EXCLUSIVE: How to succeed in the maritime industry?

Lee Kok Leong, our special correspondent, talks to Radu Palamariu, a top professional head hunter specializing in Asia’s supply chain industry, about hiring trends, top skills in demand and advice for aspiring leaders.

Lee Kok Leong, our special correspondent, talks to Radu Palamariu, a top professional head hunter specializing in Asia’s supply chain industry.  Radu talks about hiring trends, top skills in demand and advice for aspiring leaders.

In this wide-ranging interview, one thing stands out.  It is not just important to have the hard skills, but as you move up the career ladder, soft skills become crucial as you move into building teams and relationships, both within and outside of your companies.

Radu is the Managing Director South East Asia and Global Supply Chain Practice Headat Morgan Philips Executive Search in Singapore, specializing in logistics and supply chain executive search in Asia. He has been living in Asia for the past decade, across Singapore, Indonesia, and India, where he has managed a spectrum of senior level placements and provided support for a myriad of industrial clients.

Radu is also the host of the podcast series Leaders in Supply Chain and Logistics where he picks the brains of global experts, thought leaders and executives in all things supply chain on leading edge technologies, leadership stories and personal success habits.

Maritime Fairtrade (MFT): What hiring trends are you seeing?
Radu Palamariu (RP):
Companies are looking for candidates with digital transformation skills.
Profound changes cannot be long lasting without having your employees on-board.  Zig Ziglar said somewhere, “You don’t build a business, you build people and then people build the business”.

Organizations may transform technologies, infrastructure and processes. But without focusing on cultural transformation, they can’t make an organization flexible, vibrant and progressive.

For example, Damco’s Supply Chain Services and Maersk Line’s Ocean Product are being integrated and their respective value-added services will be combined. Maersk will sell them as products and services.  They are aiming for an improved customer experience.

Another example, CEVA and CMA CGM, the third largest container shipping group in the world. They are planning to develop complementary services.  Their plan is to address the increasing customer need for integrated end-to-end solutions.

Getting talent from other industries.
Shipping companies are trying to attract talent outside of the so-called traditional realm of shipping.  We have seen ports (like the Port of Singapore or Port of Antwerp) who started to have Chief Digital Officers and other C-level executives from non-shipping related industries like fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) or technology sectors.

The maritime industry is very much focused on finding C-suite calibre personnel.  Talent with the expertise and experience to make the technology transformation is needed for most organisations.

Many companies in the maritime ecosystem are exposed to the risk of remaining outdated in the way they conduct their businesses, because of their reluctance towards technology transformation.

Digging deeper into the diversity and inclusion pipeline.
Celebrating diversity and inclusion has become a part of every organization.  The scope of developing talents has become bigger and wider.  One component of building talent pipelines is diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion are more evident at the top.

However, organisations may want to increase focus across all levels to create an ongoing pipeline of diverse talent throughout.  This includes women, people of colour, disabled persons and LGBTQ employees.

Talking talent holistically, from hire to retire.
There is a huge influx of data across the board in organisations.  Some may assume that they have an integrated way to analyse all elements of talent decisions, including recruiting, compensation and development.

However, the reality is that in many organisations, each function has their own communication channel and they are not working together as one.  The trend is to aim for a data-centric approach that creates actionable insights from an organisational, team and individual perspective.

If you do a good job collecting data from talent acquisition, assessment, development and compensation functions, you might get an edge over your competition.  This way, organisations can make the best decisions regarding talent that is tightly linked to business outcomes.

MFT: What top skills are hiring companies looking for?
RP: There is a clear digitalization wave happening in Southeast Asia. The region has a growing role as an industrial hub within Asia. This will sustain the demand for relevant skillsets.  We have a high demand for IT specialists in cyber security, big data and artificial intelligence.

Digital experts beyond the technology sector are also important. The markets needs professionals with industrial experience across engineering, manufacturing, supply chain.  And they need to have a clear grasp of the digitalisation trends and how they will impact the industry.

Local talent will continue to be in demand.  Local talent with international experience is what companies need.  We see companies that want to expand and they are in need of this local talent with global experience. Companies are putting more effort in retaining their top skilled talent. We can see a lot of investment in training, other learning opportunities, benefits such as flexible working arrangements, and providing attractive counter-offers.

Hiring managers are seeking solutions to draw in the best candidates.  Companies will focus on digitization. They need sales and marketing professionals with big data, digital, e-commerce and transformation experience.  Versatile sales and marketing professionals with skill sets across functions will be in demand.

MFT: What is your advice for someone aspiring to a successful leadership career?
RP: Leadership is about soft skills not so much the hard skills.  You need to be good at your job but not the best technical person. You need to be the best at building teams and relationships.
In Chinese, there is a word “Guanxi”, personal connection, which describes this best.  And yet, very few people understand that this is crucial to everyone’s career.

Invest in relationships.
Successful leaders don’t focus on protecting their own turf. They expand their domain by investing in win-win relationships.
We work with leaders who invest most of their time in building their network. They understand that they need a strong network inside the organisation. People who they can trust and can take their advice when making important decisions.

Also, they understand the importance of building a strong external network of clients, partners, and enablers who will help their organization to expand its reach.  Leaders share the harvest of their success to help build momentum for those around them.

Make others feel safe to speak up.
Employees are sometimes afraid to voice out their opinion, especially when they get intimidated by their superiors. Some say it is due to the respect they feel towards the leader.

Most of the time, it is fear that drives them to remain silent. Some leaders tend to isolate themselves and only listen to one or two “trusted” advisors.  As a result, they don’t understand the whole picture.

Yes, creating an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up can create some tensions. But it is much better to manage this tensions than to have a silent and mediocre organisation.

Great leaders need to be continuous learners.
To find their way in societal shifts, leaders cannot rely on static maps. They cannot manage complexity through fixating on the details.  Micromanagement doesn’t work.

Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of curiosity. Always be learning.  Leaders that stay on top of society’s changes do so by being receptive. The shelf-life of any skill is about five years.  Leaders have a responsibility to renew their perspective. Otherwise their organisations will suffer.

Importance of mentors.
With regards to mentors, there are some celebrity CEOs talking about this topic. Steve Jobs credited Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, and Mike Markkula (an early Apple investor and board member) for helping him during critical periods in Apple’s history.

Being a leader can be challenging, stressful and lonely.  Should something go wrong inside a company, the leadership team will take the criticism. As a leader looking out for talent, there is no better way to get great referrals than having great mentors.  A well-connected mentor can also make it easier to find the right people to serve on a board.

As Lao Tzu said: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, and when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

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