Eddy Bruyninckx, Former CEO, Antwerp Port Authority

As a port authority one has to be very humble. Credibility and reliability are what counts. Always be ready to identify new threats and opportunities, is the message from Eddy Bruyninckx as he hangs his boots, having served the Antwerp Port Authority as the CEO for two and half decades. In a one-to-one with Ramprasad, Editor-in-Chief, Maritime Gateway, Eddy reflects back at his long and fulfilling career with immense satisfaction

Q How do you summarise the 25 years of your career journey?

 The day-to-day activities when they happen we do not notice them much, but when we look back after a long period of time, it is impressive to notice the changes that have taken place, such as, containerisation, up-scaling of vessels, dredging of port, new infrastructure being built. When we initially came to India it was just a rational decision to improve our visibility, but very soon it turned into a friendship. The shipping industry is very passionate, you have a common heart for the shipping world. I feel very sad when some people talked about protectionism. Because growing shipping industry will ultimately result in growing welfare for the world. Today shipping denotes prosperity and it can be used as a yardstick to measure the growth of a country or a region.

Q From the ports’ management perspective what has really changed?

Looking back up to the year 2008, cargo flow was booming and containerisation was growing. We had to focus on having the necessary equipment in place, so there was more focus on infrastructure. Then in 2008 and 2009, with Lehman Brothers it was the financial crisis that appeared first, which was soon followed by a pure economic crisis and decline in cargo flows. “Never waste a good crisis.” I said to myself this is something we need. From the very moment I said lets go on a campaign and think as a global community what can we do better? In order to make full use of this crisis and bring changes in our organisation. We started thinking in a different way about what we had to do. Think of the other partners in the terms of supply chain when you are just a part of it. The result was we started a small cell in our group for trade facilitation. This is an example of thinking to facilitate global supply chain. We became far more interested in what’s happening in the hinterland. We started focusing on the origin and destinations of cargo, regions where there is more concentration of cargo. We obtained the statistics on cargo volumes and concentration centres and reached out to the rail operators and barge operators. With the statistics we could easily explain them the cargo hotspots and the untapped opportunities which they could use to grow their business, increase the frequency of service to those regions as well as help the trade move their goods to global markets or destinations. So that could be a winwin situation for the traders and the logistics service providers.

Q What future challenges do you see for the ports?

A major challenge is the current slump in the world economy and the trade flows. The most eminent thing will be data and ICT where more disruption will appear. Data will be stimulating and will oblige the players to face new challenges and embrace new opportunities. People will discover new opportunities and ways to deliver services. So there will be improvement of processes but it will be triggered through data and digitisation.

Q Few years back we were talking of globalisation. But recent trend looks like geo-political issues are making it more localisation. Does this affect the port business?

There will not be any major impact on the ports business as the gap between trade and economic growth narrows down. We have seen since World War II a higher percentage in growth of trade. I am a strong believer of globalisation and advantage of trade. The politicians should take initiatives to make society more inclusive.

Q What has been the most satisfying thing for you as the port CEO?

 The fact that we succeeded in adapting the maritime access to our port, although we are a river port and we had to get the approval from the Dutch government for dredging as the river flows to the Netherlands, for welcoming the bigger container vessels. The day we could sign this agreement that was a milestone as the 14,000- teu MSC vessel called to our port for the very first time. I had gone to Felixstowe to welcome the vessel to Antwerp. There I could see the results in huge investments made for dredging. I am an extremely happy man as at this port I got the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and make friends with them.

Q What are your plans after retirement?

 I have to bring more balance in my family life. I had the advantage that I could always choose the things that I liked to do, like spending all of my time to the port. I created a small consultancy company for myself and I have made agreements with three very interesting groups that have international ambitions. So, the fascination about what is happening in the world and being a part of it will always be there, and will never go.

Q What is your message for young CEOs who are running ports now?

Always be open minded, try to discover as soon as possible new threats and opportunities, and the most important thing is that as a port authority be very humble. You are here to serve your customers and help them develop their business. A customer can change a port of call within a day they have the choice not you (port operator). You always have to strive to maintain the confidence of your customers. Always be reliable and not opportunistic, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to continue my job as a CEO for 25 years at a stretch. One has to build up credibility and reliability.