The Next Generation: Who Will Shape the Next 33 Years of Container Shipping?

In my last post, I reflected on my 33 year career in shipping. It was nostalgic to see how far we’ve come, and how much has changed (yes, including my hair… thank you for all the comments!)

Looking at the past has a way of getting you thinking of the future; wondering what kind of stories might be told 33 years from now.

What will the future of the industry look like?
What technological changes will have been made by then?
More importantly, who will be responsible for those changes?

While we’ve worked hard to shape the direction of the industry so far, the long-term future of the industry will be in the hands of a new generation.

A generation who’s never seen a Telex, never sent a fax, and rarely makes phone calls. A generation who’s grown up with the world’s information at its fingertips.

People my age have experienced the transition to an on-demand digital world, but the youth of today have known no other way. While we may put up with inefficiencies — because it’s better than it used to be — the youth will not.

They’re used to ease. They expect speed. They demand simplicity.

It’s these expectations that will help accelerate change, but only if we’re open to it. Only if we can create an environment where youthful enthusiasm and open-mindedness is encouraged, and put to good use.

From our mindset, to our policies, to our ways of working, if we want the best young talent to join the shipping industry (and not the latest tech startup), we must keep an open mind.

There’s no denying there are generational differences, but true success will come when we find a way to fuse a lifetime of industry experience with the fresh perspectives of youth.

But first, we need to understand why the youth are perceived as lazy, entitled and ungrateful.

“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” — Socrates

Since 400BC (and probably earlier) older generations have judged the younger. It’s an inevitable fact of life. But if we’re to channel the best of the younger generations, we must do our best to shed these judgements and misperceptions.

“Children are now tyrants,” said Socrates – he was wrong.

My daughter is 25. She’s just finished her studies and is looking for a job. Being a helpful father, I suggested that she spend a few years at one of the big 4 firms, then carve out her career.

She had other ideas.

But I also realised that she’s grown up in a world different to my own, so it’s only natural for her expectations to be different. The norms change in time.

In the past, for example, frequently changing jobs was perceived as showing employers there was something wrong with you. It was the norm for people to stick with a company for many many years. But today is different. So before we say “ohh the youth are just unfocused and impatient”, perhaps we should consider the different world they’ve grown up in.

As the Chief Digital & Information Officer at MSC, I work with a lot of young people.

I give them guidance and direction, but make sure they have enough freedom and autonomy. I’ve found that if we try to control them too much we lose their creativity, we lose their openness. And it’s those characteristics of youth we need if we’re to keep innovating.

Youth have the advantage of a fluid mindset. They embrace new ideas and technologies and aren’t burdened by years of experience. They see opportunities where we see barriers. They question why we do things a certain way. What do we do when we don’t have a better answer than “that’s how it’s always been done”?

After joining MSC 1.5 years ago, a business analyst on my team, Ana Gomes, commented to me how many more steps there were to get something done compared to the previous startup she worked with. Obviously a large company needs processes, but she pointed out the importance of reevaluating them.

My young colleague Ana Gomes and myself.

Is it done like that because it’s the best way, or just the way we’re used to?

If we’re to attract, retain and get the best from the next generation we must be more flexible in our approach. If we can find a way to keep innovators stimulated, challenged and engaged, we’ll set the foundations for a strong future of our industry. As Ana so eloquently puts it, roles are not square boxes, they can evolve and change.

My 33 years have been filled with freedom, challenge, stimulation and purpose. If they weren’t, I’d probably left long ago. Perhaps the generations aren’t so different after all.

Husband, father, bass player, shoeaholic. CDIO at @MSCCargo and chairman of DCSA. I mostly tweet about the digitalisation of container shipping!