A ship broker presentation lured me in, Henrik Hansen, AAL Shipping
“As a young man I was not familiar with shipping in the sense of ocean transportation,” Henrik Hansen, General Manager – Americas at AAL Shipping says. But attending a job fair put on by the business school he attended, a ship broker presentation caught his eye, and that is where the journey started.
Hansen grew up in Slagelse in Denmark, where he graduated with a Business Degree from Slagelse Commercial College and business course Institute, and soon after decided to reach out to several shipping companies (owners and agents), eventually landing a traineeship with Lehmann Junior Agencies, located in the heart of the Danish capital Copenhagen. “Soon after starting my trainee position, I relocated to Copenhagen at the age of 20,” Hansen says.
“In 1998 I accepted a position as Line Manager with Weco Agencies Houston (Nordana Line) and relocated to Houston TX, where I have resided ever since,” he says, with his journey to the position of General Manager – Americas at AAL Shipping taking him to the likes of Weco Agencies, Chipolbrock Americas. He joined AAL Shipping USA in 2015, as Commercial Manager before stepping up to his current position in September 2022.
“Looking back and comparing over the years and asking myself what it is I like about my job and more importantly about the industry, my answer would be: The interaction with people and the great many opportunities I have had to meet very interesting and skilled people, not only in the maritime industry. The ability to form relationships abroad. The fact that no day is ever the same – “you plan your day in advance and by the end of the day you realise the agenda remained untouched” – and last and probably the most important to me, you always learn new things in the maritime industry,” says Hansen.
“An average day for me starts in the office at 7 AM and then continues till late afternoon, following with email catch up in the evening considering the time difference between the head office in Singapore and the office in Houston,” Hansen says.
His responsibilities include managing the AAL Houston office and overseeing the development of the North America, Central America, and South America regions through customer-base development, services and voyage generation, commercial agency network creation and management.
The office of AAL Houston currently counts a total of six employees including the General Manager position.
Remembering the mentors and calling on the youth
During his career Hansen has had the pleasure to meet and work with many interesting and skilled people. “Back in my days in Denmark, I was employed with Franck & Tobiesen, representing all Polish Shipping Companies, as agent: Polish Ocean Line, Pol Levant, Chipolbrok etc. The late Jesper Petersen, who we unfortunately lost too soon, was a real mentor to me and taught me to be the person I am today, both professionally and personally,” says Hansen.
“Over the years I have had other people mentoring me to where I am today. As is, I have a select few contacts who will assist me if/when needed,” he adds.
Since then Hansen has been in position to bring onboard and mentor young people. But he notes that there is a shortage of young people in the maritime industry which is a concern. Granted, the talent is there, but it seems to be difficult to attract the young generation to pursue a maritime career. “Have we, the industry, not been able to adapt to the new norms? From our perspective both locally in Houston and in the company as whole, we encourage and appreciate employment of young people. Last year, we employed a young man to our operations department here in Houston, having just graduated with a maritime degree from Texas A&M University in Galveston, Texas,” Hansen says.
“Moving forward, I believe the industry must be more visible. By that I mean attending the educational facilities (job fairs). Reach out to the young people via their preferred medias. Design and carry out training programs,” would be some of the options according to Hansen who also adds that the opportunity to continue ones career overseas can be used as an argument to bring younger people into the shipping industry.
“Encourage and promote additional education, which is a topic very close to AAL’s heart. Establish attractive wages and/or benefits which will stand up to and match that of other industries,” says Hansen.
The MPP segment changed
Throughout his career, Hansen has witnessed numerous changes. “The MPP segment and the whole technical scope has evolved dramatically since my days as a trainee with Lehmann Junior back in the 80’s. When I started, personal computers were yet to be presented and made available as a daily tool. Bill of Lading masters were typed using electrical typewriters. Manifest, due to the paper size, required the use of wide-valve, non-electric typewriters. The Internet was not invented. Email and texting did not exist. Cell phones were categorixed as science fiction then. All communication was conducted in person, by stationary phone, via fax, or telex. Printers did not exist so extra copies required the use of carbon papers and ‘typos’ were managed with white ink,” remembers Hansen.
Since then tonnage has grown bigger, with increased capacity and efficiency across the board. As cargo requirements and cargo design has changed over the years, the vessels and engineering behind has been able to grow with and adapt to the new standards and requirements in the global trade, whether as a full container, bulk, or as AAL as a multipurpose carrier with focus on project and general cargo.
“Trade tonnage will continue to evolve to be able to face the new challenges being presented to the industry. The wellbeing of Mother Nature is on everyone’s mind these days. What is the world going to look like for our children and their children if we do not start to think of the environment and how we can ensure a green and healthy environment,” Hansen says.
The regulations set forward by IMO (International Maritime Organization) in terms of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions for vessels by 40 percent in 2030 and 70 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 are important and will be on everybody’s mind in the years to come. “It is a step in the right direction but only a fraction of improvement unless all industries in all parts of the world join. As individuals we can and should also take an active role in reducing gas emissions; save on energy, recycling, nature-friendly products etc. The latter is of great importance to myself and my family,” stressed Hansen.