2015 was the seventh year since the Sept 2008 freight market crash. Seven years is usually the length of a full shipping cycle, yet here we are, still dragging along at the bottom of the ocean.
Dr Martin Stopford predicted just such a scenario a few years ago when others were calling the bottom of the market and hoping for an imminent recovery.
This last year was the perfect manifestation of an uncertain market. Our recruitment business had its best quarter in 18 years, two weak quarters, one average quarter and overall, an okay year. At the same time, our HR Consulting business grew turnover, headcount and profits and had its best ever year. Why? No idea! Well, no idea in the sense that we can't simply connect performance to freight rates. We used to be able to do this. Freight rates, up, business up.
But we live in different times. The last seven years have separated the wheat from the chaff. Their businesses are not all in the same place. Some are still dealing with crippling bank debt, others have none, some are backed by private equity and some are even cash rich.
Of course, it's all about timing and how and when you call the market. When we are asked (as we frequently are) "What's the recruitment market looking like at the moment?” we can no longer give a clear answer. You'd think recruitment in dry bulk would have been slow in the last year and flying in the tanker market. Not so. There is no way of describing the market in terms of sectors any more.
For us, how the market is become much more about relationships and ability to perform. This therefore is our opportunity to thank the many clients who have supported us and given us their business this last year and, in many cases, for many years. We don't take you for granted. Far from it! Thank you for using Spinnaker.
But before we sign off this article, we should certainly make the observation that one thing is very clear nowadays, and that is that the industry recognises the need to invest in its people like never before. During the boom years, we saw HR professionals being hired for the first time. Shipping is still playing catch-up to some extent, but it is catching up fast. In tandem with the rise of HR in shipping, Spinnaker Global HR Consulting, run by Managing Director Karen Waltham, has grown from a small sideline to a major part of our business that saw spectacular results in 2015. The Maritime HR Association which it runs, now has close to 100 members and is the only name in shipping salary benchmarking and the business now provides a host of HR consulting services. Watch this space for new personality profiling services and industry-specific tools for recruiting, identifying, developing and promoting leadership talent.
Oh…and it seems the banks are back, well some of them anyway. A number are recruiting for new ship finance teams, calling the bottom of the market and reckon there's little risk lending against low values at healthy LTVs.
Welcome back to them and here's to a successful 2016 …eight years since the crash and counting!
Phil Parry, Chairman, Spinnaker Global