Shipping's Finest: An Interview with Poh Ling Goi of APM Terminals

Haven is kicking off our new blog with an interview series featuring Shipping's Finest. We read about industry CEOs constantly. This series highlights the accomplishments and day-to-day responsibilities of other folks in the industry. We'll be featuring someone new each month: BCO transportation teams, supply chain managers, intermodal experts, port folks, carrier employees, and more.

Our inaugural interviewee is Poh Ling Goi. Poh Ling is currently the Commercial Strategy Consultant at APM Terminals. Prior to joining APM, she was the Director of Line Management at MCC Transport in Singapore.

Poh Ling, how did you first become interested in the shipping industry?
I ‘stumbled’ onto it, really. I was working in the Singapore civil service and after 5 years wanted to find out what it would be like to work for a profit-driven private sector company. I interviewed with Maersk for a finance/cost control role, but they gave me a trade management one instead, despite my complete lack of shipping knowledge. I thought that joining the biggest shipping company in the world wouldn’t be such a bad idea and have been here since then, as the Group has a variety of opportunities to offer.

How do you see technology transforming the ocean freight industry?
Two of the most important that I see are:

  1. Carriers are using technology such as data-mining to better understand their targeted customer segments. This leads to pricing intelligently, and understanding customers’ buying behaviors and needs.
  2. Technology is creating a simplified, seamless experience for customers who need ocean freight: from sourcing, to booking, to paying for ocean freight services

What do you see as the number one thing most likely to change in the next five years?
The formation of huge alliances and vessel sharing agreements (VSA) means that only the biggest ships (e.g. 18,000-20,000 TEU for Asia-Europe trade routes) will be deployed. All carriers’ unit cost base will be very similar and since they have very similar products, frequency, and coverage, the battle for customers will be on service differentiation, customer segmentation and targeting, and pricing.

There have been a number of initiatives to modernize ocean freight over the past 5 years; what has worked and what hasn't?
Attempts by shippers to get carriers to give more transparency over surcharges have worked to some extent, with carriers coming up with elaborate bunker formulas, etc, to justify how the bunker triggers work. Attempts by shippers to reduce the multitude of surcharges have also worked to some extent. Even from carriers’ perspective, some carriers (e.g. Maersk) are trying to simplify the surcharge lists, coming from the angle of easier administration and more accurate invoicing.
Booking platorms are changing. Inttra has gained traction with a bigger user base. From a shipper's perspective, it is a good booking platform, instead of having to adapt to multiple different interfaces of shipping lines. But from the carriers’ perspective (especially bigger carriers with resources) there is still an overwhelming desire to control the end-user interface directly (i.e. to own a direct, exclusive, 1-1 relationship). Driving online traffic directly to their own sites is partly for strategic customer lock-in, but is also to avoid paying fees and commissions to external platforms. Hence, carriers are and will continue to resist 3rd party platforms and start-ups. Carriers and shippers both need to be persuaded that shipping can be modernized to achieve the same convenience and efficiency that Expedia, Agoda, Skyscanner, etc have brought to the airline and hotel industry.

Who do you really respect in the industry (people, companies, etc) – who’s getting it right?
I have a lot of pride working for the AP Moller Maersk group. Being here 14 years, I can see that we have the resilience to pick ourselves up after falling and keeping our eyes focused on the horizon ahead. We are also becoming more comfortable and starting to take a more visible leadership role in the industry, leading the way with innovations and pushing the envelope in environmental and sustainability issues.

What continues to surprise you about the industry?
The arms race for bigger and bigger ships and relentless pursuit of lower unit cost by carriers without being able to balance the industry capacity supply with demand. This is leading to a downward profitability spiral, which has consequences...and eventually leads to instability of service and supply chain for shipper customers.

What do you read to stay on top of things?
Every day, I read daily digests from Lloyd’s List and news bulletins (BBC, CNN, CNA). On a weekly basis, it's Alphaliner, SeaIntel reports, The Economist. And then I occasionally read Harvard Business Review articles.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I'd like the ability to motivate and inspire people to achieve more on their own.

What’s your favourite quote?
God gave us two ears and one mouth; listen twice as much as we talk. (I am still working on this and try to remind myself)

What is your most treasured possession?
My rosewood prayer beads, which keep me calm with internal meditation when I need it. I bring it whenever I travel.

What book are you reading right now?
The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins

We hope you enjoyed this first interview featuring Shipping's Finest. Nominate someone for next month by reaching out to us here.