Aug. 4, 2021

#1 - Steen Brodsgaard Lund. RightShip and transformation in the maritime industry.

#1 - Steen Brodsgaard Lund. RightShip and transformation in the maritime industry.

Steen Brodsgaard Lund is the CEO of RightShip and has a wealth of experience in the maritime industry - including 21 years with AP Moeller, advisory roles on digital transformation and as a startup founder. He has also been CCO and CDO at Executive Ship Management.

We talk about several critical aspects and challenges of innovation, transformation and disruption in the maritime industry, the role of startups such as RightShip, and some major waves of disruption including AI and machine learning.


Highlights and takeaways

Steen and I talk about several critical aspects and challenges of innovation, transformation and disruption in the maritime industry. Steen describes his fascination with the technological capabilities of the younger generations and emphasizes how important it is as leaders to embrace this new talent mass coming into the industry. 

Steen agrees with me that there is plenty of inertia in our industry and there is a risk to companies and individuals of becoming irrelevant. It's hard to imagine surviving without embracing new technologies and a curiosity to experiment with a willingness to fail. 

Steen does not quite sign up for my attempt at paraphrasing him about near-zero, long-term profitability for shipowners. He does, however, point out that most exciting activities in our industry are essentially characterized by innovation. This includes the seismic shift of moving to collaboration and partnership, previously shunned - as a rule - in the maritime industry.

We talk about overcoming resistance when pushing for more collaboration. Steen’s thoughts on this center on optimism and motivation. Leaders should seek out and associate with like minded leaders, working across companies - thus collaborating on collaboration, essentially. 

Another source of tension comes from trying to build a new business or business model within an existing enterprise, because innovation is in conflict with performance under the ‘old’ business model. Steen recommends protecting the existing core business while innovating in parallel. Elements of the company can be run as if they were startups if top management, including the board, can work strategically and assign a separate set of people to operate the core business. 

Steen describes the origin of Rightship after the “Ships of shame” disasters in 1990-1991. Decision making was found to be based on poor tools, and RightShip was founded to address this. Three of the world’s largest cargo owners are shareholders today, including Rio Tinto and Cargill. Rightship helps charterers make better decisions on vessel safety by aggregating large amounts of data and rating for risk and sustainability based on that data. Profits are reinvested into future solutions to improve the safety of the industry. 

How, as a startup, do you succeed in transforming your customer’s behavior, which is a core part of what any startup does? Steen describes how they provide safety scores for vessels while stressing to the customer that they, not Rightship, are the decision makers. Leaving the customer in charge of the decision encourages adoption of the tools. 

As Steen mentions data, I of course have to ask how Rightship uses data, AI and machine learning. Steen describes how Rightship uses a form of AI to give vetting superintendents the right data, when they need it, in the right format, in the sequence of decision making. This has significantly increased internal productivity. One of the early learning experiences has been how much data you actually need to make AI algorithms work well. 

Steen talks about other waves of disruption, including blockchain, the potential of which he sees as unclear at the moment for shipping. The biggest challenge for shipping, if perhaps not for the maritime industry more broadly, are the tightening zero-carbon regulations. For example, just building the supply for ‘future fuels’ is an incredibly capital heavy transformation. Steen sees end users paying a larger share of the additional cost of zero-carbon transportation than they do today. 

In closing, I ask Steen to give advice to a younger version of himself, starting out in the maritime industry in 2021. Steen advises not to try to figure it all out from the beginning but rather to be very open and embrace learning opportunities over “career” opportunities. He also advises against too much “brand loyalty” and recommends pursuing different opportunities. 

Maritime Makers Quality Quotes

“What a phenomenal time to be in this world and to have the opportunity to bring such resources to bear on some of the big problems that we have.” - Steen Brodsgaard Lund

“The future winners will be those who really understand how to [harness] collaboration [and] going outside [their] competence sphere and generating new competencies by collaborating with companies and individuals that hold answers that you could never dream of because it’s not your core business to dream of [them.]” - Steen Brodsgaard Lund

“Be social. Be digital. Build your network, cultivate your network, make it global. Deliver your unique value to others, pro bono.” - Steen Brodsgaard Lund (paraphrase)

Resources

Rightship, where Steen is CEO.

Australian government report on the 1990-1991 disasters.