Reconnecting with the front-line

Henriette Thygesen, CEO of the Svitzer towage company, is on a mission to make its size and global presence matter, by empowering staff from offices to ports and on tugs around the world. 

Henriette Thygesen
“Clearly I’m impacted by having spent most of my life working outside of corporate headquarters, and I do see myself as a voice for the front-line staff” Henriette Thygesen, CEO of Svitzer.

Every morning Henriette Thygesen cycles the 6km from her home to work at Svitzer HQ in Copenhagen. On the way, she often stops to talk to the crew on-board Svitzer Hermod, Svitzer Bjorn or one of the other tugs frequently moored directly outside the head office in Nordhavn in Copenhagen.

Thygesen took the helm at Svitzer in September 2016 from the previous CEO, Robert Uggla, following a 23-year long career working across different businesses in A.P. Moller Maersk. Her most recent role being that of CEO at Damco Americas. Back at head office today, having spent years working on the front line herself, it is clear that strengthening the connection between onshore staff and those at sea is an issue close to Thygesen’s heart.

“Clearly I’m impacted by having spent most of my life working outside of corporate headquarters, and I do see myself as a voice for the front-line staff,” says Thygesen.

“The attitude I would like to install is that we in the leadership team all need to maintain that link, and the humbleness to recognise that there are a lot of things we don’t know – you always have to be open to learn and develop.”

“We have a lot of dedicated and capable people in Svitzer,” she adds. “We need to ensure that as a company we have a leadership style that empowers them to do their job as best as possible.”

Learning from the port managers

As Svitzer’s new strategy “Staying Ahead” is launched around the world, Thygesen recognises that it’s the teams at the forefront of the business who will be key to making it a success.

As a result, port managers around the world play an important role. “Port managers are a vital link in reconnecting with the frontline to leverage their operational expertise and benefit from what they know,” says Thygesen. “We want to empower these frontline leaders across Svitzer in making the new strategy relevant on the tugs and in engaging the crews in the best way.”

Svitzer CPH
Every morning Henriette Thygesen cycles the 6km from her home to work at Svitzer HQ in Nordhavn in Copenhagen. On the way, she often stops to talk to the crew on-board Svitzer Hermod, Svitzer Bjorn or one of the other tugs frequently moored directly outside the head office – here together with Anders Bak Pedersen, master of Svitzer Hermod.

Who is Henriette Thygesen

Henriette Thygesen is a veteran of A.P. Moller-Maersk, having had a 23- year career working across different businesses – from Maersk Line to Maersk Oil, starting as a MISE trainee in 1994.

Her varied career has taken her around the world, from Asia to the US – and her most recent role in Damco as CEO at Damco Americas.

She holds an Executive MBA from Columbia University, an MBA in Intl Management from ECCIP Paris, a Master of Science from Copenhagen Business School and a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Copenhagen Business School.

In the European region for example, port managers were given a first look at the strategy and encouraged to prepare relevant activities and initiatives in their own ports before the actual launch.

“It’s our people at the front-line who will know if there’s an un-serviced opportunity with a customer, or who can spot an under-utilised cost-saving opportunity. We have to learn from them and capitalise on their experience. Imagine if we had crews in 135 ports around the world actively identifying the opportunities and feeding them back?”

Making size matter

As a global company with operations in 32 countries, Thygesen is on a mission to leverage what she refers to as Svitzer’s “global ownership advantage”. The new strategy aims to use the company’s size to stay one step ahead of the competition, rather than becoming a cost drain.

“We have an advantage that sets us apart from our competitors,” explains Thygesen. “In some places we compete with the local towage firm that may just have one or a couple of tugs. We have much bigger overheads and we need to ensure that this is being put to good use.”

As she bluntly puts it: “If we don’t use our size to make a difference, this office and our regional offices are all just overheads, just an extra cost to the frontline.”

“This involves collaborating as a global team; and sharing assets, capabilities and best practice across ports and regions.”

Examples could be to cut costs by procuring spare parts or fuel globally, or to negotiate global agreements with preferred vendors around dry docking, which is a major part of the maintenance costs.

Thygesen mentions clustering as a special area of opportunity: “There is big potential in the way we manage our fleet and assets across ports, countries and regions. Operating more ports in the same geographical area allows us to move tugs and crews around to best meet the demands of our customers, optimise working hours and reduce cost. A single port operator does not have that same lever.”

Getting closer to customers

With the new strategy Thygesen insists she is not looking to revolutionise things or as she puts it “to put tugs on the moon”. Her main focus is on improving the customer relationship and strengthening the foundation of the business.

One new initiative is to develop a key account programme to work with big customers in a more structured way.

If we don’t use our size to make a difference, this office and our regional offices are all just overheads, just an extra cost to the frontline.

Henriette Thygesen, CEO of the Svitzer

Svitzer: Facts & Stats

  • Svitzer has been taking care of towage since 1833
  • Operating 440 vessels across 32 countries
  • 3,900 employees in total, ~2,300 offshore
  • Four regions: Europe, Australia, Americas and AMEA (Asia, Middle East & Africa)
  • Global Head office in Copenhagen, Denmark

“Coming in to Svitzer, what I found was that we talked surprisingly little about our customers,” says Thygesen. “To me this is the core of any business. If you are not close to your customer there is a big risk over time that you can lose sight of what is developing in the market. Suddenly, there may be a new product or a new competitor out there that you weren’t ready for.”

Part of the Transport & Logistics family

One of these customers is, of course, Maersk Line - although today it is only a relatively small part of Svitzer’s revenue.

That could change through closer collaboration with the other brands in the newly formed Maersk Transport & Logistics division. “There is definitely potential in the Transport & Logistics set-up. We are learning to work together in a new way and are experiencing a lot of goodwill and collaboration from the other brands,” says Thygesen.

However, she remains realistic about her expectations regarding the new Transport & Logistics. “Clearly, there is less direct overlap between Svitzer and other brands so it’s not an avalanche of opportunities that will come just from being part of Transport & Logistics. It doesn’t remove the fact that there’s still a business case to be made in each port and we need to demonstrate the value we can deliver in reducing turnaround times and improving the service level.”

At the forefront of technology

As Svitzer looks for ways to modernise the business for the future using technology, one recent innovation is the TugApp. The app allows crews to log every point in their interaction with a customer in real-time.

“It’s part of the drive for data-driven decision-making,” says Thygesen. “It means we have more reliable statistics and concrete data, which we can show to the customer and use to improve our relationship with them.”

Further exciting developments are in the pipeline, thanks to a newly expanded IT function, put in place to support all Transport & Logistics brands in digitalising their business.

“I definitely see potential in a more integrated approach to IT and closer collaboration between Svitzer and Transport & Logistics in that field,” says Thygesen. “Apart from cost savings and the sharing of capabilities and resources, the integration will empower the digital innovation we need to stay ahead in the industry and not have the future dictated to us by our competitors.”