Birte Kreutzträger

Manager Chartering & Projects, Jumbo SAL Alliance (Hamburg)

Starting a career in shipping wasn’t my first choice. After graduating from High School (Abitur), I actually wanted to start an apprenticeship in marketing, but somehow that wasn’t meant to be. Everywhere I tried I was rejected; either all entry positions were already filled, or my grades were simply not good enough. One day of 1996, whilst I was preparing for my final High School exams, I saw an ad in the local newspaper: Beluga Shipping – a newly established shipping company in Bremen - is hiring. Not knowing what shipping and chartering is all about, I submitted my application for an apprenticeship, because I liked the job description. I was interviewed the week after and was hired instantly by handshake.

At Beluga, I was very lucky having a female mentor by my side, teaching me all about the tramp chartering business. Working in a very small team of five allowed me to take over different responsibilities very quick. Completing tasks in various roles at the same time, i.e. vessel/cargo chartering, vessel operations and accounting/controlling helped me to understand the complexity of shipping as a whole. I was given lots of opportunities to attend client visits in a supporting role which helped to enhance my network within the shipping industry. As the company grew, I was able to grow daily myself with the new challenges. However, I still wanted to extend my knowledge beyond shipping and thus I started a study course with the university of applied sciences in Bremen which I completed with a master degree in management with focus on human resources and logistics. In order to finance my living expenses during my studies, I continued to work at Beluga as a working student. As I was about to finalize my studies in 2005, Beluga offered me to head the human resource department. At that time, the company had extensive expansion plans and due to my chartering experience, I had a good feel for recruiting matching profiles. However, I never lost my chartering spirit and after a couple of years I changed course from human resources back to chartering, as I was also striving to working abroad and more global than local. In 2010 I moved to Singapore working for BBC Chartering and in 2012 I returned to Germany and joined the Chartering Desk at SAL Heavy Lifts headquarter.

As a female chartering manager over 20 years ago, I was limited from time to time over my male counterparts benefiting from the traditional fellowship in shipping. A woman in shipping rather resembled a secretary than a manager taking commercial decisions on a larger scale. I encountered situations when male customers misinterpret the approach of “being nice and supportive”. In these situations, it is important for women to appear resolute and self-confident and make it unmistakably clear to their counterpart that a boundary is just being crossed. In addition, it requires the resolute backing of superiors not to tolerate such assaults. Today, the culture in shipping is changing a lot and the number of women in management positions is slowly but steadily increasing. The increasing number of women is also changing the nature of customer relationship management. Events in shipping are traditionally a very important networking tool used to establish and increase customer loyalty. Women have a big advantage over men:  Ears left, eyes right or in other words, perceive everything around you with sharpened senses. My secret benefits: female intuition, a good memory and the attention to detail.

As our vessels operate 24/7 around the world, the office activities merge along with new challenges every day. Daily results are always a team effort, not only within your own department, but moreover interdepartmental, especially the vessel operations and engineering department, and thus we are spending a lot of time together - celebrating fixtures but also lifting each other up during dull moments. It is important to support each other and stick together and over the years, a lot of colleagues became very close friends.
If women should work in shipping? They better should not! Joke aside, if I were to start all over again today, I wouldn't necessarily take that step again. But shipping is an incredibly exciting field. The dynamics within the industry are impressive. I experienced a lot of different roles in a shipping company but chartering – especially heavy lift & project cargoes - seems to have always been the best fit for me. Chartering is what I consider the heart of a ship-owning company which is what I identify with the most. The variety of cargoes in the heavy lift & project segment is amazing and there is always something that you did not come across. It’s a great experience to attend cargo operations in port  on “your” vessel or even sail along and experience the daily routines of the vessel and crew. I do identify with taking over commercial responsibility for your own fleet and that the decisions you make in chartering every day have a measurable impact on the company success. Not only in good markets when its your aim to maximize profits, but even more importantly in bad markets when its your goal to minimize losses. You must complete a puzzle of new cargo combinations every day. This is the beauty of shipping which sparked a never-ending pursuit for the ultimate fixture.

 

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