The Futurenauts: Birgit Marie Liodden

Feat_BirgitMLAs part of our mission to chart shipping and maritime’s technology-enabled future, we’re profiling some of the people shaping that future.

Nor-Shipping is one of the industry’s biggest and most influential global events, and when it comes around again in 2017 it will be under a new guard. Birgit Marie Liodden may be best known to many as the driving force behind YoungShip, but as the newly-appointed Director of Nor-Shipping her profile in the industry is on the rise. And—as I alluded to in my Editor’s note last issue—anyone who heard her speak at this year’s events will realise she has the potential to be a real catalyst for change.

Although we won’t all gather in Oslo again until 2017, the work to build what could be a different kind of Nor-Shipping has already started for Birgit. In an issue where we’re tackling brand, culture and diversity it is refreshing indeed to be told by your Futurenaut that there’s no PR clearance required before we go to print.

What Birgit says she means. No spin. And that couldn’t be a better example to others. She’s also exceptionally busy, so I am grateful to her for finding time to answer our (as usual) impertinent questions.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Birgit is not only influential, but also happens to be a woman, and although it wasn’t planned that way, she couldn’t be a better example of the fresh, female shipping talent we’re talking about embracing this issue.

She is a worthy Futurenaut, and I am delighted to have her become our first female one. Here’s what she told us.

 

Futurenautics: What made you decide to go into the shipping industry and what was it about your first jobs that persuaded you to stay?

Birgit Marie Liodden: I entered the industry purely by chance, as I was contacted by a recruiter trying to convince me what a wise choice it would be to leave a well-paid secure job and an upcoming employer-sponsored bachelor degree, in exchange for a 6 month temp contract working as an assistant at the Wilh. Wilhelmsen group.

Combined with the fact that I had a very bad impression of the shipping industry from the outside, it did not seem a very attractive option, but he managed to persuade me to at least go for an interview. And that first meeting changed everything, to such an extent that I actually gave up my steady job.

Working my way through various roles and projects in Wilhelmsen, I enjoyed being part of a fantastic organization where I still have many good friends, developing and growing through exciting work challenges, not to mention the opportunity of experiencing the world from a different perspective.

I have always had a strong passion for sustainability and solidarity, and found that the shipping industry is a No.1 platform for learning and working for a development in the right direction.

I had a very bad impression of the shipping industry from the outside, it did not seem a very attractive option

Birgit Marie Liodden

“…think outside the box, establish partnerships across organizations and segments, and dare to challenge established patterns and hierarchies.”

 

Futurenautics: You’re probably best known for your association with YoungShip, how did that get started and what has it taught you?

Birgit Marie Liodden: YoungShip was already founded locally when I first joined as a member. Being quite engaged, and at a stage with extra time on my hands and lots of energy, I joined the board in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis.

The following year, I was asked to step in to the Chair position, in a period where numerous leading companies were badly hit and thus reduced the investments in training & competence-building activities among employees, and especially the young ones.

Choosing to view that as an opportunity, we took on the shared responsibility to enhance cross-industry competence and regain a positive mindset among our young colleagues. We challenged the industry players to join a mutual initiative where the companies took turns in inviting YoungShip to professional meetings, highlighting the key challenges and opportunities related to the industry’s state, through case-work, seminars focused on specific issues and interactive workshops.

We shifted the core focus, not asking what the industry could do for the next generation, but rather offering innovative & progressive ideas on what the next generation could do for the industry. Working with the minimum level of resources and tight budgets forced us to work efficiently, always looking for new ways to address and offer solutions to key challenges.

It has taught me that no matter where and how you start off, the only limit is your own creativity and capacity. Combined with the understanding of how important it is to build a common sense of purpose and inner motivation among the teams to maximize performance.

Not to mention the understanding of how important it is to think outside the box, establish partnerships across organizations and segments, and dare to challenge established patterns and hierarchies.

