Skip to content

The Attributes of a Successful Shipping Analyst

Mark Williams has worked as a shipping analyst and consultant in ship finance and ship broking since 1996 including holding senior roles at HSBC, Braemar, Affinity and since 2018 as MD of Shipping Strategy Ltd, a UK based shipping consultancy and training business. He will be speaking at the 16th annual Spinnaker Maritime People & Culture Conference on the 16th & 17th May 2024.

On his website there is some interesting content on the attributes of a successful shipping analyst which we are delighted to share with you. Take it away Mark!

They love data.

Any analyst who doesn’t love data has to learn to love data. When I teach my Certificate in Shipping Markets Analysis course, I show students a pyramid founded on data, on which is built analysis, from which we gain actionable insights. Everything we do is founded on data. Successful analysts love it. That means they curate it, validate it, verify it, store it carefully and tidily according to consistent housekeeping rules. Not every Market Analyst needs to be a Database Analyst or a Coder, but they all need to understand how data works, and to be excited by data.

They demonstrate insight.

Any analyst’s power is insight, whatever market or system they are analysing. An example is, when you ask an analyst for a chart, a dashboard, or a report, they ask you why you want it. Better still they tell you why you want it. Better yet, they tell you what extra value you can derive from it, that you weren’t previously considering. If you ask an analyst for a management report on how divisions have performed this year, they might go further and show you the top 10 clients of each and why the loss of a client caused one division to underperform. They might show you that half your top 50 clients use all your divisions but half don’t, indicating a simple group of sales targets to focus on in the next round of client visits.

They think systematically.

My background is in operational research (OR), a set of skills that I brought to my career in shipping. In OR, we learn that the world may not be systematic but the way we model it should be systematic. We also then learn what we cannot model – the randomness and sentiment which form such a large part of the main shipping time series of earnings and values. The flip side is that we learn what we and our clients (be they internal or external) can manage.

They think strategically.

The basic company strategy is simple: it is to survive. After that, the second goal should be to prosper. After that, things get complicated: how shall we survive and prosper from operating or investing in ships? The successful analyst understands that they are there to do the thinking for the commercial decision takers, and acts accordingly by also thinking strategically. This builds on point 3 – the analyst knows what can be managed and what cannot, and where management or client efforts should be focused. The shipping markets are subject to a number of influences over time. Successful analysts understand this. They monitor each of these to produce a rounded view of the market in its macroeconomic context.

They tell stories.

Not lies but narratives. Not everybody views the world as numbers flickering on a screen like the Matrix. But humans, wherever they are from, enjoy and understand stories. Successful analysts build stories from data and relate them engagingly. Rhetorical skills are as important as technical skills. I might add that a good storyteller adjusts to their audience, being able to feel when the audience’s attention might be wandering or when they are rapt. It’s a similar skill to the sales skill of riffing – talking about several subjects until you find one that hooks your client’s interest. Narratives are the analyst’s sales technique.

They listen.

A successful analyst spends more time set to ‘receive’ than they do to ‘broadcast’. In a market as old as shipping (the world’s second oldest, it is sometimes said) there are new technologies to be invented but the business models in use remain mostly unchanged. Yet there is always new information to digest and synthesize. A successful shipping analyst will make time to do this and will be able to defend themselves against charges of doing nothing. As writers will tell you, sometimes sitting and staring out of the window can also be working. Equally, good analysts listen to their clients and use their superpower of insight to reply to their clients in a way that moves the discussion on and adds value.

They are salespeople.

You might think that analysts and salespeople (or brokers) are entirely different animals. But everyone in business is in sales, including analysts. I used to explain to cynical broking colleagues: you are there to sell ships, I am here to sell you. Everything I published was designed to sell the company as having the best market intelligence, along with actionable insights that the brokers could execute. Selling is a learned skill set, though some people are natural sellers. Analysts should not be above learning sales skills and good analysts are humble enough to know it.

They are team players.

Analysing in a vacuum does nobody any good. The successful analyst works with colleagues, not just in their own silo. This can be hard for many analysts who typically score higher on introversion than ship brokers, salespeople, and even technical management staff. But a walk around to colleagues’ desks to ask, what are you working on and how can I help, is (almost) always appreciated. Teamwork is another learned skill which can be developed by those with low natural ability.

Not many analysts display all these attributes equally. Some lean more towards narrative, some to data, a few to sales. If you’re building a team, you can find a good mixture of these skills in different people. If you want to learn more about developing these attributes and skills, consider signing up for one of our analyst courses – drop me a line at [email protected] for more details.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.