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31st WISTA International Conference – Leadership: Opportunities for the future

“Global development: new world map placing new demands on leadership”

September 15, 2011

31st WISTA International Conference – Leadership: Opportunities for the future
Stockholm, 15 September 2011
Keynote address by E.E. Mitropoulos, Secretary-General, IMO
“Global development: new world map placing new demands on leadership”

Vice Mayor, President of WISTA, President of WISTA Sweden, members of WISTA, distinguished guests and media representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is my great pleasure to be with you today and I am delighted that you have once again asked me to speak at your Conference. And congratulations to the organizers for the excellent arrangements and thank you to Sweden for the warm hospitality we are so much enjoying here in this capital city.
 
I have had the good fortune to address you on a number of occasions in the past on a variety of topics diligently chosen by your governing board each time. On most of those occasions, I made reference to the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs – (that is, the eight far-reaching targets, ranging from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, which were designed by the United Nations at the dawn of the current millennium and have, since then, been warmly embraced by all the countries of the world and leading development institutions). MDG number three is to “Promote gender equality and empower women” and, as a servant of the United Nations, you can imagine how genuinely pleased I am to associate myself with your organization as it seeks to recognize and promote gender equality in shipping – although you have, over the years, been so successful in tackling the issue, that I believe the time has come to cease addressing it as an “issue”, regardless of the volume of work that needs to be done to allow you to take it off the agenda once and for all.
 
For our part, IMO has also actively and demonstrably embraced the concept of gender equality and works to promote it in all relevant sectors of the maritime community. Indeed, this objective is reflected in our Strategic Plan, which requires the Organization to “strengthen the role of women in the maritime sector”, particularly through our capacity-building activities. 
 
Our global programme on the Integration of Women in the Maritime Sector is the principal vehicle through which we pursue this commitment and, with it, our response to, and support for, the third Millennium Development Goal. I mention this to re-emphasize that, not only do we stand by your aims and objectives in principle; we also support them with work of real substance.

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Shipping and its ancillary industries have traditionally been among the great bastions of male dominance. Since its inception, however, WISTA and its members have been championing changes to all that – and not before time.
And, given the nature of your organization and its members, it comes as no surprise that “change” is a topic that runs strongly through this conference – both in the overall theme of the event (which seeks opportunities for the future) and in the particular subject of global development that I have been asked to address today. “Leadership” is the common thread here and I could not agree to its choice more.
 
My brief is to look at the “new world map” and discuss what new demands it might place on leadership.
 
Let me begin with the caveat that, attempting to look into the future, is rather like peering through a frosted glass window. The shapes and outlines may be there but definition is lacking and clarity is absent.
 
As is so often the case, a good way to start looking ahead into the future is with a nod to the past; and, in this case, I want to take you back a very long way, all the way, in fact to Herodotus, the Greek chronicler from the fifth century BC, who is usually credited, and not without reason, with being “the father of history”.
 
Herodotus said: “For most of those, which were great once, are small today. And those that used to be small, were great in my own time. Knowing, therefore, that human prosperity never abides in the same place, I shall pay attention to both alike.”
 
Herodotus saw great changes in his own lifetime but I cannot help thinking that, if he were alive today, even such an incisive observer as he, would be agape at the sheer pace of change in our modern world. In a short space of time – far less than a lifetime – the world map has been turned upside down – you only have to look at today’s map of Africa, now consisting (with the recent admission in the UN family of South Sudan) of 54 States and compare it with that of the Africa that emerged from the second world war, comprising only 4 independent States (Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa). The old world order has been overturned, new powers have emerged and others are still emerging and we have seen the rapid rise of a host of dynamic, new global cities – along with the inevitable, relative decline of several others.
 
If China has become the new global economic powerhouse, then others (like Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, South Africa and Malaysia) are rapidly emerging. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s table of the world’s fastest growing economies makes interesting reading: at the summit it lists Eritrea, with the rest of the top ten comprising Qatar, Ghana, Ethiopia, China, India, Uzbekistan, Laos, Haiti and Papua New Guinea.
 
Admittedly, some of these are starting from a devastatingly low base – but, overall, the implications are clear.
 