 

Futurenautics: We tend to refer to three main areas driving change in shipping (and other industries), global megatrends, breakthrough technologies and generational mindsets. Would you agree? If so, what’s key in each of those categories?

Birgit Marie Liodden: I definitely do agree. One element related to generational mindsets, which I believe will be key moving forward is the “sharing economy” wave that we see spreading, driving change in ways we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. A silo-breaking mentality that I believe to be quite healthy for both individual companies and entire industries.

Uber, AirBnb and various sharing-services related to e.g. cars, homes, equipment. In my opinion, it’s just a matter of time before we will see similar disruptive changes hitting our own industry, so the question is whether we’ll be driving them ourselves or if they will be put forward by new players from other industries.

We need to be bold in so many ways, and find the balance where we deliver on the elements that are securing the bottom-line of today, whilst also investing heavily in the areas we’ll make money from moving forward. Looking at the technology perspective, I surely have high hopes for the next generation propulsion and energy sources.

I don’t think the actual solution for the future exists yet, and its intriguing to see how innovation & R&D can accelerate now that more and more countries and commercial actors have come to see the potential related to renewables. On top of this, comes the vast span of opportunities from utilizing the actual potential of digital solutions.

Futurenautics: In the old days a global industry like shipping needed conferences and events where it could come together in one place. Now we’re able to connect and communicate far more easily and cheaply, with technology platforms offering 24/7 networking between customers and suppliers. Are exhibitions becoming a bit of a relic? How does Nor-Shipping evolve to add value in a digital age?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Without revealing too much at this stage, we are definitely raising the bar in terms of digitalization. Shipping is steadily becoming more digitalized, yet still lagging behind in so many ways when we compare ourselves to other industries.

Nor-Shipping continues to be a frontrunner within our field. You have movers and shakers—we are definitely the latter.

From our side, reflecting the key competitive strengths of the Norwegian maritime industry, with a strong focus on next generation, high-tech, quality and innovation, Nor-Shipping is definitely aiming to inspire, challenge and drive change also in this area, and we will work in close co-operation with our key partners and clients to shape the optimal digital arena.

At the same time, whilst people communicate a lot electronically, they still need to meet their peers and partners. As the speed of change increases and our time becomes more constrained and valuable, there are opportunities arising in delivering the optimal event week and platform, ensuring maximum value per time spent for our highly esteemed industry colleagues.

Combining this with our fierce track-record of introducing completely new concepts and innovative development, Nor-Shipping continues to be a frontrunner within our field. You have movers and shakers—we are definitely the latter.

 

Futurenautics: You’re on record as saying that the sustainability of the industry is your prime motivator. Many people assume that sustainability is just shorthand for the environmental/green agenda. Do you agree? Or is there more to it than that?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Sustainability—as I see it—goes beyond the green agenda. It also has to do with the way we conduct our business, the various diversity issues, such as age, gender and backgrounds.

Sustainability covers all areas of all industries, and has everything to do with making win-win decisions to enable future growth in healthy conditions.

Sustainability to me is all about making the right decisions and investments, ensuring profitability both in a short-term and long-term perspective. We see that the financial institutions, following the 08-09 crisis, are becoming much more sustainability-driven, partially through governmental regulations but also to minimize risk exposure.

It can also be transferred to the aspects of physical ship operations and management, where a cost-reducing decision on 3rd party management to save money short-term in one department of a ship-owner or operator, can result in much more expensive consequences for the company a bit further down the line.

Companies will need to think more holistically moving forward. Sustainability covers all areas of all industries, and has everything to do with making win-win decisions to enable future growth in healthy conditions.

 

Futurenautics: We’re talking about brand, culture and diversity this issue. What’s your view of those in the shipping industry?

Birgit Marie Liodden: It sounds as your issue will be right up my alley! As an industry, we should jointly address branding, because our current brand needs to be lifted and improved. Wherever I go, the same challenges and concerns are being discussed.

