Wah Kwong has got some exceptional people who are very loyal and hardworking.

Steering in New Tides:
Interview with CEO Mr. David Palmer

I first came to work for the Swire Group in Hong Kong in 1978 and worked for Swire for around 10 years; so, I have been in the shipping industry for over 40 years. I have knowledge of several different shipping sectors and have a keen understanding out of this industry. After Swire I was with Stolt-Nielsen, a Norwegian family-owned shipping company that is one of the largest chemical tanker shipowners in the world, for 17 years. These ships are both difficult to operate and expensive, so Stolt had good management disciplines and systems that worked very effectively. I have also worked for IMC, a Singapore based, Hong Kong Chinese family company. That is three family companies over 31 years so I do understand what it takes to work in a family company! For the last 12 years, I have been a shipping investment banker with Pareto Securities in Singapore. This taught me how to analyse the strategies of a large number of different marine companies. This is quite useful in quickly understanding how things are done here at Wah Kwong and how we can apply some defined disciplines from in the investment banking industry. I am fortunate to have a unique blend of skills that are quite unusual in a business where people tend to specialize quite early in their careers. I would hope my background over a long career is helpful to Wah Kwong.
Wah Kwong is particularly well-known family company that has a good worldwide reputation as an entrepreneurial company. It is based in Hong Kong, where I had worked before, and I felt I could contribute to the growth of the company.
Initially I think it is fair to say that we are a little “old school”, and we do need to take advantage of shipping IT developments and do that both sensitively and efficiently. I think Wah Kwong has got some exceptional people who are very loyal and hardworking and I would hope we can all develop and invest in our people so that we are known as a people company that runs great ships. After just a short time I can see that our strength comes from our people and how well we interact with each other both at sea and with the shore. My challenge will be to ensure that our current system is scalable as we bring in more vessels to the fleet.
We are a Chinese company based in Hong Kong with a truly international focus. We have retained our Chinese identity and I think we will be more open minded and become closer to China and build on our understanding of China as we move forward. We will balance our entrepreneurial spirit with opportunism and develop even stronger relationships and work on our overall reputation as a professional service provider. We are adapting our business model to help deal with increased market volatility and we will develop our “Wah Kwong Lite” strategy where we provide services as well as ships to our customers. This will allow us to maintain scale in our business and retain our talent in weaker markets and provide more opportunities for our people.
I think the market is evolving and changing, we are moving much more to an industrial model that is much more spot-related, which means short term rather than long term. This makes it difficult for Wah Kwong as we have traditionally focused on long term charters, so we have to adapt to this change and shift to a business model that is more resilient to market fluctuations. Shipping is a very volatile industry in which cycles are getting shorter, and that means we must adapt our business model. We have seen so many technological changes, and also changes in life at sea: we are now putting internet on our ships, which has made a material difference to the quality of life on board ship for our crew.

Shipping is the world’s biggest industry. It is intellectually very difficult to understand because it is so big it is like a vast balloon: you press it in one place and it is going to come out somewhere else. Trade lanes change frequently and today much depends on a simple “Tweet”. The industry is an “economic octopus” with so many variables to contend with and we have an interest in the direction of many different countries, commodities and markets.

But economic uncertainty and disruption have been keeping shipowners awake for decades – I can remember the 1980’s – I had just started work in shipping – it was like parachuting into the aftermath of a hurricane, the sun was shining but there was wreckage all around and the depth and severity of the cycle had been brutal to many shipping companies.... Shipping can be likened to a business with a bunch of guys hanging on a ledge and it’s the ones with the strongest hands who can hold on the longest that survive and is these who ultimately make the most money. It was very much like that again in the period 2008-2013 – history didn’t quite repeat and the reasons were different but the cycle itself had repeated. What is amazing about shipping is how good it is when it goes up and how badly it goes when it’s down. Throughout these cycles what is most important is to keep a good reputation.