Within this power shift towards new economies, the phenomenon of urbanization has arrived and is, itself, helping to redraw the world map. According to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, it was in 2008 that, for the first time, more than 50 per cent of the world’s population were city rather than rural dwellers. It is predicted that, by 2030, an astonishing total of almost five billion people (that is, more than half the world population) will live in cities, and this unprecedented urban growth will be concentrated in Africa and Asia.
 
Just half a century ago, cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad in India; São Paulo in Brazil; and even Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, were either relatively obscure or better known for their destitution than for their rapid development. As was Shenzhen in China, once a fishing village and boomtown of migrant workers and now a metropolis of 11 million people. These, and several others, are now becoming the mega-cities that will shape the world over the coming decades. And, while these giants may grab the headlines, let us also not forget that there are, staggeringly, more than 160 cities in China with populations of more than one million.
 
With the likes of Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong already well established as bustling, intense, vibrant and modern cities (not to mention the
tailor-made new capitals of Brasilia in Brazil, Abuja in Nigeria and Islamabad in Pakistan), a new world order is defined and the new world map has been redrawn to reflect it.
 
The archeological sites that help attract tourists to Egypt, Athens and Rome, and add so much character to great ancient countries and cities, also speak of former glories, of a previous world order, of power that has passed and of influence that has waned. And cities that once enjoyed days of glory and glamour may also have their best times behind them.
 
So, let us imagine this new world map on a state-of-the-art digital display screen, with LED lights pulsating at the places where activity, growth and innovation are strongest. Assuming a conventional “north-up” orientation, the highest concentration of the brightest flashes will be emanating from the right hand side of the display.
 
Of course, some things on the new world map remain largely unchanged. The vellum or parchment charts that served in the heyday of European colonialism would mark the mighty (and then largely mysterious) continent of Africa as the most likely place to find ‘resources’ – minerals, raw materials and potential trading partners. The futuristic LED display of the 21st century tells much the same story. It is to Africa that the burgeoning new economies of the world are still looking to fuel their own growth and expansion plans.
 
China’s investment into Africa is well documented; and some predictions suggest that an already substantial Chinese investment in the continent may rise by 70 per cent to $50 billion by 2015, as the Asian nation seeks to acquire further resources to keep feeding its unprecedented development and growth. Contributing to the development of a solid infrastructure in African countries, in return for access to their natural resources in a manner that would render the investment viable while leaving a future economic legacy for African nations, would be a strategy designed and pursued by industrialized countries, which themselves lack the resources needed to sustain their own economic and industrial development.
 
And it is not just China that sees this potential. Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed trade and investment deals to expand India's economic footprint on the African continent. As well as offering a $5 billion credit line for India’s trade partners, he also promised an additional $700 million to set up a raft of institutions and training programmes in different African regions, in fields ranging from food processing to weather forecasting. So India, too, is stepping up its foray into the African marketplace. And, when asked why he was confident to invest in Africa despite the fact that countries there suffer from political instability, Prime Minister Singh is reported to have said: "An act of investment is an act of faith."
 
The impact of the seemingly relentless eastward march of the world’s economic centre of gravity is, of course, being felt by shipping, too. In April, industry leaders speaking at the Sea Asia 2011, in Singapore, said they expected Asia to be the key driver of growth in the coming years. The Asian economy was projected to grow by some 7.9 per cent this year, almost double the projection for the global economy. Moreover, intra-Asia trade was reportedly growing fast thanks to freer trade flows within the region. Intra-Asian container shipping volumes grew by 9.7 per cent from 2006 to 2009 and hit 27 million TEUs in 2010.
 
Within shipping itself, Asia has long been a leader in several sectors – shipbuilding, marine engineering and ship recycling spring immediately to mind. And now, whether it be in ship owning, ship finance, maritime labour supply, training and education or any of the multitude of other professions and disciplines that collectively make up the maritime cluster, the voice of Asia in shipping, as a whole, is becoming clearer and stronger than ever before.
 
