We’ve had a long-term approach from the outset.

As the Wilh. Wilhelmsen Group, one of WWL’s owners, celebrates its 150th anniversary, we reflect on the company’s history and the factors that have enabled it to remain one step ahead of the competition. Venture caught up with Thomas Wilhelmsen, CEO of the Wilh. Wilhelmsen Group, in conjunction with the anniversary celebrations in Oslo.

Most companies don’t reach their 150th anniversary. What has the Wilh.Wilhelmsen group done differently tomake this possible? 
I think the company has had a longterm approach from the outset, and more importantly, we’ve always had strong, consistent ownership. The reason most companies don’t reach their 150th anniversaries is that, by being successful, most companies get either bought or divided up. This never happened to us as we believe consistent control has been vital to the lasting success of our company. Being a listed company also forces you to apply additional discipline, because the market is a demanding stakeholder.

What do you see as the key achievements over the last 150 years?
I think we’ve differentiated ourselves through our ability to adapt to a changing environment. You need the right combination of adaptability, planning and luck to survive in this industry. It’s important to move at the right time. If you don’t, you die. Two examples can illustrate this. For example, I believe one of the key factors in our success was our decision to focus on the ro-ro segment rather than container shipping, when the industry made its transition from conventional cargo vessels to the container and ro-ro concept in the 60s.

What does the 150th anniversary mean to you personally?
My family and I feel very proud and humble to be part of this success story. But it is also a story involving thousands of employees, customers and partners. This moment should be cherished by everyone who has contributed to such a remarkable achievement.

What major challenges do you foresee going forward? The economic situation is as challenging as ever at the present time. However, in the longer term, I actually think the environment is having a more profound impact as it will change the way we operate. Our vessels have a lifespan of 25-30 years. Will we be able to adapt them to regulations and new technologies, many of which are currently not known to us? This is uncharted territory and nobody really knows how it will change our industry. With environmental issues already high on our agenda, I’m confident that we can deal with the challenges that lie ahead.

How about the greatest opportunities for the future? 
We already have a great platform and a unique business portfolio. This gives us a solid footprint within sea transportation of rolling cargo, with its associated logistics services, along with an unparalleled global network offering a variety of maritime services. If we continue to build that portfolio, while consistently adding value and finding the right balance between growth, diversification and risk, we have a bright future ahead. If you want to be a leader in the maritime industry, you have to stick your neck out sometimes. This means being quick on your feet and prepared to take the right risks at the right times.

How do you see the role of WWL in the past and future of the Wilh. Wilhelmsen group?WWL is and will continue to be a very central part of our portfolio. WWL as an organisation supports the Wilh. Wilhelmsen group through its fantastic global infrastructure, a deep-sea service which is second to none and as a world-leading competence centre for supply chain solutions.

How will the Group differentiate itself in the future?
We must be adaptable, efficient and innovative. We’re a people organisation, which means that we need a strong team to be out there with their fingers on the pulse, listening to the customers. If we can continue to provide products and services that make life easier for our customers ahead of our competitors, we’ll be in a very good position for the future. 

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