough attention to these Values, it will ultimately hit Our Name." - Ane Mærsk Mc-Kinney Uggla
Do you foresee a risk that the Values could be misinterpreted? For instance, could one read into the Value ‘Constant Care’ that one shouldn’t move forward or take calculated risks?
“Obviously one should be accurate and examine carefully, but not to the extent that one misses out on business opportunities. One needs to carefully outweigh the risks and the opportunities. The Values should not be a hindrance or an obstacle for taking the necessary calculated risks,” Ane Uggla says, and underlines, “I appreciate that mistakes can happen, but we need to learn from them. And hopefully not repeat them.”
Interpretations over time
Ane Uggla finds it natural that the Values are constant – but not static.
“During transition periods the Values may and should be challenged, and they are interpreted differently over time. Today we see transparency as part of the Value ‘Uprightness’, whereas this played less of a role ten years back,” Ane Uggla says, and continues:
“An example of this is Corporate Social Responsibility. We have always been involved in community engagement and always strived to be good citizens wherever we were present, whereas today’s times and partners require that we document it.”
Complexity is on the rise
According to Ane Uggla, it is not only the growing need for transparency that has changed during her nearly 30 years with the Foundation and 20 years with the company.
“We live in a world where complexity is on the rise, and as a company we are now globally bigger. From a communications perspective, the world moves at a greater pace than ever, and in my view, the growing number of information channels add to that complexity.”
This is why Ane Uggla sees the Values as a counterweight that employees can lean on in times of change:
“Whether in shipping or energy, today’s markets are less and less foreseeable, which adds to the complexity. Our employees need to be constantly ready for change, which is very demanding. We expect a lot from our workforce, and in many situations the Values represent a hand rail, something to hold onto. The Values are straightforward and easy to relate to, they are constant in a complex world.”
Welcoming the new ambassadors
However, complexity also comes with many positive aspects, and Ane Uggla welcomes the growing diversification of the workforce.
"We can learn a lot from people from the outside world – as my father also taught us – and I am really pleased when new employees are referring to the Values. Also, it is very positive that the Group Core Values booklet will be translated into several languages to ensure that all employees are fully acquainted with them.”
“We have been global almost since the beginning – and when for instance an American colleague mentions that we are value-driven as a company, it works for me as a benchmark that our self-perception is truly in line with how the outside world perceives us. We are not just any other company. We are a company with certain values. This gives us a special hallmark and characteristic and is part of our attraction, I hope. If one doesn’t approve of our Values, one needs to find another place to work. It is not all about money.”
The load-bearing pillars
When speaking to Ane Uggla it becomes clear that the Values are matters that are also spoken about during family gatherings with those closest to her.
“One of my sons said that the Values are greater than any person, no matter what their seniority or heritage, and I find this a strong statement. They connect the past, present and future and can be seen as the scaffolding, the load-bearing pillars of the company simply built into the construction. As I see it, they are carved in stone and can last forever. Naturally none of us are perfect, but the Values are there to strive for.”
Looking to the future Ane Uggla speaks with great conviction, and she especially points to the ownership structure of the Maersk Group as a safeguard in connection also to the Values.“Certainly I see the ownership structure as an advantage when it comes to the longevity of the Values. The deep involvement of the family and the decision to have the Foundation as the majority owner works to prevent any takeover of the Group. Among other things, it allows the Group to take long-term decisions that may, in the very short term, seem less rewarding. The Values will always play an integral part in those decisions.”
The Foundation as the majority owner
- A.P. Møller og Hustru Chastine Mc-Kinney Møllers Fond til almene Formaal, through fully owned subsidiary
- A. P. Møller Holding A/S, holds 41.51% of the share capital representing 51.23% of the voting rights
- A.P. Møller og Hustru Chastine Mc-Kinney Møllers Familiefond, holds 8.37% of the share capital representing 12.84% of the voting rights
- Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, holds 2.94% of the share capital representing 5.86% of the voting rights
- Mr. Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møllers family holds 3.16% of the share capital representing 5.88% of the voting right