Shipping's Finest: An Interview with Mark Davidian of Kestrel Liner

The second interview in Haven's "Shipping's Finest" series is Mark Davidian, West Coast General Manager of Kestrel Liner. Prior to joining Kestrel, Mark ran his own company, Marine Transport International. He also spent several years at Maersk.

Haven and Kestrel just announced that Kestrel will be selling Caribbean services on Haven's Platform - see the coverage in Maritime Executive!

How did you first become interested in shipping?

My father worked in the industry and from a fairly young age I always had an interest in travel and geography. Shipping seemed a good fit for someone with my interests and at age 17 I applied for a marketing assistant job at Hyundai Merchant Marine in London. I quickly realized I had a passion for logistics and working with people from all over the world. Fifteen years later, I am still in the industry, having worked in various positions for a number of Global steamship lines and NVOCC’s.

How do you see technology transforming the industry?

These days people seem to have less time than ever and ‘ease of business’ is a key factor when deciding which partners to work with or which platforms to use. Online marketplaces now allow suppliers to advertise liner capacity, and NVO services to reach a huge international audience. Technology allows them to connect and carry out transactions at the click of a button.
The access to data also helps suppliers be a lot smarter in targeting the right customers, which cuts out time wasting. This leads to intelligent selling against a company’s strengths, and often leads to consumer savings down the line.

What do you see as the number one thing most likely to change in the next five years?

Technology based solutions are definitely in the ascendancy at the moment. Carriers, 3PLs, and customers all want to save time and drive costs down. To grow and maintain a successful business I think it's important to be on the curve with these new initiatives.

There have been a number of initiatives in the past 5 years, what has worked and what hasn’t?

Capacity sharing and alliances in the industry have certainly seen a drop in the average unit cost across the board. This has certainly been a success story for the carriers, and in some ways the savings is passed on to customers. However, this has also lead to very aggressive market conditions that cannot be sustained. The build programs do not seem to be slowing even though capacity versus demand is already an issue.
Certain advances have been made in booking systems and various customer service functionalities, but I don’t feel like these have all been positive. Gains in web-based access mean losses in person-to-person service. I think problem solving and finding the right person to help with a specific issue is harder than ever right now.
This said, I believe this give and take enhances the opportunity for 3PLs who can sell value-added solutions to take this pain away.

What’s your day-to-day like as West Coast General Manager?

Each day is different working on the US West Coast and is generally very challenging. At Kestrel we are always looking for fresh and innovative ways to grow our business here and globally. I spend as much time as possible on the sales and development side, but of course we have a large book of existing business and key clients we need to maintain. A lot of time is spent servicing these customers working closely with shipping lines, truckers, port authorities and brokers - not always an easy task.

Who do you really respect in the industry – who’s getting it right?

I have worked for various companies in different sectors of the industry, including RoRo carriers, specialist OOG divisions, container liners and more recently on the NVOCC/Liner representative side of the business. There are many positives to take away from all these experiences, but since joining Kestrel I have been truly impressed by the diversified nature of our business and the level of expertise we are able to offer in a number of specialist areas. Our CEO Andy Thorne is a passionate leader who has developed Kestrel into a global brand over the last 20 years and today sees us representing a multitude of lines giving us a truly global reach. To be competitive in today’s market place I believe you have to offer differentiators and be willing to go the extra mile service-wise - something every employee at Kestrel does on a daily basis. Andy and the management team continue to be innovative, always looking forward. They never stop working on ways to grow our business in alignment with the best customer experience.

What continues to surprise you about the industry?

I’m still surprised how far prices are pushed and how much lines are willing to lose on the freight in some trade lanes. I understand the ever increasing capacity needs to be utilized, but the battle on this front seems to be more prominent than ever.

What do you read to stay on top of things in the industry?

JOC, Lloyd's List, IFW

Which talent would you most like to have?

Seeing into the future would be useful, given the way freight rates fluctuate in some markets !

Which living person do you most admire?

Richard Branson is someone I admire greatly. To build such a global, diversified brand with strong ethics and enthusiasm is very impressive and motivating.

What book are you reading right now?

East of Eden – by John Steinbeck.

Got a suggestion for the next interviewee in the Shipping's Finest series? Let us know!