Of course, there are many better qualified than I am to predict what may happen to shipping over the next few years from a commercial perspective. Most of them seem to be anticipating a rocky channel ahead and, in the immediate term, the outlook appears to be far from rosy. Owners who placed orders for new tonnage in the euphoria of 2004 to 2007 and, most recently, in the last and current years, may live to regret their decisions, as growth in the supply side of shipping is, it seems, set to outpace growth in short-term demand and fleet utilization to drop below the levels usually regarded as comfortable. So, while Asian growth may continue to drive global shipping volumes upwards, overcapacity may result in continuing downward pressure on freight rates.
 
Nevertheless, there is a resilience and dynamism in Asia’s maritime industries that clearly suggest that the region will continue to play a leading role in the global maritime sector – and that, for shipping, many of the details on the new world map have now been etched in permanent ink.
 
Does a new world map place new demands on leadership? In broad terms, probably not. Leadership is leadership and always has been. The characteristics and qualities that mark out a good leader are universal and timeless. The ability to steer a course through change – even to be ahead of the game – is a prerequisite, but this has always been the case.
 
There are probably more quotes from writers and thinkers about leadership than about any other single subject and it is interesting to see how many of them concur on the fundamentals. Modern ‘gurus’ like to focus on the distinctions between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’. Steven Covey, an American businessman born in the first half of the last century, said: “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”  His compatriot Peter Drucker echoed the sentiment but put it slightly more succinctly: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
 
It is not change that challenges leaders and tests leadership, so much as uncertainty – the presence of stormy waters or even the prospect of rough seas ahead. “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm” is a simple yet undeniable truth attributed to Publilius Syrus – a Latin writer of maxims, who flourished in the 1st century BC. In more modern times, the Reverend Martin Luther King said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
 
No one could deny that we live in uncertain times today, and some remain unconvinced that modern leadership has what it takes to survive and prosper. With a nod to Covey and Drucker’s distinctions between leadership and management, another American writer on the subject, Margaret J. Wheatley, has said: “Ever since uncertainty became our insistent 21st century companion, leadership has taken a great leap backwards to the familiar territory of command and control.”
 
Personally, I am not so sure. While the new generation of leaders, whether in the shipping industry or in the wider political sphere, may lack the experience and wisdom of the older generation, they will accrue this over time and learn from their predecessors – and, why not, from their mistakes too. They will come to understand the cyclical character of markets, especially within shipping. Whether they will learn to cope with it is, of course, quite another matter!
 
But where I think the new generation can score is in the fundamental attitudinal shift that will be required as commerce and industry become increasingly obliged to operate in a way that maintains economic growth and improvements in personal living standards but not at the long-term expense of the environment. We now, collectively, seem to have accepted the fact that the way we do things at present is not compatible with sustaining an environment that can continue supporting human life in the long term, and that we need to change things now.
 
And I would argue that nowhere has that realization been more apparent than in IMO where, in July this year, parties to MARPOL Annex VI adopted the first ever mandatory global greenhouse gas reduction regime for an international industry sector.
 
This was a major breakthrough for IMO, which has been working on this issue for some considerable time and was, I believe, an example of true collective leadership. It was also a stark reminder of the unavoidable development that issues on the IMO agenda may, further to their technical nature, have political connotations as well. Those who plan, design and make decisions on the Organization’s future will need not just display technical skills and expertise of the highest standard, but also the political acumen and nous to see the wider picture – in other words, understand the world in which IMO now operates and thus drive the membership in a manner that will ensure the Organization’s place and relevance in the world of tomorrow. I have every confidence that, based on the qualities and determination to achieve the right, balanced results that have been displayed, by all those who participate in the decision-making process in the handling of crucial issues on IMO’s agenda, the Organization is well placed to thrive and prosper – now and in the future.
 
And so, ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by adding that the evidence before me today strongly suggests that the influence of WISTA, and with it the very positive influence of women in shipping, is also set to thrive and prosper. I wish you every success, not just with this conference but with all your wider goals and ambitions. And thank you, once again, for the opportunity to participate in your event and associate myself with your very worthy cause. And when, at the end of the year, my time comes to bid farewell to IMO and shipping, I will take with me the fondest memories of the fascinating and highly rewarding time I have had in the service of both. Among those memories, WISTA and its members will have a very special place and I thank you for that.
 
Thank you.
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