I was impressed by the positivity and optimism of a recent press release from the Norwegian Shipping Association which I felt well worth printing in full in this month’s From The Lookout columns....
A new age for Norwegian shipping
It’s about more than maritime. Harald Solberg, CEO of the Norwegian Shipping Association, sees a world of opportunity from his office overlooking Oslo. Here he talks markets, innovation, ocean developments, and even rubbish. Norway, he believes, has a leading role to play.
Harald Solberg is 42, but looks younger. Hearing him outline a career that has so far taken in politics, media, the Norwegian Royal Palace, and, of course, shipping, is a little surreal. For a moment one wonders who he’s talking about – his boss, a mentor, his dad perhaps – until that reverie is broken by his determined tone, authoritative presence and sharp industry insights.
No, here, right at the top of the imposing Norwegian Shipowners’ Association (NSA) building in central Oslo, Solberg seems very much at home.
The (relatively) new CEO of the NSA is the embodiment of a transition taking place in Norwegian shipping and, arguably, the industry as a whole.
In what was once regarded as the traditional stomping ground of slightly more ‘mature’ individuals, Solberg and other leading figures – such as NSA President and CEO of Klaveness Lasse Kristoffersen and Wilhelmsen CEO Thomas Wilhelmsen – are putting a fresh face on the business. In fact, four of the 10 NSA board members are under the age of 50, with one still in their 30s.
But it’s not simply a matter of youth; it’s more about attitude, as Solberg is keen to stress:
“Shipping is evolving and we have to evolve with it,” he states. “Once this was an analogue industry, transporting cargo from A to B. Now it is an integrated part of supply chains, with increasing digitalization empowering better decision making, unlocking new value and presenting opportunities beyond traditional business practices.
“This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved in shipping and we, in Norway, are determined to secure our place at the leading edge of developments.”
Solberg took up the position as NSA CEO on 1 January, after close to two years at the royal palace as Chief of the Royal Secretariat. Prior to that he’d enjoyed almost five years at the NSA, rising from the role of Director to that of Deputy CEO.
As his first year in his new position draws to a close he’s more focused on looking forwards, rather than astern, but takes time to assess 2018 as “a challenging year” for NSA members.
“Norway has the second largest offshore fleet in the world,” he notes, “so the low rates and demand in that segment impacts more upon us than other key shipping nations. Tankers and chemical tankers also face challenges, but there’s more favourable conditions for dry bulk, while our short sea members are more positive. It is, to say the least, a mixed market.”
Mention of 2019 doesn’t prompt a surge of optimism, with talk of Trump, trade wars and increasingly protectionist attitudes, but mid-term signs and long-term prospects see Solberg’s smile, and that word ‘evolution’, return.
“Norwegian shipping has always evolved to embrace new opportunities,” he says. “From discovery, to trade, transport and then into offshore. Now, for example, that offshore expertise is being transferred to renewables, with a new breed of service and construction vessels tailored for the wind industry, and into aquaculture and fish farming. The future holds immense opportunities for mining and mineral extraction, where we can bring our strong subsea pedigree into play, and there’s real excitement around the development of the expedition cruise segment.”
Here, Solberg sees possibilities for Norway to establish a mantle as a leader in specialised vessels, such as the Hurtigruten ships currently being built by Norway’s Kleven Verft, with frontier operational areas (eg the Arctic) and an emphasis on quality rather than volume.
“I genuinely think this segment could be a star performer for Norwegian shipping,” he stresses. “In a way it sums up what defines us; high quality, ambition and a desire to explore. These are values intrinsic to our success as a small nation, with a large industry impact.” (see the print issue for the rest of this article)