Sustainable shipping is in our blood.
Christopher J. Connor, the newly appointed President and CEO of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics (WWL), is passionate about shipping and logistics. But he admits his 33-year career in the industry started more as an accident of fate, than a burning childhood ambition:
“I grew up one of six kids in Massachusetts; 150 miles away from the sea coast: I didn’t even see an ocean going cargo vessel of any kind until I was a young adult.”
After completing a degree in business administration and finance at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Connor instead chose banking as a career. “Some friends of mine from Villanova started as management trainees at US Lines. When I was sitting at home in my apartment at night, they always seemed to be out with customers at baseball or basketball games. It seemed like a fun industry.” he says.
Connor’s mind was made up: on August 3rd, 1981 he started work at US Lines. After stints in the US, Hong Kong and Taiwan he took a job with Crowley Maritime, in Rotterdam: his first exposure to RoRo. “RoRo cargo has personality,” he says. “It’s not just a container; not just a box. It has unique characteristics; you can see and appreciate the engineering, the design innovation, it’s value. For that reason you handle it more personally, with care and a commitment to quality.
Connor joined Wallenius Lines in 1994, five years before it merged with Wilhelmsen Lines to form WWL. Starting as Head of Commercial for Region Americas, he progressed with stints as COO (Chief Operations Officer) for Ocean; Head of Region Americas, and CCO (Chief Commercial Officer) and Deputy CEO, before starting his current role in June 2013.
And more than 30 years after starting his career in logistics, he is still just as passionate about the industry:
“The fact that shipping and logistics is so international, makes it such an exciting industry; the pure global aspect of it, the fact that things are built in one market and sold in another. There’s a dialogue that happens between those dimensions, and as a logistics company, you become the facilitator. There is always trade somewhere. The clock never stops ticking, and our vessels never stop running, and the movement of cargo between Factory and user is 7X24X365”.
Connor sees clearly that WWL’s global reach fits perfectly with the multi-market structure of logistics he so loves, believing it is one of the key factors influencing the company’s success:
“Most of our customers operate truly global companies, with manufacturing spread over multiple continents. They compete in a hyper-competitive business, where product quality and price drives success. Our customers appreciate that we are present across their markets. Wherever they operate in the world, WWL has people on the ground to support their business”. WWL’s factory-to-dealer offering also hits home in such a global industry. “We believe that having one supplier handle the whole chain is much more cost and time efficient if you look at it holistically,” says Connor.
“Transporting, say, a car from a factory in Europe to a dealer in the US, can involve anywhere between 6 to 8 suppliers in the chain. In that instance, each supplier pushes that car forward to the next, then cuts the chain. With WWL’s factory-to-dealer solution, the chain is never broken, and the car is pulled through the chain to accelerate delivery. It gets there faster and at a lower overall cost.”
Going forward, Connor sees it as vital that WWL remains flexible in an ever-changing market, to be able to continue to offer the right global support for customers. “We need to continue to challenge ourselves to see if we can do things differently,” he says. “How well we use our assets makes a huge difference in how efficiently we can serve our customers. We will continue to task ourselves to look at processes, and constantly look at our trade network for re-engineering opportunities to drive efficiency.”
But there is one thing that WWL is not flexible on: it’s stance on the environment; a policy that Connor describes as being in the company’s collective DNA. “Sustainable shipping is in our blood,” he says. “All the way back to the founders of our respective owners. We do it because we want to do something for society, for the future. I don’t see any backing off on this stance, and we get good feedback from our customers and the shipping public because of this.”
Connor describes fuel as the central issue when it comes to environmental concerns. “For example, it is still unclear if the refining industry will offer fuels that will enable the shipping industry to comply with sulphur regulations that will take effect from 2020. Linked to that, there is a lack of practical experience in using some of the potential fuel solutions, and, of course, the costs of the different fuel solutions by 2020 is also unknown.
To counter this uncertainty WWL has launched its ‘Four Stream Approach’ to sulphur regulation compliance. With this initiative we’re working on a broad scale and are actively pursuing collaboration with key players from the different streams. The solution could be one, some or all 4 streams. Whatever the case, we will be covered. On the other side of the coin, we also see this as an opportunity. With the right choices we can benefit our customers, the environment and our business.”
And however the car and RoRo shipping and logistics industry develops in the future, Connor intends WWL to be there. As new markets emerge, there will be an increasing need for differing ways that logistics companies serve them.
“Whatever changes come, we need to keep pace with them,” says Connor. “We need to be out in front. With our global presence and the strength of our owners group companies, I like our chances for continued success”.
About Chris Connor
Job Title: President and CEO, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics
Family: Wife and three sons aged 18, 22 and 24
Hobbies: Golf , exercise, reading, and “watching my youngest son play college Lacrosse”.