Egbert Wagenborg started up his business in Delfzijl in 1898. 120 years have now passed and Wagenborg has grown from a one-man business into an international maritime logistics operation We talked to Egbert Vuursteen (CEO), Maarten Tromp (COO), and Jeroen Seyger (CFO) about the key to Wagenborg’s success and the company’s challenges and opportunities for the future.
What does it mean to be a family business?
Egbert: “The great thing about a family business is that it passes from one generation to the next. I find it really special to be working here as a representative of the fourth generation. I feel that way, and I think I certainly convey it too! In a family business, it’s all ultimately about the long term, about continuity.”
Maarten: “Wagenborg is a family business with a long, rich history. And that’s reflected in the people who work here. I see how their eyes start to shine when they talk about Wagenborg. There’s a real feeling of being connected with the soul of the company. You can also read in the interviews in this magazine”
Jeroen: “The best thing is that we deal with one another like members of a family. People are really involved and they work together amicably. It feels like part of the company belongs to them too.”
“Maarten: “Clients regularly tell us that Wagenborg is a reliable partner for the long term, and that we do what we say we’ll do. That creates a pleasant environment to work in.”
How would you describe working for Wagenborg and what charecterises the typical Wagenborg employee?
Jeroen: “When you work for Wagenborg, you feel something like the ‘cosy, warm blanket’ of a family business. We don’t have a ‘blame culture’, and there’s a great deal of commitment. Everyone identifies with the work and feels responsible for his or her own work or part of our operations.”
Egbert: “The typical Wagenborg employee has a passion for the logistics profession and therefore generally stays with the company. We’re also a ‘my-door-is-always-open’ company, which we also hope is expressed with our open-plan office. If there’s something going on, you quickly hear about it. We all pull together.”
Jeroen: “That was one of the first things I noticed when I joined the company; you only have to ask what the business needs and people just get working on it and arranging it.”
Maarten: “Maritime logistics is a really fine world. It’s a tough business on a large scale, with international dimensions and boundless oceans. Moreover, our service plays an indispensable role for our customers; We are the link that connects producer and receiver. They literally trust us their products. I am proud that so many customers give us that confidence. But being proud is characteristic of the average Wagenborg employee anyway, as are dedication, knowhow, and modesty. After all, ‘when you know you’re good, you don’t need to boast about it’”.
What have you enjoyed most when working at Wagenborg? In other words, what was your personal highlight?
Jeroen: “I’ve only got two years’ experience with Wagenborg to look back on. But I think the successful development of innovative new vessels like the Egbert Wagenborg has been a highlight. The design, the construction, and the operation are the result of collaboration between various Wagenborg units and departments, with satisfied clients, satisfied crew, and good financial results as a result.”
Maarten: “One of the really excellent developments recently is the enthusiasm of our colleagues in the various improvement projects. The innovative strength that we as a company have shown so often in new ship designs, is also reflected in the preparations for the next generation of IT support. It’s marvellous how the project teams involved time find and free up time alongside their work. And it’s great to see how much energy that also generates. People have taken control of their own future, so to speak, and are working hard to improve the working environment.”
“Egbert: “The best thing for me personally was when we received the “Royal” designation in 1998. That was really special, and we were very proud. When you’ve been working for more than a century and you’ve earned that honour, then you know you’re doing things right.”
Looking back at the company's growth in recent decades and at how we got through the recent crisis: what's the key to Wagenborg's success?
Egbert: “The key to our success is the continuous willingness to change. What was good yesterday is merely sufficient today, and will be insufficient tomorrow. The world is changing rapidly and we will have to keep moving with it. The only constant thing in business is change!”
Maarten: “Perseverance has also been a decisive factor in our company. Combined with entrepreneurship and the quality of our fleet and people, that explains our excellent reputation within the market.”
“Jeroen: “Wagenborg is strong because of its clear positioning within certain niche markets. Take the walk-to-work market in the North Sea, for example, or our extensive ice-reinforced fleet operating in specific areas for specific clients and types of cargo.”
What challenges and opportunities do you foresee for Wagenborg in the not-so-distant future?
Egbert: “One of the biggest challenges will be maintaining a certain level of scale and expanding further so as to be able to serve clients reliably and flexibly. And further consolidation in the shipping industry is an opportunity for us. The crisis has made the playing field much clearer because of the disappearance of a number of parties. The challenge is to operate in a capital-intensive environment as a family business, whether that involves ships, cranes, ferries, or pontoons. Another challenge for the future will be retaining employees.”
Maarten: “There are major opportunities in the area of smart, focused, and efficient working. We have grown hard and successfully in the last decades. We have been able to manage this well and we have seen our customer base expand rapidly. With our current scale - and with the enormous development of the technology around us - we can now take the next steps to further improve and expand our services. We have chosen a number of priorities to fully go for.”
Jeroen: “At Wagenborg, we shouldn’t just look at the things we can’t do but instead focus on the things we can do. Our strong positions in our niche markets give us a good basis for the future. And the great thing is that the market is also cooperating. The way up is never just a single straight rising line – there will undoubtedly be ups and downs. But the multipurpose shipping market in 2018 is already a lot better than in 2017, and 2017 was also a lot better than 2016. Given that that’s our largest division, it will determine our overall result.”
Favorite vessel Egbert Vuursteen
“My favorite ship is the Kroonborg. In 1954, my great-grandfather commissioned Niestern for the construction of this largest ship at the time. She was far ahead of her time! In 1995 the second Kroonborg, the first 9,000 tonnes vessel, was christened by crown prince Willem Alexander at shipyard Ferus Smit. This was also the start of a large series of 9,000 tonners and the breakthrough in global sailing. And the most recent Kroonborg, at Niestern Sander, from 2015 is also beautiful: our first ship for NAM / Shell. Active in a new market and as a Ship of the Year extraordinarily innovative. In short: Kroonborg three times: three times special! “
Favorite vessel Jeroen Seyger
“My favorite ship is the Egbert Wagenborg. It is a beautiful, innovative vessel and an example of the strength of cooperation within Wagenborg. And finally not the slightest reason: it is a very profitable ship. “
Favorite vessel Maarten Tromp
“My favorite ship is the Volgaborg. Here I was allowed to sail along under the authority of a Russian captain. After years of working for a container shipping company, it was interesting to experience the difference between an “in-and-out” port visit of a container ship - only the loading / unloading of a certain part of the cargo - and a multi-day port stay of a multipurpose ship - loading / unloading the entire cargo and preparing the holds for the next voyage. “