Logistics moves the world and, if it stops, causes small earthquakes. The Danish Maersk, one of the largest container companies on the planet together with the Chinese Cosco, the Italian MSC or the French CMA CGM, trembled on June 27, 2017. That day its technology systems they suffered the cyberattack of a virus called Petya that was snuck through a program that the transport and logistics group used to file their tax returns in Ukraine. In a few minutes, some large multinationals from other sectors were infected, but the virulence of the chaos in Maersk and APM Terminals, its subsidiary, left the king of the supply chain naked, with goods within 80,000 TEU (20-foot containers) trapped in ports, ships stopped and reserves lost.
That cost the Danish group about $ 250 million, and the CEO, Soren Skou – who came to confess to the Financial Times that in the midst of chaos he could only communicate with his managers on WhatsApp – promised changes. If something like that happened again, the company's systems would be much better prepared in the future to isolate the problem and restore the IT platform, something that was only partially and very rudimentarily achieved that day.
"Now all our corporate meetings start with a safety presentation," Diego Perdones, the new head of the company for the Western Mediterranean of Maersk Line, told the Madrid headquarters. Ibrahim Gokcen, until now responsible for technology of the firm, has just left the company and has been replaced by Adam Banks, tanned in Visa. "The information technology management reports directly to the CEO. With this change, more importance has been given to the technology part, which is fundamental", Analyzes Perdones. But the computer coup is not the only disgust that the company has suffered in recent times.
Maersk, in the hands of the fifth generation of the Moller family (they have 51% of the capital of the group that has 90,000 other shareholders), had spent years suffering in their accounts the excess of installed global capacity for transport and the low profitability of their investments. In 2014 it marked a peak of sales -34,806 million euros- that has not reached again. Two years later it registered almost 500 million in losses. "It was not for a specific event, but we considered a strategic change so that the group would remain competitive for the next half century, to focus on activities where we could provide greater value to the client," says Perdones. The turn in the commercial strategy began. Maersk sold its oil drilling and transportation business, Maersk Drilling, to the family group (AP Moller-Maersk Group). That old subsidiary will leave in a few days to quote on the Stock Exchange and only a few boats to support oil platforms will remain within its business perimeter. The rest of the company's products are adapting to a new and overactive reality in international trade.
From the sea to the road
"Customers ask us for additional services when moving a container. We saw the possibility of expanding the market outside the maritime environment and decided to focus on it, in insurance, road transport and rail. " With 735 ships, Maersk is in 130 countries and employs 79,000 people. He has seen in road transport a way to grow, although they do not have trucks, but rather an "information system that manages fleets. It is impossible for a company to cover the volume we use with your own vehicles. " They try, in short, to grow around the logistics that the container needs. "This is the change we are implementing. Damco [su filial de logística] We are among the 10 largest operators in the world, we have experience and knowledge, "believes Perdones. But he also recognizes that they have a lot to learn, even if they have been in the market for 114 years.
The maritime business is very cyclical and combines the intensity of international trade with the installed transport capacity. Between 2004 and 2012, the tonnage of the global fleet grew at an average of 6.4% per year, according to the Clarkson's analysis firm. The industry launched into a race for the biggest ship. In 2015, Benjamin Franklin, of CMA CGM, entered service with 399 meters and capacity to transport 18,000 TEU. Before a handful of sea giants had grazed those measures, including the Emma Maersk, with 397 meters and 11,000 Teu capacity. But that fight for size has exploded. A report by Goldman Sachs pointed out a few days ago that there are still "years" for supply and demand to be balanced again. And on that trip "it is possible that the increase in container transport fees will continue".
In any case, the market seems to have rewarded Maersk's strategy. Bloomberg noted that after the last presentation of quarterly results (between January and September they reached 28,837 million in sales, a growth of 28%) have increased the analyzes that recommend buying or maintaining the shares. Leaving the energy sector and focusing on logistics, the company expects to achieve savings of 600 million. And it also works to maintain a very tight cost structure. "It has to be the most efficient possible," says Perdones.
Along the way he has made traumatic decisions, such as the announcement to close a refrigerated container factory in San Antonio (Chile) and lay off 1,209 workers. On the contrary, they have taken over Hamburg Süd, a German operator with a strong presence in Latin America. They have also worked to reduce the cost of energy. "We have reduced emissions by 47% since 2007. For a social commitment and because it is a cost element with which we can offer better prices." The commercial war, on the other hand, worries less. His CEO said a few weeks ago that global traffic will grow between 3% and 4% this year, and that he sees no reason to worry. "They can change the flows, move, but the companies still have a need to move certain raw materials to produce", supports the Spanish director.
Amazon or Alibaba are changing the way we consume. "That implies a series of demands for speed and reliability in the delivery, greater efficiency. Inditex has also changed the transport and it is a company that we have here. The digital world is making us adapt our systems, "explains Maersk director Diego Perdones. For example, the company is finishing installing sensors in the containers so customers can see at what temperature their goods travel, and even to be able to regulate it. In terms of efficiency, they have other challenges. "When a customer makes a reservation but does not send the goods, he does not suffer penalties. We have made a series of attempts to get them going because it will make the system more efficient, "says Perdones. They also look for ways to apply the blockchain to transportation; new ways to secure the loads or to "deconsolidate" the containers (distribute their contents in different points). And how will prices evolve? "The returns we have are not the returns with which we are satisfied. The transport price will vary with the contracts, in some places they will fall and capacity will have to be adjusted; instead, in others they will rise ". Other challenges such as piracy are further away. "We transport a container, we are not responsible for the content. It would be impossible. We do not have the legal capacity. What I can tell you is that we follow all the regulations faithfully. There are very clear compliance rules and internal complaints systems. "