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Tom's Transition from Geology to Aviation and Maritime Logistics

Meet Tom: Originally destined for a career in geology, he switched paths to aviation, drawn to the machinery and activity around aircraft. After eight years at the airport, Tom moved into maritime logistics, joining GAC Norway. In his role, he faces new challenges and opportunities, bringing his unique experience from aviation to the world of shipping. Discover how Tom’s career journey from rocks to runways to shipping lanes showcases his adaptability and commitment to professional growth.

Can you tell us about your background?

Originally destined for geology, I found myself drawn into the aviation sector, engaging in aircraft towing, baggage, and cargo handling for eight years. Initially, I balanced weekend shifts at the airport while pursuing my university studies. However, the allure of large machinery and the scent of diesel and jet fuel swayed my path. Instead of a master's degree in geology or geophysics, I chose to obtain a craft certificate in logistics.

I am certified to operate all the vehicles around aircraft during turnarounds, and it's every bit as exhilarating as it seems. In my spare time, family takes precedence, but I also enjoy regular sessions of padel and aim to run at least 20km each week. Soccer was once a big part of my life, but injuries cut that chapter short in my mid-twenties.

How long have you worked at GAC Norway, and why did you want to work here?

After spending 8 years on the tarmac, I felt the need for fresh challenges, particularly within logistics. I sent out a few applications, and GAC was the first to respond. So, you could say it was purely coincidental that I find myself here today. However, looking back, it seems that someone within GAC Norway was already familiar with my name, indicating that they had conducted their own inquiries about me even before our first interview.

Initially, GAC sought a ship agent to oversee tanker port calls in Norway at their head office in Bergen. Coming from the airline industry, I anticipated some similarities, but in reality, I was stepping into unknown territory. Fortunately, my way of working seemed to align well with the demands of the shipping industry. 

In 2013, GAC Norway centralized their tanker operations in Bergen, marking the beginning of a steep learning curve for me during the first year. We had to develop numerous new procedures and adapt to fresh ways of working as we progressed. Now, over a decade later, I've held various roles within the tanker segment at our Bergen office.

Can you describe a typical day at work?

My typical workday involves extensive communication via email, Teams, and phone, both internally within GAC and with customers and suppliers. This includes correspondence, follow-ups, guidance, and task delegation. As a leader, I engage in daily operational activities while planning ahead for the future. I also address personal matters within the department, recognizing the human aspect of leadership. Given our team's 24/7 coordination of port calls in shifts, I often handle operational matters via emails and chat during evenings and nights. Effective utilization of Teams is crucial for seamless communication across our locations in Mongstad and Bergen.

What do you particularly like about the job?

Being a manager or leader is both exciting and demanding. My expertise as a ship agent served as my entry ticket, and I was entrusted with personnel responsibility for the team I was already part of. Letting go of control can be challenging when you possess deep knowledge of the field. However, effective leadership requires empowering others.

Serving as a bridge between senior management and operational staff, my role involves accelerating the implementation of strategies and ambitions while fostering understanding of the 'what' and 'why'. I appreciate the balance between operational and financial aspects in my position, which involves considerable administrative and financial responsibilities.

The variety in tasks is enjoyable, although it can be stressful, requiring effective prioritization and delegation for the benefit of the department. As a manager of ship agents, my focus is on guiding, assisting, and equipping them with the necessary tools to excel in their roles. This includes providing training, workshops, and establishing procedures together with our marketing manager.

Building a highly effective team is both fulfilling and demanding. Maintaining a positive work environment requires continual attention, but feels rewarding if it contributes to improvement.

The regulations within shipping are changing. How do you keep yourself updated?

Staying informed about the continuously changing regulations in the shipping industry requires a collaborative effort. Effective leadership involves delegating responsibilities among team members and leveraging their talents. We conduct annual interviews with employees to identify emerging challenges and establish new personal goals aligned with departmental strategy, ensuring both individual and group development. Two colleagues excel in regulatory matters, contributing to comprehensive coverage of regulations.

Additionally, we actively participate in relevant professional seminars and conferences for updates. Close communication with terminals, regulatory authorities, and industry associations such as Coastal Authorities, Police, Customs Authorities, keeps us informed about upcoming changes and compliance requirements. Ultimately, our goal is to uphold a high level of knowledge within the company at all times.

How do you see the shipping industry evolving in the next 5-10 years, and what role do you think technology will play in that evolution?

The shipping industry is poised for significant evolution over the next 5-10 years. The adoption of low carbon fuels, advancements in big data analytics, energy management, sustainable energy generation, and carbon capture and storage will shape its trajectory. These innovations are essential for meeting the growing demand while striving for net-zero emissions. However, implementing new regulations aimed at reducing emissions, particularly concerning bunker fuels, presents challenges as the gap between theory and practical implementation persists.

As ship agents, we'll focus on meeting regulatory requirements, including waste handling and streamlined reporting procedures through platforms like European SafeSeaNet.

Looking towards the future, what skills do you believe will be most important for professionals in the shipping industry?

Looking ahead, professionals in the shipping industry will need to prioritize IT and computer skills, both ashore and at sea. Additionally, proficiency in utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) will become increasingly vital, not only within shipping but across various industries. Effective communication skills, whether in face-to-face interactions or over the telephone, will continue to distinguish the best from the rest. Other important skills include problem-solving abilities, adaptability to technological advancements, and multicultural competence.


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