It’s the dilemma that many leaders in the classification sector face – anticipating maritime’s future needs and supporting clients to deliver on their commercial ambitions. It’s a situation made even more complex by the rate of technological change and an ever-evolving regulatory landscape. For Nick Brown, LR Marine and Offshore Director, the most effective way to deal with this challenge is to foster strong customer relationships.
“There are so many horses we could back when it comes to the development of our products and services, particularly around decarbonisation and digitalisation,” Brown tells Horizons, adding that “it is hugely important that we pace our investment correctly. If one goes in too early, there is the risk of there being no market appetite or capacity from the industry to buy or benefit from these services.”
According to Brown, one of the best ways to mitigate against this happening is for LR’s people to develop a stronger understanding of their client’s strategies by working closely with them to better understand their ambitions.
“It’s vital that our customers see the value of involving LR at the earliest stage,” he says. “Some 80%-85% of what we deliver remains our core classification or certification ‘licence to operate’ services. Everything we do is all about trying to provide assurance, but how do classification societies differ? Assurance is often the reason why people select Lloyd’s Register, but to take this to the next level, we need to play a role in supporting their business performance. This is where it all comes together.
“We always have a positive chance of being considered integral to a customer’s strategy and if they’re planning something major, they should be able to think of LR as a trusted advisor who can give impartial advice. They need to know that they can rely on our opinion before they go to their boards for sign-off.”
There is no doubting that Brown, who joined LR following engineering studies, has a solid track record of understanding how market and customer needs can rapidly evolve, particularly from his time in China during the mid-2000s.
Having been parachuted into China in November 2006, a year when LR had contracted around 60 vessels, he suddenly found himself running a sales team that won 427 ships in 2007. There was even a day when he and Dr Xue, the China country manager, secured 30 newbuilding orders in a single road trip from five shipyard visits. “We kept looking at each other and thinking, ‘Well, that was a good meeting’, and that was the day we always wanted to beat, but never could,” Brown recalls.
In the summer of 2008, he was chosen to take charge of operations in China because “now you have won it all, you must deliver it all”. The LR headcount in the country swelled from 200 people to around 900 at the peak. While the pace of growth presented numerous challenges, it was accompanied with unwavering support from the LR CEO at the time, who was adamant that safety and quality had to come first.
“I was constantly being reminded by my CEO that the biggest risk to the LR brand was being associated with a ship that had quality concerns, so he was committed to supporting me with the resource and skills I required in China to deliver to LR’s standards,” he explains.
However, Brown’s time in China was not always plain sailing. No economy was untouched by the meltdown in financial markets in late 2008 and this forced some of the most difficult decisions of his career.
“One of the most challenging situations I have ever faced was driven by the boom and bust of China. There was a lot of conversion activity at the time – very large crude carriers to very large ore carriers and single hulls to double hull. LR took the bull by the horns and opted to move a dedicated conversion consulting team to Shanghai. I spent months convincing several approval specialists from Europe to relocate and then, six months later, the market collapsed and I had to send them home.”
There were a number of hard conversations – families had been uprooted and spouses were incredibly unhappy about the too-ing and fro-ing – but the decision for staff to come to China and then leave was right for the business and our clients at the time. However, it was tough, he admits.
A farmer’s son from Lincoln, who joined the LR graduate trainee scheme in September 1996, Brown is no stranger to hard work and colleagues across LR attest to his work ethic. He readily admits that he has workaholic tendencies and, as a husband and father, he has to be mindful about his work-life balance.
While he does marathon training to clear his head and find solutions to some of his daily dilemmas, Brown has no intention of running away from LR.
“The reason I’ve stayed at LR is because I’ve been allowed to have several different careers within the same organisation. I was a surveyor in very busy dry-docks in the Middle East for eight years, I moved into product development and marketing in London for three years and then went to China and it felt like I was running a start-up company. My fourth career started when I came back to Southampton in 2013. It’s all been very dynamic, even though I have only ever been with one company.”
So why Lloyd’s Register?
“For many people, LR’s history and legacy is a key attraction. For me, it is because LR is a company that is motivated to do the right thing, not just the profitable thing. I am by no means unique. A lot of people work with LR and stay with LR because the LR Foundation makes you feel like you are working for a higher purpose.”
Views on surveyors
“Anybody can be an inspector, but if you don’t understand why the rules exists and you can’t take in everything else that you have seen, then you won’t be a surveyor. No two
surveyors will ever do the job the same way – that’s the beauty of running a human organisation. With remote surveying, we will still use surveyors to make the decisions
but the way they will collect the information on which to base their decisions will be totally different.”
Career low that became a high
“I have only ever applied for one job in LR and I didn’t get it. I had hoped to go to Singapore as country head but didn’t get the job. Instead, I was told I was going to China.
As a father of a 15-month-old baby at the time, I objected and then I was told the Singapore role didn’t exist anymore. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be in this position
now if I hadn’t gone to China. I try to recall this experience to my colleagues when we hold our regular talent development discussions. “Have faith in your coaches and mentors as they often know what’s best for your career and your family.” As it turned out my family loved our 7 years in China.”
Words: Nicola Good
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