(The article was originally published in the September / October 2021 issue.)
As the first non-family member to become CEO, Wout Janssens has both the tools and the vision to lead Jumbo in a rapidly changing world.
Let’s start with your background and education. Tell us about it and what fascinated you about the maritime industry.
When I was a little boy my father bought a sailing boat. From that day on, sailing was part of my life – and it still is! We were always on the water, going out early Saturday morning and coming back on Sunday evening. Hence my love for the sea.
As for my education, I studied aeronautics at the Technical University of Delft, but was so interested in yachts and other ships that after two years I switched to maritime technology. I did an internship at a shipyard, but realized that shipbuilding is not my passion, although I like technology – also because the industry seemed to change very slowly. So for my graduate thesis in hydromechanics, I spent a year at Rockwater (then part of Brown & Root) in Aberdeen doing research on offshore crane operations, which I found very interesting and challenging.
I came to Heerema, a large offshore marine company here in the Netherlands, as a marine engineer – a great job because it got me involved in a lot of projects, if only in one small aspect. The company gave me quite a lot of responsibility from the start and I’ve gone abroad many times which has been a great experience.
As a marine engineer, I was there to give advice on lifting work. I quickly realized that when you advise a superintendent or captain you only have to do a small part of the overall project. Your contribution can be substantial, but it is still just one element of a lengthy, complex operation. You should never convince yourself too much of your own opinion. Advice is just that – advice – given professionally and with the right intentions, but advice is not a covert instruction.
That’s how I work as a manager. I can help and influence, but I want employees and colleagues to make their own decisions. To help the specialists – that is my job. And I firmly believe in building consensus. We do things as a team. If everyone else disagrees with me on a subject, then I listen better or make better arguments first and don’t push my own views through one-sidedly.
OK. What brought you to Jumbo?
I’ve done a lot of interesting things at Heerema – helped build parts of the organization, developed teams and more. But after 20 years it was time to go out into the world and do something different. I was looking for something more. So I quit.
For about six months I thought about what I would like to do, how I would like to live my life and what I would like to do professionally. I came to three basic conclusions: The maritime industry remained very attractive to me; I enjoyed working with technical professionals and it was important to me to get the most out of people wherever I ended up.
So I started looking for a leadership position in the maritime industry in the broadest sense. I even considered becoming a teacher at a maritime institute. I went on a âclarification missionâ, so to speak, for a company that met my requirements – where I felt comfortable and needed. That’s how I came into contact with Jumbo and we had very interesting discussions about the future of the company and its goals and ambitions, especially in the area of ââoffshore installation. It turned out that we are a good match.
That’s why I came to Jumbo in 2015 and started to work mainly on the organizational structure and the relationship between sales, technology and operations in order to make them more efficient. After working first as a manager and then as director of Operations & Engineering, I was promoted to CEO last June.
Give our readers a brief overview of the company and its development over the past 50 years. When was it founded and why?
Jumbo was founded in 1968 by Hans Kahn, an entrepreneur and visionary. When containers and pallets revolutionized sea transport in the late 1950s, he developed a concept to transport everything that did not fit in a container or on a pallet.
the Stellaprima and its four 12 ton rigs were the result, and that began a long history of innovating and revolutionizing the heavy lift business. Every few years a new class of better, stronger and more efficient ships – with numerous technological advances – was added to the fleet.
Hans Kahn was a tough, determined man with a great idea that worked, went against the tide of time and found a better way. Jumbo remains true to this basic principle today and looks beyond current needs to the possibilities of tomorrow.
We love the name “Jumbo” and the elephant logo! Who came up with it and what do they mean?
It was the result of a competition! Hans Kahn asked his people for suggestions and one of them developed the elephant Jumbo, a symbol of strength, robustness, reliability and long-term memory (an allusion to our long-term customer relationships). He did the same when naming the ships, a tradition that his son Michael Kahn continued, who until recently was managing director and who continues to be closely associated with the company as owner and member of the supervisory board.
Who are the owners? Will you be the first non-family member to become a CEO?
The Kahn and Borchard families are founding owners and main shareholders. And yes, I will be the first non-family member to become CEO.
How many offices and employees are there?
We employ around 500 people, including seafarers. In addition to the major hubs in Houston and Singapore, we have around 150 employees at our headquarters in Schiedam. In addition, we operate a worldwide network of branches with long-term agents.
Courtesy Jumbo Shipping
The last big news was the announcement of the Jumbo SAL alliance in April. Tell us more about it and what it means.
It was a breakthrough for both companies and the key to our future growth. As mentioned earlier, Jumbo has always tried to look ahead to see what comes next around the corner. And the joint venture with SAL Heavy Lift is the latest example of such forward thinking. We remain independent companies, but we have combined our commercial activities, fleets and expertise to open up a whole new world of opportunity. With a combined fleet of 30 vessels with capacities up to 3,000 tons and 90 years of combined experience, we are the largest heavy lift ship in the world.
When making the announcement, Michael Kahn said, referring to his father: “In order to remain an effective global player in our field of activity, you always have to adapt and be innovative.” The Jumbo SAL Alliance is, so to speak, the enabler for making progress in this industry and to take our place in the ongoing global consolidation of the heavy lift market.
Wow, exciting! Tell us more about the Jumbo fleet, how it has evolved over the years and what the future holds.
It’s about continuous innovation. We develop the concepts ourselves with in-house ship designers. We always ask ourselves: what do we want? What does the market need in the future? We have long wanted access to a larger fleet, and this has now become the Jumbo SAL Alliance with 30 ships. Future investments in new buildings for heavy lift and general cargo ships are being developed and examined.
As for the future and next step in heavy lift shipping and offshore installation, we see ongoing opportunities in renewable energy, infrastructure (especially ports), subsea and offshore facilities, and mining operations that involve moving huge pieces of equipment to remote locations . These developments require a different approach, including ship design, crane capacity, fuel type and more.
But given the market developments, we are not finished looking for the perfect next step, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a ship. It can also be some kind of service solution or contract structure that gives us access to the right equipment at the right time. There are many opportunities!
Jumbo’s slogan is âReliable Strengthâ. What does that mean?
This makes us a reliable company in every respect – technically, as an employer, commercially and in our long-term customer relationships. That means that Jumbo is all about heavy lift, that it has the power to carry out the largest and most demanding projects, and that we are a strong company with the culture and resources to survive long-term – and we certainly have proven by surviving many difficult times over the past 53 years!
Terrific! One last question: what is your biggest challenge right now?
Survival and adaptation in a rapidly changing world. Here, too, the Jumbo SAL Alliance fits perfectly. Global developments – technological, political, economic, social, ecological – are advancing very quickly, and it is a challenge not only to keep pace with this change, but also to stay ahead economically in the long term.
As CEO, it’s my job to keep the company on track. I don’t expect to have all the answers – I depend on my team for that, and luckily we have a very good team. As I said before, I see myself as an enabler, a consensus-builder. My job is to promote the progress and development of the company. Also, being an engineer, I understand the details of highly technical projects and that is a great help. Hopefully it’s a winning combination!
Tony Munoz is the magazine’s editor and editor-in-chief.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.