Our industry has a reputation and external brand facing the “outside” communities that actually works against us in so many ways. It affects our ability to attract talent, our ability to impact when governmental framework conditions are being changed, and our ability to communicate the role we play in a globalized society.

There are so many great stories to share from our industry, but a serious lack of culture for sharing them and seeking attention. Even though I fully understand and respect the desire by many shipowners and shipping companies to keep a low profile, times are changing and we need to adapt. An important part of such an adaption also involves stepping out of the shadows, opening up our industry to the outside world.

Part of our invisible or negative brand relates closely to the diversity issue. Even though I experience our industry to be quite diverse in many ways, there are certain areas where we really need to improve. And in these times, where we truly need to step up to stay in the game, and ensure we have the right people aboard to succeed, we need to start thinking even more outside the box than most companies and organisations do today.

Diversity is crucial to avoid a limited group mentality thinking in a team, board or management team. We should all make sure to challenge ourselves from within, so that we meet our markets prepared as best as possible. And what better way to ensure this, than by keeping a solid focus on diversity.

 

Futurenautics: Did you have a mentor, male or female – or would you have liked one? What did you, or would you have, gained from one? Are you mentoring anyone now?

Birgit Marie Liodden: I have (and had) several mentors, both male and female, who have made a huge difference along the way. Some were formal and others acted as practical mentors without actually defining the relationship.

I believe we could all benefit from having a mentor, regardless of age and level, as it is a fantastic way of being challenged, inspired and guided. Always in a “learning” mode, I see so many positive aspects of having a mentor. Both from a professional and a personal perspective. And I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been where I am today, if it hadn’t been for my mentors. Especially Elisabeth Grieg, a fantastic and engaged Norwegian shipowner and the first female President of the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association. I have a lot to thank her dedication and wise thoughts and advice for, and I bring elements of her and my other mentors’ feedback, philosophy and commitment with me every day.

Also, this is not something I take for granted, and I have had a strong focus on paying it forward whenever I can. Hence, I have mentored several people during the past 4-5 years. I used to be a mentor for a really talented girl who is now the new Secretary General of YoungShip International. I also mentored a young boy from Morocco a year ago, a school dropout who dreamt of working at a shipyard. Currently, I am mentoring an Indian girl, Sunu Kurian, who is finishing her masters’ at a maritime university college here in Norway, focusing on green ship recycling. I can honestly say I learn a lot from her as well.

I also recently became a mentor for a girl based in Karachi, Pakistan who I believe has fantastic potential within her field. Coming into this industry as an underdog, and being engaged in the diversity challenge, I always seek to support girls and boys from non-traditional backgrounds with a strong drive and dedication, and the willingness to work hard for their goals.

 

Futurenautics: Gender diversity on boards in particular has been demonstrated to deliver significant uplift in profitability, so shipping looks like it’s leaving money on the table. Do we just have to wait for smart, enlightened male leaders to change that?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Gender diversity is a responsibility of all genders, but I think the female candidates of our industry need to step it up and become more visible. I know such a massive number of great female leaders who have plenty to offer a board. But as there isn’t really a culture for promoting them, or for the female leaders to promote themselves, it can be a challenge to find them.

They would be so valuable as role models for the future board members. Many of them are, just like our industry, hidden under the radar. Upgrading the shipping companies’ boards to become more diverse, requires a joint effort from the companies’ male and female leaders and owners.

For professional actors competing in tough markets, its all about having the right brains gathered in the board room. This should be the key driver for getting females and other diversity-enhancing resources onboard. Becoming diverse is not a matter of ethics, it’s just a matter of securing the optimal toolbox for competitiveness and future growth.

 

Futurenautics: There has been much written about the ‘glass cliff’ that women face i.e. women tend to be given top jobs when the business is already facing challenges and it decides to take a different direction, the upshot being that women leaders are often facing tougher briefs than their male counterparts, so fail more often. What’s your view?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Different times calls for different leadership, so its natural that companies look for something new/different when they face challenging environments. However, I wouldn’t necessarily limit this to a specific gender. In general, there will be an increasing need for more transformational-focused leaders, regardless of gender and age, for companies to tackle new challenges.

