Even better times ahead

Even Matre Ellingsen, Group CEO of Astrup Fearnley, may be new in the ‘hot seat’, but he already has calm, clear and ambitious visions for a company that is just about to celebrate a major milestone.

Astrup Fearnley is looking good for a 150 year old.
The Oslo-based group, originally established as a shipping and agency outfit in 1869 by Thomas Fearnley, is one of the world’s leading names in shipbroking, maritime investment and advisory services. It boasts 13 offices in 10 countries and specialisms in just about every shipping sector, offering particular strengths in offshore supply, offshore (including both rigs and renewables), and LNG, amongst others.
It’s also, through its owner the Hans Rasmus Astrup Foundation, acquired a jaw-dropping collection of contemporary artwork, on show at Oslo’s landmark Astrup Fearnley Museum (designed by Renzo Piano, architect of Paris’ Pompidou Centre).
It is a multi-faceted, multi-national, and thriving business.
The kind of concern that, one imagines, may be daunting to steer towards the next 150 years?
Not from the look of Even Matre Ellingsen.

Enhancing understanding
Ellingsen, who has been with the firm for seven years, after 16 at Pareto Securities, exudes a relaxed, yet focused, and affable persona. At the time of our interview he’s been in the Group CEO role for a little over a month, having moved up from the position of CEO, Fearnley Securities (the group’s investment bank). Nevertheless, he already appears remarkably at ease – unruffled by the task ahead.

“I’m spending much of the first 90 days traveling around the globe to meet, and learn from, my colleagues,” he notes. “By ‘getting to know’ the many talented people within the group I can understand the working of the businesses better and that will help inform any new strategies we put in place. What we have – the breadth of our offer, our first class people, and our excellent reputation for integrity within the marketplace – works very well, so I certainly won’t disrupt that.

“At the same time the shipping industry is changing faster than ever before, with new demands from stakeholders that our customers must adapt to. Our role is to serve those customers and help them achieve business goals (including enhancing profitability), so we must adapt too.

“However, in the case of Astrup Fearnley, it’s going to be evolution rather than revolution.”

Strength in numbers
Individually the group businesses are strong – Fearnley Securities has, for example, raised over USD 7.7bn in the last three years in equity and bond financing, while Fearnleys is a leading broker for the LPG, LNG, dry cargo, tanker and RORO segments. But it’s the collective picture that Ellingsen seems more focused on. Teamwork is a word he frequently revisits.

“I’m more interested in the ‘we’ than the ‘I’,” he says. “Individual talent is, of course, greatly valued, but it’s when we put individuals together as a team that businesses really excel. That’s as true for the group as the individual company teams.”

Here he hints at a more ‘joined up’ approach for the group in the future, whereby the ties between the businesses are tighter to share expertise and deliver a ‘bigger picture’ understanding for clients. This will benefit external stakeholders, while internally it will help build more of a common culture, set of business principles and strong group values.

“I see an environment forming where we work as one, across divisions, across sectors to deliver enhanced insights and value,” he says.

“Utilising what we already have, simply bringing it together – assisted by new systems, new technology and new data-enabled products – to give our clients, and ourselves, true competitive advantage. That will position us well for the years ahead.”

Research and relevance
It’s too early in his tenure, he explains, to talk about specifics, but technology will be rolled out ‘aggressively’ – “to communicate better internally and develop broker tools that enhance our external offering” – while research strengths will be consolidated.

“We want to offer the best advisory, investment and broking services and to do so every decision must be based on the best research,” Ellingsen stresses. “We invest between 10 and 15% of our turnover every year on R&D and our research teams are regarded as amongst, or even the, world leaders within our segments. That will continue going forwards, giving us the intelligence and analytical capacity to remain as relevant as possible to our customers and their businesses.

“After all, relevance in this dynamic industry is critical for success.”

Astrup Fearnley has stayed relevant over the past century and a half by exploiting new opportunities and developing specialisms carefully, yet quickly, where demand emerges. This has led to a 45-year strong pedigree within offshore, with more recent headway made in growth segments such as renewable energy, aquaculture (“I think we’ve brought more new assets to market in Norway than any other player”) and now an approach into harvesting seabed minerals.

“Again,” he states with a smile, “it’s a little early to give details of that as yet.”

People power
What he will disclose is the group’s ambition to invest in human capital – a decision that has led to their high profile presence at Nor-Shipping 2019, taking place this year between 4th and 7th June in Oslo and Lillestrøm, Norway.
Ellingsen argues that people are “our most important assets” and that the group is always looking to attract and, importantly, retain talent.
“We don’t have a high staff turnover,” he states, “both because we build a culture where people are valued and, in part thanks to the fact that we’re privately owned, we invest in them for the long-term. We don’t hire and fire as the markets fluctuate, we continue investing when times are bad to give us an immediate competitive advantage when they are good. The value of that is immense. It’s one of the reasons we’re still going strong after 150 years.”

Nor-Shipping will give Astrup Fearnley’s people the chance to connect with global clients face-to-face, but, importantly, also to engage with a new generation of talent – something front of mind for Ellingsen.

“Nor-Shipping has the almost unique ability to gather the whole maritime industry value chain in one place,” he states. “That is fundamentally important for building relationships, industry understanding and future collaboration. But another attractive element is the fact it attracts young people and fresh talent – those considering shipping as a career path and those setting sail now, often with innovative ideas and cutting edge digital understanding. That is an incredibly attractive proposition.”

Next generation Now
As such Astrup Fearnley has taken the decision to sponsor Nor-Shipping’s Ocean Now festival, taking place on 5th and 6th June at Skur 13 in Oslo. This will gather students, entrepreneurs and established maritime players in a single arena to highlight opportunities, discuss and enable new ocean solutions, and build bridges to working together in the future.

“We think this is where some of the sharpest and most ambitious minds will be during Nor-Shipping,” Ellingsen opines. “So, the chance to tap into that, while also positioning Astrup Fearnley at the forefront of tomorrow’s industry today, was something we didn’t want to miss out on.”

Concluding, it’s worth noting that the previous Astrup Fearnley Group CEO, Jon-Aksel Torgersen, held the role for some 27 years. Does the new incumbent see himself emulating that startling longevity?

“Even with our desire to look to the ‘long-term’ I think that may be taking it a bit far,” he laughs good-naturedly. “But what I will say is that we’ll still be here, still working side-by-side with our clients, to provide the best services and market intelligence, allowing them to achieve the best business results.

“Hopefully we’ll be as relevant for the next 150 years as we’ve been for the last!”

Tune back in for the 300th anniversary article to find out if that’s the case…

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