Executive Insights with Saskia Groen In’t Woud – CEO of Damco

Executive Insights is a series by Shipping and Freight Resource that provides ongoing insights and thoughtful analysis enriching the knowledge of the readers with what is happening in the shipping, freight, maritime, logistics and supply chain industry..

Executive Insights is also a chance to pick the brains of industry veterans, leaders and enablers..

In this edition of Executive Insights, we caught up with Saskia Groen In’t Woud – CEO of Damco, one of the leading global freight forwarders in the world..

SFR : “A woman in a man’s world“……………………. Do you think this saying has changed much since you entered the business world and holding a C suite position like you are now..??

I see the changes in things like where work meetings are held, the activities that take place after dinners and so on. 

Behaviour is much more inclusive and moderate compared to what I recall in the 1990’s. 

In the office, there is definitely more consciousness on behaviour and less ‘tough aggressive’ characteristics and much more on holistic performance.

That makes it much easier to consider performance and opportunities on merit and not solely on network.


SFR : From managing and supplying cement to possibly carrying cement, how has the transition been for you from commodities to shipping..??

Interesting!!  There is much the shipping industry could learn from cement – how to achieve customer value management for a perceived commodity is something the cement industry does well; and a second example is the cement industry installed scrubbers over 20 yrs ago – many of the problems we face now in shipping have been addressed by others before, which makes for rich learning grounds. 

One big difference however is going from a high margin capital intensive business to running a low margin high SG&A focused business.  It does require a different set of skills and nuances.

SFR : Out of the several challenges facing the shipping and logistics industry which one would you pick as being the toughest to overcome and why..??

Future relevance – as the confluence of digital solutions, increasingly evolving customer relationships, customer demands for better environmental and operational performance and the constant cost drivers mean we all need to be thinking several steps ahead to remain both relevant and competitive.

SFR : The IMO announced “Empowering Women in the Maritime Community” as the World Maritime Theme for 2019.. Do you think enough is being done to raise the profile of women in this important industry..??

I get a sense people are trying, but like many industries, we lose women at that critical middle management level and we are not seeing enough candidature of women to progress from middle to senior management – particularly in non-traditional roles. 

The right intentions are there, but I’m not sure we fully understand why this is and how to constructively address it.  My personal view is it has a lot to do with the way we work.  Progression often involves relocation or work hours that can conflict with family priorities.

SFR : There are several people seeking jobs in our industry.. As an industry leader and employer, what are some of the points that the job seekers need to bear in mind when applying for positions.. Maybe even some tips for them..??

This can be quite a ‘washing machine’ industry.  I am surprised at how frequently people move from company to company.  I question what are they bringing to me that is new and innovative that they didn’t have in their last company. 

I would love to see much more customer experience orientation – people have had experience running logistics for customers and move over.  I also would love to see more leaders. 

We have loads of people with huge depth of tactical knowledge, but few who can really lead and influence groups to make a difference.  That commitment to seeing full management cycles through to the delivery of results through people is so important.

SFR : What drives your business philosophy as head of Damco and how do you see Damco progressing in this era of digitalisation and digital freight forwarders..??

It all starts with really, really understanding your customer and then wrapping your business around that – from sales, to operations, to finance, to HR to product… everyone owns the customer experience.  My overarching philosophy is to do everything with grace and care. 

For us in Damco, as we progress with our digital journey, it is about putting digital improvements and the information it generates into the hands of our people.  They are best placed and empowered to own the customer experience. 

We know what we are good at and it really is the personal relationship combined with strong industry knowledge that comes together for a loyal and rewarding customer relationship. 

This is a 115 year old business that has a remarkable ability to continue reinventing itself.  That is 100% down to the relationships with customers and staying in tune with that.

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