 

Futurenautics: How will you judge your own success? Is it about more than selling exhibition stands?

Birgit Marie Liodden: While the actual exhibition is fundamentally at the core of Nor-Shipping, it is just one part of many different activities and arenas we developed to create value for our esteemed industry colleagues.

The Nor-Shipping week with 35,000 shipping people gathered together brings a significant crowd of leading voices and key global top executives who truly represent the shapers of a modern, innovative maritime industry. Providing them with about 200 events of all sizes and formats in and around Oslo, organized by industry players from the entire value-chain of shipping enables our visitors to utilize their valuable time optimally, efficiently combining business meetings with existing and potential business partners, with professional updates and great networking events.

Coming directly from the industry, both Per Martin (Exhibition Director) and I have a strong passion for aligning our future developments in even closer cooperation with our key partners.
Our industry, as well as the entire global society, is undergoing a substantial shift that will require massive changes in the way we do business. We can barely envision the potential and game-changing effects of new technologies and business models, both related to technical and commercial developments.

The ever-increasing speed of change and often quite challenging dynamics of our global economy will force us to disrupt from within, or alternatively experience disruption from the outside. A key focus for Nor-Shipping is to serve as a strong catalyst and support for enabling change – inspiring, challenging and provoking our industry colleagues and organizations to utilize the fantastic span of opportunities arising from these shifts.

In these times of turmoil, it is more important than ever to challenge ourselves as an industry, and we aim to provide the best arenas for facilitating networking and identifying exciting potential. Norway is a small country, and our leading maritime position is built on entrepreneurial mindsets, practical competence, boldness and the ability to adapt and innovate rapidly. Nor-Shipping is in many ways reflecting the same capabilities, developing in a strong symbiosis with our key industry partners.

An important part of our success is founded on the mentality of never becoming complacent, always raising the bar, pushing ourselves in delivering high-quality concepts in new and innovative formats that add more value for our industry colleagues. Pointing to the expression “movers and shakers” – we definitely aim to be the shakers, always re-inventing ourselves towards optimal value-creation for our visitors and exhibitors.

A key message from my side is that we cannot slow-steam our way into the future. As an industry we need to create big waves, be bold and work together to address and tackle our key challenges.

 

Futurenautics: A former Futurenaut, DNV GL’s Tor Svensen said, that change starts with conversation. Is he right? And if so who are you talking to, what are you saying, and why?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Dialogue, building bridges and cooperation has always been a priority for me. So has the dedication to contribute in creating positive change. From our side, we talk to global corporations, politicians, key organisations and people who play leading roles within their fields.

We work very closely with leading actors within the maritime industry, both when it comes to supporting important initiatives they bring to the table, and when we come up with ideas we consider to have some positive potential for our industry.

I repeatedly discuss some of the topics I consider key challenges for our industry with our partners and customers, always aiming to identify new ways of how we can co-operate and contribute. A key message from my side is that we cannot slow-steam our way into the future. As an industry we need to create big waves, be bold and work together to address and tackle our key challenges.

And we can always generate so much more when teaming up with others.

The ever-increasing speed of change and often quite challenging dynamics of our global economy will force us to disrupt from within, or alternatively experience disruption from the outside. A key focus for Nor-Shipping is to serve as a strong catalyst and support for enabling change – inspiring, challenging and provoking our industry colleagues and organizations to utilize the fantastic span of opportunities arising from these shifts.

Futurenautics: As someone who believes the shipping industry needs to be more diverse and forward-thinking how did you react to the exhibitor parading half-naked, body painted women around at this year’s Nor-Shipping? What does that say about the culture of the industry?

