Marius Hermansen, the new CEO at Astrup Fearnley, is focused on helping the 150-year-old business transition for a new age of prosperity – with fresh talent, smarter ways of working, and a burning desire to modernise shipbroking services to deliver added value for clients.
Marius Hermansen needs some shades. Not just for the sunlight pouring in through the windows of Astrup Fearnley Group’s new headquarters in Oslo, but also, it quickly becomes apparent, when he’s surveying the future.
“There’s so much energy here,” he says, gesticulating at a facility that’s recently welcomed its full workforce back from home office. “The atmosphere is electric, with almost all our segments operating in what appears to be super-cycles, in a marketplace firing on full cylinders. We’ve been recruiting more and more young talent to integrate into our established base of expertise and that is helping us transition, just as we will help the industry do the same.”
He turns towards the window, squints, and looks back with a smile: “It feels great to be back.”
Hermansen isn’t just talking about the end of home office here, but rather his return to the Fearnley fold.
After starting his career as a finance trainee with AP Møller Mærsk he moved on to a 10-year tenure as a shipbroker with Fearnleys. Most recently he cemented his industry reputation at John Fredriksen’s Seatankers Management, where he was COO, before departing to begin this latest role in July.
His arrival comes at an interesting time for the group, which is mourning the loss of its owner Hans Rasmus Astrup (who passed away in April) and preparing to move, for the first time in its history, to a partnership-owner model.
“This is a time of change for the business, but change that is being built on very firm foundations,” Hermansen says. “We have a strong global presence, with 330 professionals based across nine countries and a broad base of segment expertise, so we’re close to our clients and understand what they need.”
“Those needs are evolving, and we want to stay ahead of that curve to serve the industry in the best possible way.”
Although Astrup Fearnley is made up of separate, clearly delineated companies – Fearnleys (one of the world’s most respected shipbrokers), Fearnley Securities, Fearnley Offshore, and Fearnley Offshore Supply – Hermansen says he is a strong believer in “tearing down silos” to enable closer collaboration with teams, business units and clients.
He says he wants to create a “one company” approach to offer customers “even more coordinated efforts and better services” with a culture that is “assertive, young and dynamic”.
“Young” is perhaps not the first word many would associate with shipbroking… and it’s this observation that puts Hermansen back onto the theme of change.
“Look,” he acknowledges with a smile. “There’s a lot of 50- and 60-year-olds in this industry, on the broking side, the shipping side, and the oil and gas side, and that’s crucial. Their experience is invaluable. But we all know that the industry, indeed the world, demands a new approach, with new ideas, technology and solutions. So, we’re looking to bring in emerging talent and energy to mix with the huge competence we already have with the established team. And not simply to tick a box, but to listen to them, be inspired and dare to do things differently.”
“This whole industry is ‘a turnaround case’,” he observes, “and I mean that in a positive way – there is huge opportunity out there.”
The environment and greener shipping are, naturally, front of mind.
Hermansen says the group is “deeply involved” in shipping’s transition. On the financial side he reveals that the business has been involved in over 30 capital markets and M&A transactions over the past 2 years with a green focus, raising in excess of USD 1 billion. Meanwhile, Fearnleys newbuilding team is handling a broad range of LNG, LNG Battery Hybrid, and Pure Battery projects, with further involvement in developing ships boasting Hydrogen propulsion, hard sail, and other zero emissions technology.
“There’s a clear trend,” he notes, “a significant part of our revenues are now coming from such segments, and we expect to see increased demand for sustainable services and products going forward. We see capital becoming increasingly available for green projects with good management, and we want to help build further momentum.”
But the Group CEO’s ambition goes beyond traditional offerings and working methods.
He wants, he says with determination, to modernise shipbroking services.
And he’s not just talking about introducing fresh blood. But rather fresh technology.
As an example of “daring to do things differently” he points to a new collaboration with DNV. Earlier this year the pair signed a MoU to develop and deploy an Emissions Prediction Calculator (EPC) for the shipping industry. This breakthrough solution utilises the real, validated fleet data on DNV’s Veracity platform to deliver quality assured emissions data predictions, ensuring that ship brokers, owners, and charterers can make informed decisions on the environmental performance of vessels.
Astrup Fearnley will bring the service to market, helping industry stakeholders on the path to decarbonisation.
“This is a tangible demonstration of how we can seize on the potential of big data and the digitalisation of the industry to support the move towards more sustainable shipping,” Hermansen opines. “We have an important role to play in that, and by collaborating with expert partners like DNV we can unlock advantages for both the business and the natural world – with greater efficiency and lower fuel costs and emissions. As such we serve our clients and society. It’s a true win-win.”
He continues, “This is the kind of initiative I want to see more of – new ways of executing business, with collaborations where we combine individual strengths for collective benefit.”
The EPC tool is under development now, with an expected launch in 2022.
Despite his eagerness for all things tech, Hermansen still believes that forging good relationships is at the heart of lasting success.
“This is still very much a people business,” he comments, “and that’s why it’s so vital to have a global presence for a global industry. We’ve been investing in that principle since our foundation in 1869. Face-to-face meetings matter. Full stop.”
That explains Hermansen’s delight at being back in the office, but also his focus on the next Nor-Shipping in January.
Astrup Fearnley is, for the second consecutive event, supporting the Oslo and Lillestrøm based event week as a key partner.
“Nor-Shipping is the event for our industry,” he comments. “It’s where the worlds of business, politics and finance collide, gathering key ocean stakeholders and leaders to address challenges and seize opportunity.”
“For us, it’s an important place to meet clients, but also an excellent arena for engaging with the new generation of talent I’ve been talking about. As such, it provides an excellent platform to brand and position our business. And that, arguably, is more important than ever post-COVID-19.”
“I honestly can’t wait,” he smiles.
The sun, it seems, will be shining all the way through to January.