Shipping is a notoriously cyclical industry – one with heady highs and rock-bottom lows. Being able to ride the peaks and troughs may not be to everyone’s liking but it is a skill that the maritime industry demands. It’s one that Mike Holliday (pictured below), LR’s new M&O president for South Asia Middle East and Africa (SAMEA), has in spades.
Having taken over from LR stalwart Piet Mast in July, the easy-going northerner is now charged with managing 280 employees, as well as activity in key shipping centres that include Singapore and Dubai. He takes on his new role at a time when the maritime industry is grappling with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The test of the months – possibly years – ahead is not lost on Singapore-based Holliday, who is quick to acknowledge the demands of current times. “There are challenges all around – from ensuring the team remains safe and the real uncertainties around workload and how we service our clients, as well as what business holds in terms of growth opportunities. The weeks ahead will probably add a few more grey hairs."
It is not the first time that he has endured a taxing situation in a leadership role. In 2015 he was transferred to Malaysia as Marine & Offshore Manager for South Asia at a time when the offshore industry was badly impacted by low oil prices. Sector downturns are usually accompanied by refocusing and restructuring operations with inevitable difficult decisions. Today’s demanding climate is no different. As Holliday observes: “Just as we’d started to see a recovery and an increase in new construction orders, we are now faced with an unprecedented situation.”
Holliday, however, is sanguine and eager to stress that “opportunities remain” in his part of the world. They certainly do. The headline-grabbing Qatar LNG tender for around 60 vessels, for instance, is commanding the attention of many in maritime and sits firmly within Holliday’s area. So too do Australia, Africa, where 15% of world investment is currently focused on sub-Saharan projects. And let’s not forget the dominance of India, Singapore and Malaysia and their ability to draw the focus of world shipping.
Holliday peaks in maritime, having encountered the tanker boom times before the 2008 financial crash and as an account manager with the London Business team where he found himself looking after BP Shipping and Shell in 2012. This three-year tenure, working with “experienced clients with vast fleets during significant fleet renewal programmes”, was formative, especially as Shell was innovating and moving into new areas such as LNG bunkering and floating LNG.
A more recent career highlight has been supporting India’s first floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) project that LR secured with Swan Energy; recently delivered from Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea.
Professing to have “always been interested in engineering’, Holliday’s foray into maritime came via fire-fighting systems and water cannons for the offshore industry, him first landing as development engineer for an equipment supplier in Manchester after earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering. During this time, while travelling to shipyards in Asia, he encountered marine surveyors and the prospect of a surveying career appealed to him.
“I saw marine surveyors on the ships examining the machinery and I thought that was quite an interesting job. At the time, I felt I’d kind of learned as much as I was going to learn in the organisation I was working for and I contacted LR. It was suggested I apply for the graduate development scheme and I joined in 2002.”
Early career placements took him from building submarines at Barrow-in-Furness to the Queen Mary 2 and cruise ships in St Nazaire (“where the lunches were a lot better”). He then spent eight and a half years in the Middle East, first in Dubai and later Abu Dhabi, moving up the ranks from a trainee to senior surveyor before taking on business development roles.
Maritime’s changing fortunes and developments have been a constant throughout Holliday’s 18-year career and decarbonisation and digitalisation two landmark transitions – will similarly test the industry in the decade ahead.
“People are going to have to accept that decarbonisation is going to happen and we have to start addressing it now,” he says. “Zero-carbon ships need to enter the fleet before 2030 – it’s not really that far away and some owners are still more focused on addressing their current challenges and leaving their more progressive peers to develop the solutions. There is always a worry that the followers might not like the outcome.
“As it stands, no-one knows what the answer is, but let’s start exploring some of the possible solutions – getting the technical teams together and working through the challenges. It is definitely a time for collaboration.”
Most striking change in maritime in the past 20 years
There are now fewer substandard ships. When I was a young surveyor, we frequently encountered unsatisfactory bulkers and very tired container ships, which have now left the global fleet. Regulatory developments, improvements in safety management systems, concentrated inspection campaigns and an increase in surveys, audits and vetting has lifted standards generally. That said, with the development of technology, the maritime industry has become more reliant on shore support for some equipment repair and maintenance challenges and this is now evolving further with the greater appetite and acceptance of remote capability.
For me, leadership is about enabling the team to perform well and this involves being clear on strategy and objectives while managing performance. You also need to be honest about what you don’t know, so when arriving in a new country it’s vital to get the view from local colleagues on the most appropriate approach for dealing with problems as it’s rarely the first thing that comes to mind.
He may not have been born within a stone’s throw of the sea, but Mike Holliday has a penchant for water and an ability to make the most of the tides. A keen scuba diver, he is married to Maria and the father of Olivia and Philippa. Rugby is another passion, but a broken collarbone put paid to him taking this talent beyond university. “I have been mostly watching ever since, although there is a local touch rugby league here in Singapore with a really good group of guys. I enjoy popping down to that and having a run around and enjoying the banter.”
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