Birgit Marie Liodden: My direct reply to Rose George on Twitter, when confronted with this, was that this will not happen on my watch. I don’t think this is reflecting the culture of our current industry, and we got numerous complaints about this promotional stunt both from influential males and females.

I don’t mind nudity, and I think both female and male bodies are beautiful without clothes on. But I don’t see it’s a natural environment to include it at a professional B2B exhibition. It’s no secret that there is a strong tradition of combining client meetings with nudity and booze in parts of our industry, as it has been and still is for many other industries as well.

But for our part, I can confirm that both Norwegian marketing law and Nor-Shipping’s new code of conduct will not allow any discriminatory promotional stunts next time around. Also, I definitely would like to use the opportunity to challenge the other industry exhibitions to step up and stand alongside us in the future on this matter.

I don’t mind nudity, and I think both female and male bodies are beautiful without clothes on. But I don’t see it’s a natural environment to include it at a professional B2B exhibition.

 

Futurenautics: SMAC—social, mobile, analytics and cloud—is a buzz acronym at the moment. How does that apply to Nor-Shipping and how should it apply for other maritime companies?

Birgit Marie Liodden: It applies to us to such an extent that we have identified it as one of the key strategic pillars moving forward. Ensuring the right digital expertise and understanding of the “SMAC universe” will in my opinion be just as important as the CFO role and adequate handling of the company assets in the future.

Any company or player who wishes to stay competitive, profitable and avoid becoming a dinosaur (or the next Kodak), has to address digitalization, build competence through all layers of their business and identify how these elements can be used to strengthen and position them for the (near!) future.

 

Futurenautics: Which do you think are the most potentially disruptive digital businesses in maritime at the moment? What will be the next major technology disruption in shipping? Who will it most affect?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Transporting goods by ship is a market yet to be opened up and made transparent to the end users. I think Xeneta is on an exciting journey with their tools, with heaps of unrealised potential. Imagine how this can change the various commercial roles of our industry!

Also, I am awaiting some exciting new disrupters challenging the shipbrokers’ current role. I am also delighted to see that many strong companies with long-standing positions, invest heavily in rigging themselves for the future through thinking disruptively.

 

Futurenautics: DNV GL’s The Future of Shipping report outlines a scenario where States, charterers and NGOs begin to take a larger role in regulating international shipping, developing and enforcing more rigorous standards and rendering IMO obsolete by mid‐century. What’s your reaction to that view?

Birgit Marie Liodden: Due to the global nature and current low level of consolidation within our industry, my initial response is that I believe this development is both necessary and positive. The cargo-owners and charterers have enormous impact and the power to drive change, if they choose to.

The car manufacturers’ requirements of Ro-Ro operators is a great example in this context. Thus, such a development can serve as a key driver in raising the bar of our industry, rewarding high-quality professional actors and making it more profitable to adapt and change early.

However, depending on the NGOs and states’ individual roles, reducing the impact and role of IMO, does raise a potential concern, in terms of whether this scenario will actually ensure the right (and best) regulatory framework. The amount of bureaucracy and paperwork is already substantial. IMO plays a critical role in actually ensuring that we can agree on regulatory frameworks that work well together, rather than having to deal with a massive span of local and regional frameworks that makes business bureaucratic and hinders our serious actors.

 

Futurenautics: What was the last piece of technology—consumer, industrial or professional—which made you say “Wow!”?

Birgit Marie Liodden: What a difficult question, in a world where so much great tech-news is revealed and presented to the market. It will be fantastic to see what micro and nano technology can be used for moving forward.

Also, beacon technologies triggers my curiosity. And then of course, is the DNV GL prototype for unmanned ships. Another exciting piece is the WiMeet, enabling users to reduce time spent surfing and using social media, freeing up more time for physical meetings and work.

Birgit Marie Liodden is the Director of Nor-Shipping. Visit them at www.nor-shipping.no

 

Images with thanks © Nor-Shipping

This article appeared in the October 2015 issue of Futurenautics.

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