Robust growth puts Inchcape Liner Division in pole position
Inchcape’s global Liner sector head, Hamish White, has overseen some major wins in the last 12 months despite the pandemic, and nails it when he says ‘building trust through transparency’ is a key factor for liner principals in the third-party liner agency and liner husbandry business.
As third-party liner agents Inchcape now services a total of 38 liner principals in 35 countries, while on the containership husbandry side it provides skilled support for some 30,000 port calls worldwide. Its customer base features many of top lines listed in Alphaliner.
Hamish White, Inchcape’s liner figurehead since 2017, says the company has seen good growth in Liner across the board and has been busy employing new people in multiple locations. “Over the last 12 months we have secured some significant agency appointments and husbandry contracts,” he says.
New business worldwide
Recent third-party liner agency business includes new wins in the USA, Costa Rica, Guatemala, The Bahamas, Tanzania, Russia, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand. Inchcape’s NVOCC business in region MESSA also continues to go from strength to strength with pleasing developments in the UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman and East Africa.
On the Liner Husbandry front, Inchcape has seen significant growth in locations such as Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, USA, Panama, India, the UAE and Africa region. “Despite the ravages of the pandemic it is great that our customers entrust Inchcape to handle their vessels and crew. We are acutely aware of care for seafarers during this time and we have some fantastic operational staff around the world making items such as crew change and medical care as efficient as we possibly can despite the restrictions caused by the pandemic,” says White.
Compliance in the spotlight
Inchcape’s focus is on nurturing long-term relationships with principals based on first-class communication. “Our top priority as a global marine services provider is corporate compliance. We work hard to build trust through transparency and customers can rest assured we operate with an open book. That really sums up what’s required in this industry,” White says.
Adding strategic value
He explains there are three primary reasons for a shipping line to appoint Inchcape as third-party agent in a specific location. The first is if the country or port is new for the line and it doesn’t have a local presence. “With our local knowledge and experience we can provide fast strategic market insight to build their service strategy. By that I mean trade statistics, an overview of relevant commodities and commodity flows, freight-rate data and analysis.”
Inchcape helps the principal to eliminate risk, seize commercial opportunities and make the right decisions. “We build strong management and teams on the ground, from sales, customer service to operations and finance, and act for the principal as, in effect, their own branch. Our ability to expand TEU market share and revenue for the line is ultimately what we’re scored on,” White says.
Challenging locations and outsourcing admin
The second reason lines approach Inchcape is that the country they are considering is challenging to operate in and they can benefit from Inchcape’s local savvy. “Papua New Guinea springs to mind, which is rich in shipping but at the same time can be quite tricky. It was my first overseas posting for Inchcape and at that time we represented Maersk as third-party agent. It was a challenging but hugely rewarding experience. We’ve have also operated strong and efficient third-party liner agencies in countries such as Pakistan and Iraq,” says White.
The third reason a line will come to Inchcape is to handle non-strategic administrative functions in a given location. This is typically because their business isn’t large enough to warrant setting up their own office to handle back-office documentation, bills of lading, container control and so on. “Lines generally prefer to do this in-house but various locations around the world don’t want the cost of employing staff. In which case it’s more cost-effective to outsource to Inchcape because of our economies of scale,” says White.
He adds that the onus is on Inchcape to provide continuity of service, which it has managed to do throughout the pandemic despite some serious challenges. “We choose our people carefully and they’re great at thinking on their feet to find creative solutions.”
Liner Husbandry and Consolidated invoicing
On the husbandry business side, Inchcape offers the full range of services from crew change, cash to master, transport, medical, spares delivery, bunker and vessel survey to depot operations and tally. “We offer regional deals on husbandry with an agreed menu of rates. Our single invoicing framework also vastly simplifies the PDA process, facilitating not only transparency and efficiency but also uniformity in KPI analysis and reporting. Customers get a single end-of-month invoice instead of having to approve invoices for every individual port call. They can request an audit whenever they want within a six-month period, which also builds trust,” White says.
In addition, building regional deals with Inchcape means customers get a worldwide agent they can depend on, versus the inconvenience of dealing with a string of separate ‘mom and pop’ agents in different places. Inchcape’s strong Procurement Division also ensures customers get the best price for local services, while reducing the total number of vendors through Inchcape coverage also helps to lower overheads.
Ambitious forward targets
Within the next few years White expects to secure new agency business in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Americas, Europe and Africa – basically everywhere. “We aim to grow from 2.5 million TEU per year now to 3.0 million TEU and above. We also want to grow our husbandry numbers to 40,000 port calls globally in the next two to three years,” he says.
Geographically he is very excited about current and future developments in Africa and the Americas, as well as Southeast Asia and Europe.
White cautions that although container shipping is right now enjoying a 10-year high, with very strong freight rates, in the bad times lines often make only marginal profits, break even or even incur losses. “Inchcape’s competitive advantage during down cycles is our ability to save customers money and spot areas that perhaps could be improved. Both port-call husbandry and liner agency are about inspiring confidence and achieving customers’ commercial goals over and above expectations. We stick at it through thick and thin,” he says.
A passion for maritime
Born in New Zealand, White grew up in Australia and trained as a lawyer. Following post-graduate studies in maritime logistics, he started out in shipping working for Safmarine and CMA CGM in Australia before joining Inchcape to help establish its third-party agency with Yang Ming. He also helped Inchcape win the agency for United Arab Shipping Co (UASC) in 2010. Following a two-year posting to Papua New Guinea as national line manager he returned to Australia in 2013 as executive general manager of Yang Ming (Australia).
In 2016, White was posted to Inchcape’s global liner leadership team, which at that time was stationed in Dubai and included Chris Crookall, now Chief Commercial Officer for Inchcape in London Head Office. After taking over the reins in 2017, White then relocated to Singapore in 2018 “simply because I was spending 85% of my time flying long haul to Asia. Being here in the Lion City is a lot more convenient”.
Bitten early by the travel bug, White relishes the exposure to different cultures that goes with the job. “I also enjoy the fact it’s highly competitive. At the same time, I get a kick out of building and mentoring great-functioning teams. All in all, it’s a great people industry and very rewarding. What more could you ask for?”
Source: Inchcape Shipping Services