Future planning

Maersk Broker Agency is a Danish company dealing in ship agency and logistical services throughout Denmark, Sweden and the Baltic. It has a long history stretching back almost 100 years though it is during the last five years that the company has pursued a more active expansion strategy through subsidiary acquisitions. The core business is ship agency services, and the company is today ranked as the largest ship agency network in Scandinavia with a large portfolio particularly in the tanker, dry cargo and the cruise segments. Recently it has taken steps into solidifying a position in multimodal project logistics as well.

Headquartered in Copenhagen, Maersk Broker Agency is one of the leading players in ship and port agency in Northern Europe. It also offers multimodal project logistics – particularly for large volumes – with a worldwide coverage. Having established itself as a reliable name in its home country, the company set up its first international office in Talinn, Estonia, during 2005 and offices in Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden, in 2008.

Managing director Lotte Lundberg explains what happened next: “In 2009 we set out to pursue a strategy of developing our position in Sweden and acquired three local ship agencies: August Leffler, Unér Shipping and Edström Shipping. Together, these comprise the largest ship agency network in the country. Because we have an ongoing interest in growing our Scandinavian market further, we acquired the agency branch of the Wrist Group – Wrist Shipping – in March 2010 cementing our position as the largest ship agency in Denmark. We trade generally under our name of Maersk Broker Agency, whilst the three acquired companies in Sweden retain their original names because they have long-established reputations in the region.”

Incorporating these firms has brought Maersk Broker Agency a number of new opportunities. A crucial advantage is the introduction of new geographic sectors: because the company’s core activity of ship agency is a mature market, margins are low. It is therefore necessary to maximise the volume of ship agency services, and with wider geographical presence Maersk Broker Agency is able to offer customers the benefits of high volume contracts at competitive pricing. This has particularly proven successful for customers in the cruise and the tanker segments.

In addition to this, expanding its activities beyond ship agency services has helped the company weather financial turbulence. With tanker-related ship agency having been particularly prone to the economic downturn, being able to secure income through alternative sources such as ship agency within cruise and dry cargo as well as project logistics means Maersk Broker Agency has been less vulnerable to the shifts of a single market segment.

With the acquisition of Unér Shipping came the position in projects & forwarding. This is an example of important business segments outside of ship agency services where the company works with key customers such as Siemens and ABB among others. These companies are exporting very high value transformers out of east Sweden to destinations across the world and it has been Unér Shipping/Maersk Broker Agency’s job for a number of years to facilitate these shipments.

Maersk Broker Agency’s position in project & forwarding was further solidified with the acquisition of Wrist Shipping where another fresh opportunity came to light. As Lotte highlights: “As a strategic initiative, we decided to build a presence within the offshore windmill sector. Because of the customer relationships gained through Wrist Shipping, we attained a foothold with windmill construction contractor Aarsleff-Bilfinger Berger Joint Venture (ABJV). They subcontract all port/barge handling operations to us so that any responsibilities to do with co-ordinating the port/barge logistics in connection with installation of offshore windmills will fall to us. We have moreover mediated the transport of their windmill barges from Asia to Europe under this contract, so we already have our entrance into the market and this is something the company plans to build upon.”

A new step Maersk Broker Agency has taken to aid this contract and other future projects is the creation of an online reporting system with portal access through the company’s website. This will allow customers to track the progress of operations and cargo so they can be assured that everything is running smoothly to schedule and expectation. The technology is currently being launched in response to customer demand and is expected to become a crucial element of future business.

All of this success can be attributed to a number of different aspects of the company including a long-established reputation, being financially solid, operationally sound and being very driven by cost consciousness. Ultimately, though, it is the employees that are at the core of the company.

Lotte explains the value placed on staff: “We truly believe we have the best employees because we have a very tight recruitment criteria and also place huge emphasis into their education and development. For example, we have a two-year ship agency trainee programme that requires investment in time and resources, but we feel this is the best thing to do because these young people will be the ones that will succeed us as leaders. Furthermore we also recruit master mariners. They are an important specialist addition because they have a long and valuable education behind them and understand our activities from the mariner’s point of view; customers, typically ship owners, are therefore very confident in placing their requirements and services in our hands.”

Despite the difficult financial climate throughout 2009 and much of 2010, particularly within the company’s core business, Maersk Broker Agency has maintained a solid position for itself and is now well placed to take advantage of newly arising opportunities.

Lotte concludes that the company has a determined outlook on the future: “Profitable growth is what we pursue. Whilst it is difficult to do this with organic growth in such a mature market as ship agency, there are steps to be taken through joint ventures or acquisitions and this is something we have great interest in. Through this we aim to solidify our position in Scandinavia and are at this point also marketing an entrance into Norway. Over the next few years you will likely see us moving southwards through the Baltic and mainland Europe. The goal is to slowly but surely profitably expand our geographic and segmental range.”

As a last remark, Lotte states: “But let there be no doubt, to prevail in the highly mature and low margin ship agency industry, sharp control of operation costs is critical, and we will optimise and constantly improve effective utilisation of resources and automation of processes, to the benefit of both our customers and business partners.”

Solidifying core business within ship agency services

Moving into multimodal project logistics

Rapid expansion during the last five years is set to continue